There is no question that contributing on the web in China is fraught with a level of personal risk not seen in the West. Here, no one really cares what you write, provided it is not racist and does not defame anyone.
___In China, blogs and blog service providers get shut down on a regular basis. No explanations or warnings are given. This is what happened with a large Chinese blog provider Bulldog.cn last month. A blog that has run for one year is considered to be long lived. Search for the most popular blogs in China and you’ll find many that are posted on local blogrolls no longer exist. Here today, gone tomorrow. You’ll find previously vibrant URLS shuttered, all content gone, no comments allowed, no explanation given. It’s all very subtle.
___I’ve seen ChinaSMACK on many blogrolls. Yesterday the site was functional. There were graphics but no content nor comments. Today it’s gone. Here is Google‘s text-based cached version. How would you like to play a technological cat and mouse game with the China Communist Party? The situation even has famous Chinese artists looking over their shoulder.
___It’s not that blog providers want to get shut down. They are gently squeezed by warnings from the police about what their customers are posting. When the level gets too hot, they talk to the blog owners and try to get them to tone down their language. After warnings, the blog providers take action and censor, because if hey do not, then the government will, and they could be out of business.
___One might think that the purpose of a blog in China is freedom of expression, to shout out the inequalities of society, to initiate and participate in change, and to promote democracy. It’s a noble thought, but is blogging effective? If a tree falls an no one hears it, did it really make a sound?
___Alternately, maybe the purpose of blogging in China is a benign tool to allow the Chinese to blow off steam, like a psychological pressure relief valve. As long as people don’t plan gatherings, blogging at home by yourself is pretty safe. More importantly, blogging is not an effective tool to promote democracy and freedom. That’s the theory of Rebecca MacKinnon, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Center. After all, there’s no harm done, so let people blather along, with only a mild risk of arthritis in the fingers. When the pressure gets too high, the censors smack it down, and hard.
___There have been cases where blogs have informed local officials of wrongdoing and low level officials have been slapped on the hand. I question the ability of a blog to garner enough support to get Chinese citizens to protest in public. There are serious repercussions that await the Chinese nail that sticks up. Even when the government has a complaint process, people still get hauled away, put in “black jails”, sent back to their village, then get sent to a real jail. What’s to be done when human rights lawyers and others suddenly disappear? These cases are not uncommon. In fact the Chinese government technological arsenal includes a country-wide firewall, and a long list of banned words, supposedly distributed every couple of months to internet service providers.
___Happy blogging. You might think of your Chinese brethren as you type.