Web Censors In China Find Success; Falun Gong, Dalai Lama Among
By Jonathan Krim
Washington Post Staff Writer
The Chinese government is succeeding in broadly censoring what its
citizens can read on the Internet, surprising many experts and denting
U.S. government hopes that online access would be a quick catalyst
for democratic political reform.
Internet users in the world's most populous country are routinely
blocked from sites featuring information on subjects such as Taiwanese
independence, the Falun Gong movement, the Dalai Lama and the
Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989, according to a study to be released
today by a consortium of researchers from Harvard University, the
University of Toronto and Cambridge University in England.
The study, which evaluated China's Internet practices over the past
year, found the government employed an aggressive array of tactics,
including blocking certain keyword searches and whole Web sites, and
forcing cyber-cafes to keep records of users and the Web pages they
"China operates the most extensive, technologically sophisticated and
broad-reaching system of Internet filtering in the world," the study
said. Researchers said they worry that China's censorship system
could become a model for other countries looking to keep the lid on
China's success at censorship is even more remarkable to researchers
because the country is promoting economic growth using technology. An
estimated 100 million Chinese use the Internet, nearly half of whom
who have high-speed connections.
"The Chinese are successfully developing a market economy at the same
time they are continuing to accomplish control over the Internet and
the media," said C. Richard D'Amato, chairman of the U.S.-China
Economic and Security Review Commission, which monitors and promotes
economic progress in China.
D'Amato said the jury "is not only out, it's way out" on whether the
Internet is playing the democratizing role the United States had
The study also undermines the popular notion that the Internet is an
organism that is difficult to tame.
"The Internet is wildly misunderstood," said Rafal Rohozinski, director of
the Advanced Network Research Group at Cambridge, who participated in
the study. "It is built around very specific chokepoints" that can be
Using tests conducted inside and outside China, researchers were able
to identify censorship at many of those points.
Filters are placed on the main "backbone" networks that carry Internet
traffic, the study said. A handful of licensed Internet providers also
perform their own filtering. Major Chinese search engines filter out
or block keywords that would enable surfers to see certain
sites. Providers of Web log, or blogging, services block certain
posts. Text messaging software has built-in forbidden lists of
keywords, which halt service temporarily if used.
Chinese authorities perform these tasks largely using U.S. hardware
For example, Cisco Systems Inc. routers, machines that move Internet
traffic around, are capable of recognizing individual portions of
data, a technology that helps battle worms and viruses. That same
technology can be used to distinguish certain content.
Companies such as Cisco and Google Inc. have been accused of aiding
China's censorship by tailoring their products to suit the
government's needs. The study did not confirm those allegations, which
the companies have denied.
Some reports on Chinese censorship also claim that the country has as
many as 30,000 "Internet police" dedicated to the task, but the study
did not confirm that estimate. Still, it identified 11 government
agencies that share responsibility for controlling Internet use in the
Despite wholesale blocking of Web sites dedicated to news on Taiwan or
Tibet, for example, Chinese surfers still can get access to many
Western news and culture sites.
Researchers said the filtering efforts seem to shift regularly, so
that at certain times a CNN site on Tiananmen Square was accessible,
Rohozinski said the censorship efforts seem to primarily target sites
written in Chinese.
Copyright 2005 The Washington Post Company
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I wonder why it would not be feasible
to route all our internet traffic _through China_ and have them
adjust their filter mechanisms to censor out all spam. It would be a
good way for Americans and Chinese people to work together on a very
worthwhile, useful project. PAT]