Skypecast: Isaac Mao on China's crackdown

I spoke to Isaac Mao in Shanghai via Skype to get some clarification and detail about how the latest regulations requiring bloggers to register in China are actually being implemented – and interpreted.

The conversation was exremely interesting. As usual, the situation on the ground is complicated and full of ambiguity.

You can listen to the 32-minute (15MB) interview with Isaac Mao here.

The major takeaways:

  • The regulation requiring websites (including blogs) to register does not seem to apply to sub-domains. Which means that people with blogs on Chinese blog-hosting services like Blogbus and Blogchina (which are the Chinese equivalents of Blogger & Typepad) , are completely fine as long as the hosting companies themselves have registered, which they all have done or are doing.
  • So the only Chinese bloggers who are affected by this regulation are ones who have set up blogs independently on their own server space.
  • What does this mean? It means that actually, blogging will be alowed to flourish and proliferate but in a more controlled way. Because the blog-hosting companies are required to police and filter the blogs they host for questionable content – including politically sensitive content. So if you really want to speak freely on your blog you need to have one on your own server not controlled by a centralized host. It is those harder-to-control blogs (which also require more technical know-how to set up and run.) that are now required to register.
  • Isaac says some bloggers are trying to register or plan to do so – with varying degrees of success depending on how they approach the registration office, whether they call their blog a "blog" or a "website," etc.  Many others are doing nothing and waiting to see what will happen.
  • He knows about the case cited by Reporters Without Borders in which a blogger's site was rendered inaccessible (that blogger has remained anonymous).
  • Some blogs have successfully registered, however, and are now displaying a registration number. One example is here.  The registration number is on the right-hand top corner: # 京ICP备05002004号.   When you click on the number you get this Ministry of Information Industry page, with information about registering websites. (However you can't access any further information to confirm whether or not the blog linking through to this page is genuinely registered… )

How can people outside of China help Chinese bloggers who want to retain their ability to speak more freely? Adopt a Chinese blog on your server. In order to do this, you need to have a blog on your own server space, not one hosted on Typepad, Blogger, or similar. Interestingly, rather than having a centralized website that will broker and match up interested volunteers with Chinese bloggers in need of help, they're doing the matching through Technorati tagging. So Isaac says: if you're interested in helping Chinese bloggers, write a post on your blog expressing your willingness to help and tag it as “” with this code:

<a href="" rel="tag">adoptablog</a>

That will automatically enable Chinese bloggers to find you through this page.

Technical note: I called Isaac using Skypeout, which enables me to call a regular phone number via Skype. (We tried doing it Skype-to-skype but there was serious breakup and delay, probably due to a busy network at mid-day in China.) The whole half-hour conversation set me back about one whopping Euro in my Skypeout account.

The conversation was recorded directly onto the hard drive of my IBM Thinkpad using Hotrecorder. A $15 premium version enabled me to convert the audio file to “.wav” format. Did little trimming and normalizing in the free program, Audacity, then exported it to MP3, then uploaded it onto the blog.

The quality was not perfect – Skype emits a high-pitched buzz that I couldn't eliminate and Isaac's voice on the phone had a bit of an echo, but it's perfectly audible, especially if you listen through headphones.

TECHNICAL APOLOGIES: Sorry to those of you who had to click over from the original link. We're still sorting things out technically. I failed to format the enclosures properly in my original post, then the software wouldn't let me fix the situation once the post was published.


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