China: Antismut campaign sweeps internet. But any untold purpose?

An internet cleansing movement, or antismut campaign launched by the Chinese authority, is sweeping across the internet in recent days. Well-known online service providers such as Google, Baidu, Tianya(where flesh search engine prospers), MSN China are on the list of crackdown, because they are thought to publish “vulgar, low and obscene content.”

China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center (中国互联网违法和不良信息举报中心), under the Internet Society of China, a nominally non-government group released a list of “immoral” websites on 5 Jan, claiming its source as public reports and complaints.

As Danwei accounted:

Each website listed is annotated with either a remark that the website had been given a notice, but didn't take effective action to clean up its content, or that it did not quickly delete newly added vulgar and low content.

On the list, Google is said to have linked to “obscene and pornographic websites”, while Baidu, the most prominent Chinese search engine, is stated to contain “large numbers of low and vulgar photographs”. Meanwhile, Sina, Sohu, Tencent and many more portal websites with a large population of users, didn't escape the harsh prosecution.

Tip: Search obscene keywords, if you know what they are, in Google, and you can get obscene stuff in return. Visit sections like “pretty girls,” “Women and men” in many portal websites, you've also chances to run into these obscene stuff. But undeniable, much content are uploaded by users rather than the website itself.

One day later, on 6, Jan, the administration took measure. Seven departments of the State Council deployed an overwhelming campaign trying to cleanse the internet. The head of the Press Office, Cai Ming-zhang, emphasized on an iron-fist crackdown:


Cai pointed that, for those incorrigible, ill-influencing websites, we have to expose a few of them, punish some of them, and shut down some of them, without any compromise.

And he went on the censure:


Some websites take advantage of the loopholes of law to publish low and vulgar, ribaldry content, deteriorate the internet morality, and spread information unhealthy to young people, which hurt thousands of families and future generations.

And the war against “vulgar” digs in 9 Jan:


Second batch of vulgar websites are exposed in the “Cleansing vulgar internet” campaign

This time, some relatively less influential websites, including MSN China, were put on the list.

The campaign has already claimed victims. Some high-ranked officials in Netease were dismissed, possibly because of putting Zhang Ziyi's Bikini pictures on headline.

Later, all the websites being criticized have posted apology letters. QQ has even shut down its chat room service, and the questioned sections in many websites are now inaccessible.

Now, the internet enterprises had stooped down, giving in to the crackdown. How netizens, who actually uploaded most of the vulgar content, would respond?

On Netease, the opinions mostly favor the crackdown. The leading comment on the new piece writes:

支持[1584] 反对[968]

I very much support the decision of our country!
The internet should be a place for information, communication and entertainment.
But look what is going on right now; so many websites are greeting you with nothing but obscene and violent stuff. Google, as a venerable international enterprise, have you fulfilled your duty for the society?
Baidu, as a well-known national enterprise, have you kept yourself up to our expectation?
Suppor [1584] Disapprove [968]

On the entire comment page, the voice of support takes the upper hand. However, it is not unreasonable to speculate that because Netease has been warned, it actually censured the comments, as it has done, to cater to the authority.

It is not sensible to deny that the websites concerned are influential. Then, what organization on earth is the China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center, which is so boldly, that it dares to challenge all these internet giants?

The agency has its boss as China internet society (CIS) 中国互联网协会, which not long ago set 4 Sep as the Netizen Festival of China.

Though self-proclaiming to be Non-profit social group, CIS is widely accepted as an official agency, because it has members like Xinhua News, departments of State Council and quite a few telecom service companies (all state-control).

It is ironic that in fact Sohu, Netease, Sina and many other cleansed websites are actually the members of the Society. The fact more or less testifies to the core of it as official because these websites are not likely to target themselves and push the authority for regulation. The most reasonable explanation would be, the one that really speaks is none of them, but the authority.

Blogger Wei Wuhui in It Talks commented that the campaign is operated wisely.


The key point is that, “vulgar” is hard to define. Since it is uneasy to define, it has no legal basis. Crackdown may therefore results in some negative consequences: hit wrong targets; leave room for corruption, and picture the government as high-handed.


And this campaign is very wise. It is the China Internet Society that released the list, which is not strictly an official agency, which means the movement is inspired by public complaints. It could hence win support.
And after the websites all apologized, seven departments set down the standard to define what “vulgar” is, with totally 13 items. This is not a law.
So this is entirely a cultural movement, without the shadow of government, but a self-regulation action of enterprises to shape a better internet-sphere.

However, not every person stands with the authority.

政治迷 in Tianya ridiculed the operation :


Some people can have scores of mistresses, squander public money to feast, to travel and to live in 5-star hotels. That is very decent.
But we just can't watch websites with our own money- because it is vulgar!

Tit-for-tat, a list made up by netizens also shows up on the internet, pointing against CCTV, the state-control TV station.


Chinese netizens release the first batch of vulgar TV channels.

And all the ten channel belong to CCTV are on the list.

第一名:CCAV1 一贯正确,首长领导
第二名:CCAV2 金融风暴,中国骄傲
第三名:CCAV3 港台歌曲,大行其道
第四名:CCAV4 内外新闻,形式大好
第五名:CCAV5 体育频道,外国专号
第六名:CCAV6 劣质影片,辫子军号
第七名:CCAV7 少儿军事,暴力洗脑
第八名:CCAV8 低俗剧目,又哭又闹
第九名:CCAV9 外语新闻,胡说八道
第十名:CCAV10 虚假科学,胡编乱造

Partly translated:
No.1 CCTV1 Leaders and officials are always correct.
No.2 CCTV2 Financial crisis is nothing, China is always proud of its achievements.
No.7 CCTV7 Naive military propaganda, violent and brainwashing.
No.10 CCTV10 Fake science, all but made up.

移山愚公 told why Tianya, a popular online Bulletin Board System, is clouded by the so-called vulgar stuff.

不过这也不能怪天涯!关心时政的帖子不让发,天涯靠什么吸引人气? 那就只能靠低俗的帖子了。 靠那些溜须拍马的5毛帖的话,天涯早关门大吉了!!

Tianya is not to blame! As the posts discussing politics and current events are not allowed, what is left for Tianya to attract people? “Vulgar” content, of course. If there are only the obsequious 50-cent posts here, Tianya would have been closed long ago.

Is this a pure campaign against immoral and polluting content? Still, many don't believe it to be so simple.

The 13 official items that define what vulgar is, contain these itmes to forbid:


(websites that) Present or implicate sexual behaviors; tantalizing or insulting. Spreading information about one night stand, wife-exchange, or SM. Illegal sexual drugs and cure for social diseases.

Apparently, it doesn't concern any bit of political content, or openly forbids anything related to “subversion”, an item usually used to prosecute against political activists. But netizens still nose out a touch of implicit intention, because even though the authority deleted the unfavored posts regardless of whether it really has vulgar stuff, nobody can complain.

李国豪, a netizen in Tianya thought:


Most people will stand with Tianya. But the officials are going to the side of crackdown, because we let them feel uncomfortable. As soon as all the websites are cleansed, they would no longer need to care about the critiques of netizens, and feast, gamble, and go whoring as they want. Their idea is to do corruption openly. This is the underscoring purpose of the crackdown.

GFW(GREAT FIREWALL) blog predicts that 2009 would be an uneasy year for internet and media.


What a drunk wants is not simply wine. In 08, 08 Charter has been put forward by hundreds of scholars. Now, the “ants”(people) have taken action to topple the tree (authority). Reviewing the events such as Xiamen PX, Shanxi Slave, Shanghai anti-Maglev train, Weng'an, Yang-jia, cab strike, melamine, petitioning; in which incident is internet absent?


So, the media control is surely going to intensify. Heads of the websites on the list, don't think you would be let go with simply deleting a few pictures. The world of media in 09 will be bloody.

Now,, a well-known blog service provider site famous for its bold critiques of the authority, has been shut down. Is this antismut campaign foreshadowing a more severe online cleansing?


  • Hi,

    Not to be crass, but considering how many people are in China, you would have thought that there should have been a crackdown on smut 300 years ago!

    I know…it was bad!



  • […] a comment » China’s latest efforts to censor the web of vulgar or inappropriate material has targeted some very well respected and […]

  • […], one of the most independent blog hosting in China, has been shut down under the pretext …, a number of prominent bloggers declared that they would continue to speak. A few days ago, Sohu, a […]

  • Observer

    while walking down a small alleyway, just outside the \small north\ gate of Sun Yatsen University in Guangzhou, I walked past one of the five or so small stalls selling DVDs and noticed five public security officers searching through the small pile of DVDs. However, these officers were not simply checking out the latest releases from hollywood – in pirated format, nor were they interested in the large pile of microsoft computing software – in pirated format, thus in contravention of world trade organisation regulations. Rather, they were going through the DVDs and picking out any which had photos of semi-clad females on them. While much is being written about the impact of \antismut campaign\ upon China’s best known – and welathy – websites, little, on the other hand, is being said about how this campaign is impacting upon the \getihu\ at the ground level of this yellow war. I assume that this young man is about to see the little money that he makes being taken away – through fines – by these public security officers and the large machinery that stands behind them. If one wishes to produce \harmony\ I suggest you don’t start by stripping away the livelihood of ordinary people.

  • @ Observer: This is a morally and legally debatable issue: should antismut be blamed, because it strips the livelihood of ordinary people? They after all contravene the Chinese law by selling porn.

  • […] – and not just in China. (GV posts on the “internet cleansing movement” in China are here and […]

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