China: Various aspects of censorship

March 12 was the World Day Against Cyber Censorship and Reporters Without Borders announced its latest list of “Enemies of the Internet,” which points a finger at China, among other authoritarian states.

Jason Ng from Kenengba tries to enrich the discussion by outlining various aspects of Chinese Internet censorship.

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1. Non-transparent censorship

A. Where comes the openness?

First of all, the blogger points out that whenever the Chinese government reacts to the issue of Internet censorship, it would state that “Internet in China is very open” and then support the statement with statistics such as “there are more than 3,800 million internet users in China”. However, the two statements do not carry any logical relation.

B. Unreasonable censorship

Secondly, he points out that main reason why people hate China's Internet censorship is because of its lack of transparency:


I had once posted a message concerning the protest against the construction of incinerator in Panyu at Sina micro blog. Then I received a message from the webmaster that my message was deleted because of illegal content. I asked which regulation the message had violated, I did not get any answer. Similar incidents also happen in the biggest SNS in China.


The reason why the web-censors are not transparent in their practice is because of the government's non-transparent regulation…

Once the regulation is in the dark, people cannot act according to the system. The government administration can react to the statement “I love CCP” positively when it is in good mood. When it is in bad mood, it will take it as an irony. And you can only swear “Grass-mud horse” to the computer screen.

C. Google's protest

The blogger believes the reason why Google is unhappy about China's censorship is also due to the problem of transparency:


In China, receives a lot of notifications concerning the blocking of websites and sensitive terms, and you can't identify any pattern from all these notifications, nor any legal explanation. All they say is “block according to the law”.

2. The Censor machine

The blogger has identified a number of censorship mechanism in China.

A. Self censorship


Chinese Internet users are aware of the blocking of sensitive terms. When they publish a message, they would express the term differently or delete the sensitive content.

B. Machine censor

In the case of machine censor, the users have to guess what are the sensitive terms whenever they publish an article. Here is what Internet users will encounter:


1. If you have written 10,000 words, in case the number 100 and 101 words are sensitive terms, and you publish it.
2. You will find out that you only manage to publish 99 words and all words from 100-9900 will disappear.
3. You can't recover the 9900 words again and you have to retype them.
4. Then you realize that the number 100 and 101 are sensitive, you change the expression and publish it again.
5. You then find out that you only manage to publish 200 words because the number 201 word is a sensitive term again…

Another machine censor example is the Green Dam:


When you have opened 10 pages in your browser. And then one of the pictures has a bigger portion of flesh color. Voila! All your pages will be closed suddenly. If you are working online in one of the pages, sorry, everything will be gone.

C. Human Flesh Censor


Many websites, especially portal websites, have a team of censors. The reason why Fanfou was forced to close down is because it did not have a censor team. For websites like Sina, they have more than a hundred staffs working on censorship.

A friend who once worked in Tencent told me that whenever the time was sensitive, such as during the annual National People's Congress, their workload would increase. They had to censor BBS, blog, and randomly users’ email. In China, email communication has no privacy.

Human flesh censors do not have standard in their practice. Very often, they judge according to their supervisor's guidelines. And they'd rather delete 1000 than letting 1 sensitive message to surface.

D. The notification team


Most websites have a license number so that the government can contact the webmaster whenever they want.

Whenever the Internet control administration finds an “illegal” information online, they would call up the data center and the data center would call up the webmaster to delete the “illegal” message.

E. Red Head document team


Sometimes, the Internet censor would not only demand the website to delete content, but also demand them to re-post or direct search result to certain official websites. Such kind of notification is usually called Red Head paper. They are issued either by the Internet control administration or by the government information office.

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For portal websites they would received notifications from the Internet control administration every day. The notifications are usually about:

1. What cannot be reported
2. What should be reported
3. What should the headline be
4. Which news should be channeled in the discussion
5. Which keywords should be blocked or redirected to a destinate search result
6. Which news story should be limited to the use of the Xinhua and People's Daily news sources

F. Mama Jury

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Members of the Mama jury come from all walks of life. Some have very little online experience. They receive training from the government and regularly submit a certain number of web contents not suitable for children to the administration.

G. Tea and Talks


If you keep publishing informations that make the government unhappy, or if you support citizen actions such as strolling or citizen rights campaign, you would receive a tea time invitation.

Last year before the national day, a middle school kid criticized the preparatory performance of the ceremony for wasting his time in Twitter. Very soon, he was invited by the national security police for tea session. They threatened him that if he continued to talk like that, he would not be able to enter a good high school.

For a very long period of time, that school kid has kept silent in twitter.

H. The Great Firewall

A picture is worth a thousand words:

censor 4

I. The 50 Cent Party



After many years of censorship experiment, the Chinese government comes to aware that they have to channel the public opinion. That's how the setting up of Internet commentator position popped up and it also solve unemployment problem. These commentators are generally known as the 50 cent party.

Whenever the government needs to channel public opinion, the 50 cent party would take action. They would write and voice out pro-government opinions in BBS, blogs, portal websites or even in traditional media like newspapers and T.V. They usually take action together and seldom act alone.

In spite of so many sophisticated censorship mechanism, the blogger still believes that democracy will eventually come and replace the brutal control over speech and expression.


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