Friday 23 May 2003

Internet Censors in China Loosening Their Grip

This article originally appeared in Online Journalism Review on 23 May 2003.


A researcher tracking Internet censorship trends in China says government monitors are allowing more political commentary than they have in the past.

"Look at that! Look at that!" Gao Zheng says, tapping the glass screen on his monitor excitedly.

All I see is a string of Chinese characters, each one as incomprehensible to me as every other. I can tell it's a Web site, but that's about it.

"That lasted there over two hours," he says, falling back into his chair. "I can't believe it. Somebody's not paying attention."

Looking a little closer, I can see he's tapping at a threaded discussion forum. "I've got to print that one off," he says, pulling himself back to the keyboard.

A few minutes later, a refreshed screen reveals a different set of characters. The ephemeral pixel proof is gone. "That's really surprising," says Gao, putting the printout in a blue folder crammed full of similar screen shots. "Two hours and 20 minutes isn't quite a record for that kind of thing, but it's much longer than I expected."

As he closes his folder, another piece of the murky puzzle of online censorship in China falls into place.