What are some interesting Chinese laws


Freedom of expression and thought in China today

In China, the country with the most Internet users in the world, there is no freedom of the press or information. Nevertheless, there are diverse blogs with an enormous range. Martin Hala takes a differentiated look at Chinese internet journalism.

Young Chinese in a Beijing internet café. (& copy AP)

The exponential, truly phenomenal growth of the Internet in China since the mid-1990s has generated a lot of buzz abroad. After a very cautious start, China has discovered the Internet with power. Commercial internet services have been available since 1996. From an estimated 630,000 users in 1997, the online population grew to 137 million, of which 90.7 million have broadband. [1] Today, China can boast of having the second largest user community in the world and is only surpassed by the USA. Chinese are one in ten internet users worldwide. In relation to the population, the numbers are of course less impressive, as the market penetration of the Internet in China is only 9.9 percent, far lower than in western industrialized countries and even in some neighbors such as South Korea and Taiwan. Of course, this low rate also gives hope for future growth potential.

Apart from reading the news and searching for information, mailbox networks, online forums and blogs enjoy unparalleled popularity in China. Available surveys suggest that half of Chinese Internet users are active in various online forums and around a third in blogs. [2] With both, users have the opportunity to express their views online without much technical knowledge. Mailbox networks and forums offer greater anonymity, while blogging writers can make a name for themselves to a greater extent - usually under fictitious names. However, as we shall see, their identity is mostly well known. Blogger services were first introduced in China in 2002, but remained in the shadow of mailbox networks and forums for several years. The reason for the steep rise in blogging in China after 2005 is usually seen in the fact that most of the forums that provided a platform for free expression were closed that year, which drove many users to the blogs. [3]

Does the Internet, especially mailbox networks, forums and blogs, possibly play the same role as earlier self-published writings in other communist societies, the so-called samizdat, without permission to print? The answer, or even just the interest in raising this question, probably depends first and foremost on the role and effect one ascribes to samizdat. There does not seem to be a simple answer to this. There are, however, at least two ways in which meaningful comparisons can be drawn between the two methods of self-publication, firstly by viewing samizdat and online publication as forms of expression of opinion and, secondly, as catalysts of an alternative public space.

Even with this narrowing, any comparison will necessarily remain a little speculative. Because of the whims of history, we can only hypothesize what would have become of samizdat in the age of networked computers. The first laptops and desktops were actually used in late samizdat production in Central and Eastern Europe, but only for graphic design and printing, not for distribution. In any case, their commitment was too marginal and happened too shortly before the collapse of communism to draw any conclusion from it. The internet revolution came too late to benefit European samizdat.

In fact, the very idea of ​​the Internet would have been an antithesis to samizdat, in the sense that the availability of such a powerful tool for communicating and disseminating information across borders in the kind of closed societies where illegal self-publication flourished would have been unthinkable . In other words, the communist regimes in Eastern Europe would never have allowed the Internet in their small feudal territories; if they did, they should have turned into completely different systems. And this is exactly what has happened in China roughly over the last decade: today's connected China is as different from the old Soviet bloc as it is from its own Maoist past. The country has undergone a thorough transformation, which makes comparisons with traditional communist societies seem questionable. In the same way, the Internet has replaced all traditional forms of samizdat, just as the current Chinese regime has replaced conventional communism.

With this caveat, however, a small comparison can be made that could be useful to dispel some common misconceptions about the potential social and political effects of the Internet and the nature of Internet censorship and self-censorship in China. We do not need to limit ourselves to a comparison with the Eastern European samizdat. After all, China can boast of its own tradition of underground and unofficial press. We should therefore begin with a brief overview of this traditional samizdat in communist China before the Internet era.