Mere mention of Chinese Internet censorship is no longer taboo. Or that's our take-away from a recent white paper by the State Council Informatization Office that outlines exactly how and why the Chinese government plans to tighten controls over online communications in China. Is Beijing trying to stuff the Internet genie back in its proverbial bottle, or is Rebecca MacKinnon right with her metaphor of an expanded aviary: the birdcage may be tighter knit, but it is still bigger than ever before?

This week we take a closer look at what the Chinese government has said publicly about its plans for future Internet controls. Joining Kaiser in the studio are Sinica regulars Jeremy Goldkorn of Danwei fame, blogger and entrepreneur Bill Bishop, and Gady Epstein, the Beijing bureau chief for Forbes magazine. We also hope you'll chime in with your own thoughts in the comment section, or write us directly at We look forward to hearing what you think.

As always, if you enjoy this podcast and would like to subscribe to the show through RSS, just open up iTunes, click on the "Advanced" menu and select the option "Subscribe to Podcast". When prompted, copy the URL into the box. If you'd like to download this mp3 directly from our site you can also grab it as a standalone mp3 file. Enjoy!
 said on
June 25, 2010
It's good that in the end you clarified that "not using Google products" was a joke. I was wondering about how much Baidu had to pay you to to do just that. :-)

An interesting discussion, especially to me about the Internet dissidents vs. main stream users in China -- helps to keep me in balance. A lot of the bits and pieces that I have been following really depress me.

What do you guys think about the calculations that the authorities delete 96% (if I remember it right) of blog postings in the Chinese Internet based on the figures published in the White Paper? They sound half joking but the numbers are kind of revealing. Aren't they?
 said on
June 26, 2010
Aside from the joking about Kaiser not using Google products, no one said anything about Google as a possible reason behind the recent release of the Internet White Paper. A great big oversight, if you ask me. Instead you make it sound as if the White Paper is a consequence of the regime's growing confidence in its ability to control and understand the internet. An argument in favor of the idea that the White Paper is a result of the regime's insecurity following the Google embarrassment is also possible.

It seems to me that the Chinese government is increasingly confident with the idea of a Chinese INTRAnet, but is still freaking out about a global INTERnet. As others have suggested, a great big LAN is what the goons in the politburo would like most of all.

Finally, I'm not a fan of Chinese traditional medicine as a whole; however, in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I must admit that it is not all bunk. Ever see the 1972 Michaelangelo Antonioni documentary "Chung Kuo"? At about the ten minute mark, a 30 year old Chinese woman gives birth via c-section - all without anesthetic, using just accupuncture needles and a bit of electric current. Watch it!
 said on
June 27, 2010
What is the name of the song and artist that played at the beginning?
 said on
June 27, 2010
Short note -- on the podcast, the ending music starts about 30 seconds too early. Not sure if you can re-edit that (or was it intentional?), but...

37:52 The ending music is full volume, blanking out part of the discussion on Kaiser's comment on using Google products...

38:10 The ending music has stopped. Meanwhile, the discussion is still going.

Not sure if that was intentional, but I'm curious about the 20 second gap. I love the podcast -- Thanks!
 said on
June 27, 2010

We edited some extra material into the podcast and must have forgotten to extend the closing music sequence, which is why things would have been out of whack. I've just fixed the problem and reuploaded the audio.

Thanks for bringing this to our attention, it was definitely not intentional!


 said on
June 27, 2010
I really wish that Kaiser & Co. would respond to the following question: How would you respond to a complete clampdown by the Chinese government on all foreign internet content and services such that none of the current GFW-leaping technologies (e.g., VPNs) no longer worked and no new ones were available?

In other words, what would you do if all that was available to you was a Chinese LAN? Leave? Stay?

The reason I ask is that I am personally increasingly disgusted at the efforts the regime continues to make to reassert its perogative to control the flow of information and - by doing so - to control how and what the Chinese people think. If the first 25 years or so of reform were largely positive (in this respect), the last 5 or so have largely been characterized by a very paranoid, backward looking attempt to return to a bygone era when the regime enjoyed a monopoly on information.

A show on what you think the next thirty years will be like here in China would be interesting.
 said on
June 28, 2010
@chrish0204 - The artist is Chunqiu (春秋, Spring & Autumn), which is my (Kaiser's) band. The song is called 猎人, The Huntsman, and it's available with the other eight songs on our first album on iTunes. Hopefully you're asking because you like it!

@Ma_bole - If you're asking whether I'd leave if all access to Internet sites hosted outside of the US were cut off, probably, unless I had good reason to believe that it was only temporary. Personally I think your dates for info control paranoia are a bit off; things were actually quite good in 2006 and 2007, and only really started getting horrifically bleak in 2008. Some would argue that it was a confluence of sensitive dates and unforeseen events like the riots in Lhasa in March 2008 and in Urumqi in July 2009, but I don't think they're likely to go back to how things were in late 2007 when nothing besides the usual suspects, plus a couple of blog hosting sites, were blocked.

What matters much more -- not, perhaps, to me personally but to me as a matter of principle -- is the level of censorship on domestic Chinese Internet sites, as that censorship impacts a great many more people than GFW censorship does.

My sense is that this "arms race" will continue to play out over the next few years at least with no clear "winner." The political potency of netizens will continue to expand irrespective of Beijing's efforts, in part because that potency is something that can be quite useful to the Party; and at the same time, Beijing will redouble its efforts to control, through technology, through policy, through active engagement, and through many other means, the power of the Internet.

@Stinky Tofu - Yes, I think that was an oversight, and you're right, one of us should have brought it up. It's almost certainly a factor in the timing of this, as the Google affair really brought the issue to the forefront of discussion for so many people both within and outside of China. My bad! Thanks for bringing it up!

And I've seen the Antonioni doc and the amazing c-section segment. I've seen other such surgeries performed with conscious patients under only acupuncture as anesthetic, too. No doubt in my mind that there are aspects of acupuncture with genuine, provable efficacy. Whether that means that the entire system of meridian lines is actually valid, or whether any of the explanations offered by practitioners of acupuncture are true, is another matter entirely.
 said on
June 28, 2010
ma_bole: "In other words, what would you do if all that was available to you was a Chinese LAN? Leave? Stay?"

If not for friends and family, I'd have left a year or so ago. 2008 was a watershed year - mostly bad, if you ask me. And it's only gotten worse since then. I'd miss much about China if I left, but the list of things keeping me here has shortened during the last few years. If the situation here continues to develop as it appears it might, I'll either return to the U.S. or trade Beijing for HK or Taiwan. The question, for me I guess, is when does remaining in China begin to feel like a passive collaboration or endorsement of the system. No matter how good the food, cheap the beer, beautiful the women, or high the salary, I wouldn't choose to live in North Korea, Sudan, Burma, Iran, or Zimbabwe - why then would I choose to live in a China whose values also deeply offend me? In the past here in China, things seemed to be steadily improving and, as such, I could always think to myself, "The skies are clearing and the future looks bright." Now I'm not so sure. Increased global economic competition of the sort that gives rise to profound uncertainty - particularly when combined with demographic changes here in China and the regime's increasing paranoia (good word choice, stinky.tofu)- may mean that things here in the People's Republic could get very interesting indeed. I'd rather watch it all from a distance. In the end, contrary to the mad ravings of certain China watchers, Beijing really isn't a lovely mash-up-with-Chinese-characteristics of Paris, NYC, Tokyo, and London. There are far better places for a U.S. passport holder to hang his hat. I'm finding it harder to argue in favor of raising my son in Beijing.

In short, using a VPN to read Danwei or CDT doesn't make me feel clever. Rather, it reminds me each and every time that I am living in a country where certain of my core values (e.g., freedom of speech, assembly, and association) are simply not respected. Having said that, if the authorities here choose to crackdown on VPNs, I'm gone.

 said on
June 29, 2010
@hong, @ma_bole,

If it became impossible to access the overseas Internet, we would be forced to relocate to Hong Kong very quickly. We aren't funded by the Chinese government (or any other government for that matter) so losing international connectivity would be a major problem. That said, my personal reading of this white paper is that it may simply be an attempt to assert non-military institutional control over Internet regulation, which would be a good thing.

My main personal reaction to the increased controls has probably been more openly acerbic comments to party members when they struggle to open links to Google docs I've unthinkingly sent them. I think the image most patriotic Chinese hold is still one of a victim mentality vis-a-vis the west though, and that as long as there is the perception that the people and organizations hurt are mostly western companies (like Google), no-one will care about any restrictions and some people will even take satisfaction in them.

As Kaiser says though, how this affects domestic Internet users is a bigger question and one that doesn't play easily into nationalism. And I don't know if this white paper or more recent blocking efforts are even relevant here. Most of the policies that seem to be hurting Internet users in China are business, tax and license related decisions coming out of the Ministries of Information, Culture and Commerce. And those decisions seem as much about rent-seeking as anything else.


Mark Lesson Studied