Unpublished Censorship Guidelines Lay Bare The Deepest Fears Of The Chinese Government
from the vulgar-use-of-a-microphone-controller dept
It’s hardly a state secret that China is instituting the most complete surveillance and censorship system ever attempted by a society (so far), and on an unprecedented scale. Techdirt has been tracking that sad saga over the years, mostly reporting on how censorship is being implemented. Less information has been available about what exactly the Chinese government doesn’t want people to know about/discuss. Aside from the obvious issues — repression of Tibetans and Uyghurs, Tiananmen Square protests, environmental problems, government corruption etc. — just what is Beijing afraid of? A document obtained by the The Globe and Mail may shed some light on this question, although it’s still not entirely clear who wrote it:
It began circulating early this year, and is believed to have been issued by the powerful Cyberspace Administration of China, China’s central Internet authority, which did not respond to requests for comment.
It’s also possible that the document, which outlines 10 basic categories of banned content, was written by a government-affiliated trade association, a censorship expert said.
In any case, experts seem to accept that it represents the Chinese government’s position quite well, which makes the insights it gives into official thinking extremely valuable. Forbidden activities include many that come as no surprise, such as: insulting leaders, criticizing official policies, spreading information about “made-up” accidents, epidemics, police incidents, and issues related to the economy. Celebrities are protected to a certain extent, with a ban on over-the-top stories about their sex scandals or luxurious lifestyles. Talking about violence, superstitions or religions are also out, as are the following:
Not only is pornography banned, but so is all obscenity, a category that includes “using a bed or sofa as a prop or background,” appearing shirtless, wearing tattoos or dancing in a way “that has flirtatious and vulgar elements.” Also forbidden is the spreading of harmful information, a category that includes cursing, smoking and drinking, gambling or “vulgar use of a microphone controller (or any mimicking of it).”
But alongside much that is outright wacky — what on earth does “vulgar use of a microphone controller” even mean? — the article quotes Yaxue Cao, the founder and editor of ChinaChange.org, who points out a more serious underlying strategy discernible here:
“It targets political dissent of course, but any activities that might cause a large number of people to coalesce, whether through popular entertainment such as Duanzi (jokes) and cartoons, or through direct sales network,” she said, in an e-mail. “It also aims at content that might give people ideas of resistance and how-to knowledge. I go through each category, this is the theme I see: a heightened sense of regime insecurity.”
It’s a great point that explains much of what the Chinese government has done over the last few years. What the authorities fear above all else is not so much any of the topics mentioned above in themselves, but the thought that they might help people to band together, and even formulate an idea that is truly frightening for Beijing: that they could start to resist.