Last February, Xiaozhao Tang rode the bus to her office in downtown Shanghai. On the way, she received a call from the police station ordering her in for an investigation. She wasn’t surprised. In January, Tang signed Charter 08, an online petition document supporting a multi-charter government in China, which was disseminated online in China and overseas a month before.
On Feb.5, she was invited to "tea” by state security agents. Tang is one of thousands of young Chinese "netizens" seeking truth and democracy in the new century. However, she realizes that government censorship of online media is just as severe, if not more imposing, than regulations placed on traditional media. The Chinese government created the Great FireWall (GFW) in 1997 to monitor internet portals and domains and prevent taboo topics such as 1989 Tiananmen Square protest to be posted inside China. Since then, the GFW has tracked controversial Internet addresses, blocked sensitive speeches, and carefully monitored online behavior of writers such as Tang.
Tang continued writing Chinese blogs at mainstream Chinese websites, such as Sina.com and Sohu.com. Eventually, her Sohu blog was banned and most of her posts in Sina were deleted after her public support for Charter 08. She posted criticism analysis on “banned” topics, such as 1989 Tiananmen Square protest and other controversial news in China on her blog.
Like others, Tang is able to sidestep the GFW by using anti-firewall software on her computer. “The new interesting thing is millions of people are still spreading it online and promoting its signature movement,” said Qiang Xiao, director of China Internet project at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Xiao added that the rise in the number of online users in China has made it difficult for the GFW to delete all controversial blog posts, messages and discussions.
Last month, Tang discovered that her second blog on Sohu.com was censored again and that her email address was blocked from registration. Tang was able to set up new blogs at bullogger and de-sci.org—two Web sites with servers based in the U.S. And this is just one example of blogger censorship—or being “harmonized” or “self-censorship from the media,” explains Ping Zhang, former managing editor of Southern Metropolis Weekly who lost his job because of his commentaries on Tibetan unrest last year.
When the Internet started spreading in China, everyone hoped that an anonymous and two-way communication platform—the Internet—would foster communication and public discussion among the Chinese community. But it hasn’t. Even though the digital age has allowed more users like Tang and her readers to take advantage of new mobile communication tools such as RSS feeds and text messaging. Right after her meeting with the Chinese police, Tang opened a new blog on another host and submitted her first post: “If I am killed, I will be resurrected!” In her new blog, Tang continues to write about Charter 08. We wish her well.