Foreign Policy: No Internet Censorship in China pre-2004

In the Hutong
It’s a dragon, not a windmill
1845 hrs.

In an otherwise superb article about humor in China, Eric Abrahamsen drops a throwaway line that needs to be called-out.

In the late 1990s, the Internet was still entirely uncensored (it would remain that way as late as 2004 or 2005),

While I cannot speak for the definition of the word “censorship” Mr. Abrahamsen is using, I will use the one from Wikipedia that defines Internet censorship as the “control or supression of the publishing or accessing of information on the Internet.”

By that definition, Mr. Abrahamsen would be shocked to know that the central government was restricting access to a wide range of sites on the Internet in the late 1990s. An excerpt from a BBC wrap-up of China’s first 50 years in 1999:

Chinese police departments have been authorised to monitor individual users of the Internet, and they can ask service providers to block troublesome web sites.

A number of sites including the BBC, CNN, ABC and Voice of America have been blocked, and a Chinese computer executive who supplied e-mail addresses to a human rights organisation in the United States was sentenced to two years in prison.

The article goes on to mention a certain religious cult whose name begins with “F” and how authorities blocked all sites with related material, and quotes the head of a human rights group who says his site was blocked as well.

A rose by any other name.

I am sure Mr. Abrahamsen did not mean to mislead, but if the fact checkers at FP are letting egregious misstatements like this one slip, one must wonder what else is getting through.


About David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.
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