Latest Stories

Blog crackdown chills China’s political debate

BEIJING—A government-backed campaign to assert greater control over social media has led to increased self-censorship by some of China’s most influential bloggers, chilling political discourse in the country.

Chinese microblogs similar to Twitter have become key drivers of public opinion in recent years, with bloggers drawing attention to official corruption, pollution and other issues that challenge China’s ruling Communist party.

But in recent months influential government critics have been paraded on state television, pledging to avoid posts that could create a “negative” social influence, while hundreds have been detained for spreading “rumors” online.

“It’s creating pressure, and an atmosphere of fear,” said Xie Wen, a veteran of China’s Internet industry who worked as a senior manager for Yahoo! China. “It’s about making people speak less.”

The rising influence of microblogs has been accompanied by the emergence of celebrity users with verified accounts, known as “Big Vs”.

With over 13 million followers, real-estate mogul Pan Shiyi became one of the most celebrated “Big V” bloggers, driving public opinion on pollution by posting details of Beijing’s dirty air levels, which at the time were not officially released.

At a meeting in mid-August, one of China’s top officials responsible for Internet censorship told Pan and other well-known bloggers to be “more positive and constructive” in their online comments, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Pan was later shown in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV, where he appeared contrite and warned of the dangers of “casual” online posts.

Tensions increased with the August arrest of Chinese-American investor Charles Xue, who gathered more than 12 million followers to his microblog with a steady drumbeat of criticism aimed at China’s government, on charges of soliciting prostitutes.

State-media insisted that his arrest has no connection with his online commentary, but government-run broadcaster CCTV showed him in prison clothes while under detention, confessing that he had used microblogging to “gratify my vanity”.

Prior to the crackdown, Chinese microblogs were subject to tight censorship, with posts critical of top Communist leaders or calling for street protests subject to the strictest censorship.

But the latest campaign has led to increased self-censorship, with posts from users with more than 50,000 followers on China’s most popular microblog, Sina Weibo, declining by 20 percent from January to August, according to figures provided to Dow Jones Newswires.

“The people leading the movement hope that (social critics) will shut up,” Xie said. “A lot of people are changing their topics, talking about light issues and not anything serious.”

Beijing-based Internet analyst Jeremy Goldkorn said: “It’s certainly had a chilling effect, it’s made people nervous.”

Several high-profile microblog users contacted by Agence France-Presse said they had been avoiding sensitive political topics in recent weeks.

“I feel the pressure, I am more careful about posting about any kind of topic,” said Wang Xiaoshan, a movie actor whose microblog has over one million followers.

“There have always been limits, but now it’s more serious, you could end up in jail,” he added.

Zhou Ze, an outspoken lawyer who has about 160,000 followers, said: “If it’s about serious issues like official corruption, I’ve given up posting, there are more worries.”

“I have more worries about posts relating to officials, especially state-security officials, because it’s them making the arrests,” he added.

The campaign appears to be part of a concerted effort by China’s new leadership under President Xi Jinping to re-assert control over all forms of the media.

Xi last month called on propaganda officials to “build a strong army… to seize the ground of new media”, while China’s press regulator has ordered journalists to undergo “Marxist” training classes, state media reported.

“The Internet is full of negative news of all kinds and critical voices saying the government only does bad things,” a Communist Party journal named Seeking Truth wrote this month in an article calling for stricter online controls.

Alongside celebrities, police nationwide have detained hundreds for posting information online judged to contain “rumors”, according to official reports.

The campaign received a legal boost this month when China’s Supreme court said Internet users could face three years in jail if “slanderous” information spread online is viewed more than 5,000 times or forwarded more than 500 times.

China’s ruling party, which has provided more room for public debate in recent decades, has long been engaged in a cat-and mouse game with Internet users, tightening restrictions in periodic crackdowns, before new forums emerge to challenge such restraints.

Some expect that the recent campaign will fade away like previous ones.

“It’s a short term movement, they won’t have enough space to detain people at this rate,” Zhou said.

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Why ‘Noah’ can’t dock his ark at Philippine theaters 49 mins elapsed Acclaimed artist goes wild while on holiday 53 mins elapsed Believing in this mermaid 58 mins elapsed Missing Xian 60 mins elapsed Minnie Driver plays devastated mother to a stillborn child 1 hour elapsed 2 killed in apparent Bahrain car bombing 3 hours elapsed Tottenham beats Fulham 3-1 in Premier League 3 hours elapsed SC suspends proctor in 2011 bar exams 3 hours elapsed
Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Censorship , China , Freedom , Microblog , politics , Sina Weibo , Social Media

  • Ryan

    gill & purple daisy where are u?

  • Imeldita

    China’s economy will falter soon enough when freedom is restricted and people clamor for less government control.

  • disqus_CudSy1ZeHQ

    What do you expect with this communist china, they own the whole world…. Express your self and youre be dead….

  • divictes

    The dictatorship of the proletariat has onion skin.

    • Batala

      Indeed that can be seen in our own communist leftist groups.

      They do not allow any contrary opinion.

      In a big blow to freedom of speech, the Philippine Star was recently “forced” to delete a newsitem that was critical of leftist communists.

  • wawa2172

    At least china allows social media even if it is censored. Least we will know about pollution, corruption and human rights violation by the communist party. What I am so sure is that their wont be censorship if China declared threat to its neighboring countries. That is China would be angry if they are criticized. Its a giant that could snarl at anybody because they now feel untouchable.

    • Ryan

      hinahanap ko nga mga troll natin dito na sina gill at purple daisy

  • Phoinex

    What do they expect from a communist country? freedom of expression? No way!

Copyright © 2014,
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement Advertisement
  1. Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  2. Did Deniece Cornejo lambast Vhong Navarro on social media?
  3. Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  4. Mommy Dionisia sings ‘Riking Bull,’sends netizens ablaze
  5. Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  6. Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  7. Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  8. Filipinos #PrayForSouthKorea
  9. Taylor Swift tries video blogging, crashes into fan’s bridal shower
  10. Mommy Dionisia Pacquiao scores, takes over social media
  1. Did Deniece Cornejo lambast Vhong Navarro on social media?
  2. Mommy Dionisia Pacquiao scores, takes over social media
  3. Mommy Dionisia sings ‘Riking Bull,’sends netizens ablaze
  4. Memes flourish after Pacquiao victory
  5. Netizens react to Pacquiao’s victory over Bradley
  6. IT technician found guilty of defrauding firm of P130,000
  7. Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  8. Philippines may watch ‘blood moon’ online
  9. Nude and so dangerous
  10. Online-addicted man arrested over son’s death
  1. #RejectedBbPilipinas2014Questions flood Twitter
  2. Did Deniece Cornejo lambast Vhong Navarro on social media?
  3. Netizens fall in love with Crimea prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya
  4. Mommy Dionisia Pacquiao scores, takes over social media
  5. Nude and so dangerous
  6. Mommy Dionisia sings ‘Riking Bull,’sends netizens ablaze
  7. Russia tries to curb Crimean prosecutor’s Internet fame
  8. Memes flourish after Pacquiao victory
  9. Why didn’t missing jet passengers use their cellphones?
  10. Netizens thank Capa for Lee arrest


  • 16 suffer burns in Batangas sugar factory accident
  • Angat level drops; cloud seeding set
  • Indigenous aspiration in Bangsamoro
  • Banahaw continues to lure pilgrims, trekkers
  • Passion of Christ moves survivors
  • Sports

  • Tottenham beats Fulham 3-1 in Premier League
  • Martino defends Messi, takes blame for Barca fail
  • Vettel hoping for resurgence at Chinese GP
  • MLB pitcher donates $100,000 for Sewol ferry victims
  • Hamilton takes pole at Chinese Grand Prix
  • Lifestyle

  • Levine designs womenswear with help from fiancee
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate, dies at 87
  • Ford Mustang turns 50 atop Empire State Building
  • Pro visual artists, lensmen to judge Pagcor’s photo contest
  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • Entertainment

  • Why ‘Noah’ can’t dock his ark at Philippine theaters
  • Acclaimed artist goes wild while on holiday
  • Believing in this mermaid
  • Missing Xian
  • Minnie Driver plays devastated mother to a stillborn child
  • Business

  • A workplace of new possibilities
  • Learning by doing: pilgrimage of faith
  • Fiat-Chrysler to produce iconic Jeep in China from 2015
  • US commerce secretary spells out economic facet of ‘pivot to Asia’
  • Italy sells luxury state cars on eBay
  • Technology

  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • Cesar Chavez movie sparks memories of Fil-Am labor leaders
  • Filipinos in US poised for success
  • Visas for priests and other faith leaders
  • DOH to continue tracking co-passengers of OFW infected with MERS virus
  • 5 Filipinos with MERS in UAE reported in stable condition
  • Advertisement