The Great Chinese BBS Crackdown
Digital Times has the detailed coverage (and Washington
Post). My interest is in the
two-part Chinese-language documents that have been circulated (part
1 and part
2). These documents were collected by an individual with the
name 'h sisyphe' and contained a number of announcements and letters by various organizations and
individuals from everywhere. They are unorganized and lengthy, so that
there is no point for me to translate all of them. I will translate a
small number of them because they bring up some interesting issues and
This particular wave of crackdown was
apparently generated by an edict from high above and was applied to all the
bulletin board systems at the higher institutions of education. The
definitive documents were known as
- Document #16: Concerning the next step
about the decision to enhance the moral and thought education of university
- Document #17: Concerning the next step about
the decision to increase the control of information on the Internet《关于进一步加强互联网信息管理的决定》
The edict probably left it up to the individual
institutions to determine the implementation, and there seems to be different
interpretations about what each BBS was required to do. How did
each institution inform its users about the changes in policies and procedures? There was a great deal of variation,
ranging from the mundanely
technical to the anguished plea for understanding and cooperation. Here are some samples:
- "I Love Nankai BBS"
(nkbbs.org): Due to system maintenance, the BBS committee has made the
decision to discontinue the registration of new users as of midnight of
March 3. We apologize for causing any inconvenience for our
users. We estimate the stoppage to last approximately ten days.
We will inform you later about when we will resume.
- "Xian Jiaotung University"
(bbs.xjtu.edu.cn): Pursuant to orders from the upper-level administration,
the visiting policy to our BBS will be revamped during the period of the Two
Congresses. As of March 5, 2005,
1. Our BBS can only be accessed from inside our school. The IP number and
URL for bbs.xanet.edu.cn will be eliminated.
2. Our firewall will prevent access from outside our network.
Based upon these restrictions, many board activities conducted from outside
the school will no longer be possible. During this period, we will not
consider any board activities that cannot be accomplished. We do
not recommend our users at the school to provide any service of convenience
on behalf of others.
As for users outside the school, we recommend that you save your files
that you won't suffer any losses.
These policies will be in place until the upper-level administrators
instruct us otherwise.
- "Dongbei University White Mountain
Black Water BBS": In order to promote the healthy development of the
White Mountain Black Water BBS and in recognition of the actual situation at
our university, we have decided to enhance our account management
system. The details are as follows:
1. All previously approved accounts must be reconfirmed. All White
Mountain Black Water BBS users must register in their true identities
before the deadline of April 15. At that time, the BBS will examine
the registration data for all users and delete all those whose identities have not been
2. For new accounts, the following rules apply:
(1) You must register with your real name
(2) You must state your real work unit, including your department, major and
(3) You must register your real address (your building, your floor and your
(4) You must list your room telephone number, and the account manager will
then verify your identity over the telephone before you can be approved
(5) You can only register from an IP address inside the school
(6) Anyone whose registration information is false will be deleted
(7) All previous approved users from outside the school will be restricted
to "read-only" privileges as of April 15, 2005
3. All questions should be directed to the Sysop.
- "Beijing University Weiming BBS":
Due to the rapid increases in average and peak-time visits to our BBS recently,
especially from the outside public, we have decided to undertake system
maintenance as of 23:00 on March 4, 2005 in order to enhance our system
capability, to increase the network speed, to maintain our administrative
ability and to better serve our Internet friends. The system
maintenance will affect some of the extermal visitors to our net, and other
services may also be affected in the short run . Our BBS committee
apologizes for any convenience that our system maintenance may cause the public.
"Beijing University Weiming BBS" (March 9): After many tries, it
is now possible for people outside the university to access the BBS
anonymously. We are currently going through various means to restore services to
external users. However, the upper-level administrators
have requested that we must enter a period of extraordinary management in
order to guarantee the stability of regular operations at the Beijing
University Weiming BBS. During this period, the system operators will
interject themselves into board operations, primarily to make sure that
certain sensitive or harmful posts are removed as well as to ban the associated
user ID's. We hope that everybody will understand and support our decision,
and our system committee will work hard to make sure that everything is
restored to normalcy as quickly as possible. We hope that you will
cooperate with our committee and to protect the security of Weiming!
- "Xidian.edu.cn": Based upon
the requirement from above and standardization within the university, we
have implemented the policy of requiring current students to register under
their real names. The details are as follows:
(1) New users must fill out the "New User Registration" form on
the BBS and to verify that the user ID that they requested has not been issued
(2) After receiving a user ID, the student must proceed to the registration
office (East Cafeteria, Third Floor, Student Activity Center) during office
hours (Monday, Wednesday and Friday 4:00pm-6:00pm) with their identity
papers (both identity card and student card) and turn in their user application
forms. This will permit the verification of the identity of the
(3) After completing step (2) subject to the approval of the examiner,
the student will receive the related information about their user rights and
- "SMTH Tsinghua University" (March
8): Based upon the relevant regulations, we have ceased accepting new users
and we are only permitting visits from within the university for the time
being. We will let you know when we can restore services. We
look for your understanding and support.
"SMTH Tsinghua University" (March 16): Dear users, we wish
you well. We are writing this letter to tell you that SMTH may
continue to modify its administrative policy in light of the continuing
change in the circumstances, including the possibility of changing the
policy about which IP addresses are permitted.
Accordingly, the BBS committee wishes to use this letter as a public notice and, at
the same time, we ask all our users inside and outside the school to support
the decisions of the BBS committee and love SMTH as you have done for the
last ten years.
During these ten years, many of our users have graduated from Tsinghua
University and they have maintained their deep emotional attachment to
SMTH. SMTH continues to be an important channel and source of
information for them after they graduated.
During these ten years, many non-Tsinghua users have also benefited from the
scholarly and information platforms at SMTH. Over these ten years, SMTH
created a deep foundation for a scholarly board, and the contribution from
the outside visitors have given SMTH a great reputation in the field of
The history of the SMTH BBS over the past ten years shows that excellent
scholarship and constructive information is possible in a good group
setting. Under an effective and rigorous management system, the
outside users will not interfere with board operations or cause
instability. Conversely, an open and rigorous external group can make
tremendous contributions towards the vitality and quality of the SMTH BBS and
enhance the academic reputation of Tsinghua University.
Therefore, the BBS committee acknowledges that the external community of
users is a spring
of vitality for the SMTH BS. In the past and for the future, under any
circumstances, the SMTH BBS will never ever forget the broad community of outside
Any restrictions on visiting rights will be temporary. We hope that
the large number of outside users will work with the SMTH BBS through this
period of hardship.
As for users within the university, the temporary banning of external IP
addresses will cause some hardship while you are on vacation. But the
SMTH BBS hopes that you can work with the various operators to maintain
order on the various forums and work with the SMTH BBS through this period
This is not an easy issue -- ask yourself, what
would you do in the position of the Sysop (=System Operator)?
- Option #1:
You can resign so that someone else will take that position and the system will
continue to function under the newly imposed restrictions. If no one else
will take your place, the BBS will go silent. Is that what you really
- Option #2: You can continue as best as you can and work under the
restrictions while trying to work for more free space. No armchair
observer outside of China should be making that call for them, because you don't
know what it is like ...
[Case study: In October, 1973, US President Richard M. Nixon ordered
his Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire the Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox; Richardson refused this order and resigned. At that point, William Ruckelshaus, the Deputy Attorney General was asked to carry out the order, and he refused and resigned as well. The third in command, Robert Bork, carried out this order. The events are generally referred to as the Saturday Night Massacre.
Richardson, Ruckelhaus and Bork had agreed upon this outcome beforehand, as the first
two would resign in public protest but Bork had to carry on for the sake of the
Oh, you ask, What might this 'free space' under
restrictions be? You can't see it? Here is a small taste of what is
happening on SMTH right now, from InMediaHK
(March 22, 2005):
[translation] Over the past two days, the
SMTH BBS (now an intranet) has shown a trend in that more and more people have
resorted to quoting Chairman Mao's sayings in their posts and comments.
It has come to point where there seems to be a Sayings programming machine,
whereby entire articles are based upon certain quotations of Chairman Mao.
Thus, for any subject in any section of the board, people can find paragraphs
upon paragraphs of Chairman Mao's sayings.
Some of these are plain silly, but quite funny all the same, as in this 'mis'-statement: "You must let students read novels
during class, you must let students nap during class and you must treasure the
bodies of the children. The teachers should talk less, and let the
students watch more. I think that the student that you are talking about
may have future. He does not attend meetings on Saturdays, and he has
the courage not to return on time on Sundays. When you go back, you can
tell this student that it is too early to return to school by eight or nine
o'clock. He can come back at 11 or 12 o'clock. Who told you people
to hold meetings on Sunday nights anyway!?"
And then there are other comments which are
dark hints, such as this straight quote: "To rely solely on policy commands, to forbid people to
make contact with unusual situations, to bar people from contacting ugly
conditions, to ban people from approaching wrong thoughts and to prohibit people
from looking at evil people cannot solve the underlying problem."
(1957/3/12 Speech at the Chinese Communist Party National Congress on
Some users oppose and feel
negative about this trend because it disrupts the orderliness of the boards. But there
are others who believe that this is a form of protest which uses 'authoritative' texts within the
accepted system of language to
question and attack the existing reality. Furthermore, from the
viewpoint of cultural researchers such as John Fiske, the so-called masses
have the ability to produce and create anew from certain crucial elements
within the existing culture in order to escape from or struggle against that
So where does that leave the authorities?
Ban all of Chairman Mao's quotations and their variations from the BBS's? That would be quite
bizarre. Or set up an Irony Police to search and destroy all ironic use of
the Chairman's quotations? That would be even more bizarre!
(Follow-up at Danwei).
(Post at a BBS, without reference to anything
"In Germany they came for the Communists, but I didn't speak up
because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left
to speak up." [Note: a saying attributed to Pastor Martin Niemoller.]
The poem "Dead Water" by Wen Yidou
has been cited often as an elergy for the 'late' SMTH BBS.
Related post: Does
China Need An Internet Nanny?