The Great Chinese BBS Crackdown

China 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 positioning.

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 students 《关于进一步加强大学生思想道德教育的决定》
- 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:

This is not an easy issue -- ask yourself, what would you do in the position of the Sysop (=System Operator)?  

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 Propaganda)

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 hegemonic culture. 

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 whatsoever): 


"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?