Chinese web firms delete more than 60,000 accounts as new rules loom

Wall Street Journal: (by Josh Chin)

Chinese Internet companies have deleted tens of thousands of user accounts as the country prepares to enforce new registration rules that will further cement government control over online discourse.

A total of more than 60,000 accounts across a number of Chinese Internet platforms were deleted in recent days, chiefly because of misleading or harmful usernames, the Cyberspace Administration of China said in a statement dated Thursday. Among them were accounts that masqueraded as government departments, carried commercial names such as “Come Shoot Guns” and “Buy License Plates,” spread terrorist information or sported erotic avatars.

Unverified accounts falsely claiming to represent state media were also shut down, the agency said, adding that it covered everything from microblogs to chat accounts to online discussion forums. Companies listed as having taken part in the cleanup included top U.S.-listed Chinese tech giants Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. , Tencent Holdings Ltd. , SinaCorp. and Baidu Inc.

The comprehensive creation of a clear and bright Internet space requires active and positive conduct from enterprises,” the regulator’s statement said.

The new rules aim to further tame the country’s already tightly controlled Internet by prohibiting the use of deceitful or harmful identities and requiring Internet users to submit genuine personal information when registering for online services. They were announced earlier this month and go into effect March 1.

China has attempted to implement similar limits in the past, with mixed success. The current effort, however, arrives at a time of intense ideological and political tightening as Chinese President Xi Jinping moves to reassert Communist party dominance over public discourse, particularly online.

Venture capitalist and Chinese blogging pioneer Isaac Mao warned that requiring users to register with their personal information to use any Internet service would stifle expression and creativity online.

It definitely has a chilling effect,” Mr. Mao said. “In the long run, freedom of speech and freedom of innovation will be dramatically harmed.

Weibo Corp. ’s microblogging service deleted 5,500 accounts, according to the regulator’s statement. They included accounts that spread information related to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a separatist group from the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Tencent canceled instant messaging and other social media accounts related to gambling, firearms, fake invoices and fake food-safety information, the regulator said.

Neither company immediately responded to requests for comment.

Some analysts have warned that the new rules could make things challenging for Chinese Internet companies by increasing operational costs while reducing total user numbers.

Yet tighter registration might also improve the quality of their users, said Xiaofeng Wang, a senior analyst at Forrester.

Marketers and consumers have become more mature. They’re getting past the stage where they care only about the total number of users,” she said. “They’ve realized the important thing is the actual, active users.”

Baidu dismissed the idea that the deletions would have an impact on its business. The search giant removed more than 23,000 accounts from its popular PostBar, or Tieba, discussion forums, mostly for promoting “vulgar” culture or featuring erotic avatar images, the agency said.

It’s a vanishingly small percentage of the total number of Baidu PostBar accounts, which number in the hundreds of millions,” said Baidu spokesman Kaiser Kuo. He declined to comment further on what the company was doing to comply with the new requirements.

The regulator didn’t say whether Alibaba had deleted any accounts, but said the company had set up a special working group to manage usernames on its various platforms. Alibaba declined to comment.

Ms. Wang said further restrictions on speech could hurt the attractiveness of social media platforms, but said that companies were unlikely to resist. “With the Internet, you always have to obey certain rules if you want to operate a business in China,” she said.

Could a ratings system improve the Chinese film and television industry?

A publicity photo handout for the TV drama Empress of China, which was censored to crop out any regions below women’s necks with exposed cleavage.

ChinaFile:

It all started with plunging necklines. After the sudden withdrawal and subsequent sanitizing of a popular Chinese show, viewers in China have renewed longstanding calls to strip government censors of their power, using one simple solution: a ratings system for television and film. Shortly after its December 21 premier, the series Empress of China rose to swift popularity on the shoulders of beautiful women in expensive period costumes featuring abundant décolletage. But the series was yanked from airwaves shortly after its debut, only to return on January 1 with a glaring lack of cleavage; censors had replaced the more revealing scenes with close-ups cropping out any region below women’s necks. The outcry and downright mockery that resulted says much about why Chinese entertainment continues to fall short of its massive potential.

Soon after Empress‘s inglorious return to the small screen, Chinese social media demanded the original’s return. They argued that low-cut garments were true to the history of that period. They complained the revised show comprised so many head-shots that it might as well be called “The Legend of Empress Big Head.” They posted satirical images of other movies, photographs, and works of art similarly cropped to ridiculous effect, including the Mona Lisa, the statue Venus de Milo, and the former Communist strongman Mao Zedong. Media outlet Sina Entertainment reported on January 5 that viewership has slipped since its post-censorship return to the airwaves, jeopardizing the big-budget show’s profitability.

 

Chinese authorities issued no statement explaining their rationale, but they likely believed Empress to be too salacious for younger viewers. If that were the case, it would have sufficed to rate the series for mature audiences—except China has no such system. A widely read January 3 blog post on Hong Kong-based Phoenix Media explained official refusal to implement a ratings system this way:

Officials believe that “if people are exposed to elegant things, they will become elegant; if they are unable to view vulgar things, they will be cut off from vulgarity.” By contrast, “With a ratings system, there will be both elegant and vulgar things, and ignorant people cannot help but choose what is vulgar.”

The author of the post rejected that logic, positing that a “cultural products rating system” was the only way to resolve the contradiction between “creative freedom” and limits to what some might be able to see.

On January 5, even state news agency Xinhua chimed in. The incident demonstrated that “China’s television and film management process is insufficient,” the Xinhua article asserted, adding that “experts” recommended the immediate adoption of a ratings system in order to “give television market management a ‘law’ to rely upon”—an invocation of the Communist Party’s recent rhetorical emphasis on rule by law. Some were less circumspect. “This whole thing is one big joke,” commented one user of Weibo, China’s largest micro-blogging platform. “The fundamental cause is that our country doesn’t have a television ratings system.”

China’s government has thus far been unwavering. The Xinhua article was later removed, though it can still be viewed on other websites. The adoption of film and television ratings has long been a hot topic in China, so much so that in August 2010, the powerful State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) felt compelled to reject the proposals. And though Chinese netizens have continued to push for a ratings system, no system has yet been adopted. The official argument against a film and television rating system—that it is not “suited” to China because it can not guarantee youth would not be exposed to inappropriate materials—has irked people for years. A popular June 2011 post on discussion forum Zhihu criticized the government’s desire to control even the possibility of young people’s exposure to sexually explicit material. “The Chinese film market is the fastest growing in the world,” the author wrote. “Whether or not to adopt a rating system shouldn’t even be a point of discussion.” Without ratings, and the resulting market segmentation that in turn drives investment and creates a strong business environment, “Chinese movies cannot experience a true artistic and business boom.”

For now, works produced in the West, not to mention the relatively tiny South Korea, continue to outshine Chinese efforts. “Works that are appropriate for everyone are rarely good,” declared Bi Xiaozhe, a prolific editorialist, in a January 5 op-ed syndicated in government mouthpiece People’s Daily. Bi acknowledged that the re-launchedEmpress of China was “now ‘appropriate for all audiences,’” but said “it has also lost its edge.” If classical Western art had to “avoid sex as well as the female body,” Bi asked, “would they still have become classics that have kept their appeal for hundreds or even thousands of years?” To leave a space for the creation of high-quality works—while also satisfying worried parents—China should “emulate the ratings model of Western countries.”

A popular January 6 essay on Weibo titled “Why do Korean Movies Completely Blow Chinese Movies Out of the Water?” partly attributed the success of Korean movies and dramas—hugely popular in China and throughout Asia—to South Korea’s own film and television ratings system. Allowing creators to work “completely without interference,” the author wrote, encourages private investment and drives competition. (For curious readers, a January 4 Sina article estimated what rating the uncut Empress of China might receive elsewhere: TV-PG or perhaps TV-14 in the United States; “15” in South Korea, and an outright ban from Saudi Arabian television.)

However sensible a Chinese ratings system may seem, censors wield the power to pick winners and losers in a massive market, and they are unlikely to part with that authority easily. Until that time, grassroots Chinese will continue to chortle at what they see as SAPPRFT’s prudishness, and imagine a Chinese film and television renaissance that still feels too far away.

Chinese tennis champion who defected during the Cold War to chase her dream of playing Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova returns to Beijing to volley of abuse

Former tennis champion Hu Na, posing for a portrait in Beijing.
Gilles SabriÈ for the Daily Telegraph

The Telegraph:

 

 

Long before China had Li Na, its French and Australian Open champion, there was Hu Na, a tall and rangy teenage tennis prodigy from Sichuan.

At 19, she was China’s female tennis champion and a favorite of the Communist party‘s leaders; she often played mixed doubles with the then 65-year-old Wan Li, who later became China’s vice premier.

But on July 16, 1982, a day after arriving in America to compete in the Federation Cup, Hu Na slipped out of her hotel room in Santa Clara, California and disappeared.

Ten days later, her Chinese-American lawyer filed a request for political asylum. It caused a storm: it had only been three years since China and the US had reestablished diplomatic relations.

I never thought it would make such big news,” said Ms Hu, now 51, on a visit to Beijing to promote an exhibition of her art.

But I knew I had to take the chance. Back then we only played overseas twice or three times a year and I did not know when I might be back in the US again.”

Ms Hu said she had been inspired by Martina Navratilova, who was 18 when she defected from Communist Czechoslovakia to the US.

I did not tell anyone about it, not even my parents. I was very worried at the time. I did not know when I would see my parents again. But I wanted to be a tennis professional and my dream gave me the courage to do it,” she said.

Hu Na in1985 at Wimbledon Championships.

Beijing was furious and the Chinese team demanded the US find and return Ms Hu. “We hereby demand the US takes effective measures to find and immediately send her back to our team,” said a statement. Later, the Foreign ministry said the defection was “sure to adversely affect the cultural exchanges between the two countries“.

However, Ms Hu claimed that her parents were not punished for her betrayal. Her grandfather was a men’s’ doubles tennis champion, her father coached the army basketball team in Chengdu and her mother was an official at the Sports Commission.

I do not think my parents had any trouble. At that time China was opening up and reforming and I had my first letter from them a few months later,” she said. A year after her defection, the Chinese tried to tempt her back saying she would not be prosecuted if she returned.

Ms Hu said she had received an offer from Vic Braden, then one of the world’s foremost tennis coaches, to manage her. “I told him to ask the Chinese Tennis Association and he sent many letters but never got an answer,” she said.

There was such a big difference between the US and China. There were tennis courts everywhere. And the players wore dresses at the US Open. In China at that time we just had blue shirts and shorts,” she said.

My parents knew my dream. By the time I was champion of Asia I had no rivals to play with. I wanted to play with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova,” she said. She played them both, but lost.

Her best championship was Wimbledon in 1985 where she reached the third round, knocking out Annabel Croft. “The next day, even the taxi drivers recognised me because everyone in Britain had watched that match,” she said.

In 1990 her parents were allowed to visit her in the US for the first time. “My mother cried because my skin was so tanned she thought I was ugly,” she said. Eventually her entire family resettled in the US, and Ms Hu was allowed to return to China.

However, her latest visit has been greeted with abuse by Chinese nationalists, who questioned whether a former “traitor” should be allowed back on Chinese soil.

Who let her in?” wrote one commenter on the Chinese Internet. “How long does the crime of defection last for? It is a provocation to come back for an art exhibition.”

You bring shame to our country. The motherland does not forbid her from coming back, this shows the tolerance and the progress of the nation; But our countrymen have rejected her, this is how the people judged her,” wrote another, according to a translation on the ChinaSmack website.

Ms Hu said she does not pay any attention to the criticism. “I remember the first time I came back to China there had been such a big change,” she said. “When I was young I would play tennis into the evening and then I would have to walk home for half an hour and there were no lights. It used to be so dark.”

And she praised Li Na for standing up to the Chinese state sports system. “Li Na chose her own way and you can see from the success she had that it was a good thing. I think things have changed now,” she added.

Link

Crowds gather in Hong Kong for anniversary of Tiananmen Crackdown

 

New York Times:

Tens of thousands gathered at a central park in Hong Kong on Wednesday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, even as a stifling security presence in Beijing and elsewhere in mainland China appeared to forestall protests.

The organizers of the vigil in Hong Kong said the crowd on Wednesday numbered over 180,000, while the police estimated that 99,500 people had attended. The turnout on Wednesday was the largest since 1989, according to the organizers, and the second-largest, according to police estimates, trailing the 2010 turnout, which was 113,000.

State-controlled Chinese news organizations largely ignored the anniversary, even as the foreign news media gave it global attention. In Washington, the White House said in a statement, “Twenty-five years later, the United States continues to honor the memories of those who gave their lives in and around Tiananmen Square and throughout China, and we call on Chinese authorities to account for those killed, detained or missing in connection with the events surrounding June 4, 1989.

In the years since the crackdown, mainland China has combined rapid economic growth with severe and recently increasing restrictions on civil liberties. In the weeks preceding the anniversary, the Chinese police detained and in some cases prosecuted scores of human rights activists.

Online censors have stepped up their already extensive blocking or deleting of websites and postings that challenge the Communist Party’s effort to erase the public’s memory of the bloodshed in 1989, when soldiers in Beijing killed hundreds of students, workers and professionals demonstrating for greater democracy and limits on corruption.

The crowd that gathered Wednesday night in Victoria Park in Hong Kong was visibly younger than in previous years and included, for the first time, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, a widely admired Roman Catholic priest who in the past had held prayers near the commemoration but had not taken part.

In recent years, the gathering had been dominated by people age 40 or older who remembered coverage of the night of the crackdown and who sometimes brought their children. That demographic profile appeared to have been upended this year, as people in their 20s and 30s predominated. An announcer on the stage asked all those attending the vigil for the first time to raise their hands, and many sprang up.

One first-time attendee, Rex Liu, a 27-year-old office worker, said that although he felt regret that students had died 25 years ago, he was motivated more by concern about the prevalence of corruption in current-day China. “I feel the need to come this year to express my discontent over the rotting and corrupt state of the Chinese government,” he said.

The general silence about the anniversary that security agencies imposed in mainland China left Hong Kong as the only city on Chinese soil where such a public commemoration could take place.

 Thousands in Hong Kong gathered on Wednesday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

 

Asked during a brief interview near the end of the vigil whether he was attending the event as a church leader, Cardinal Zen, the retired archbishop of Hong Kong and a longtime advocate of greater democracy, gave a small shrug and a short, amused laugh. “No, no, no, I am myself,” he said.

Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, published an article on Wednesday quoting a government spokesman criticizing the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, who called on Tuesday for Beijing to release pro-democracy activists and others who have been detained.

“The so-called press release made by U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, grossly goes against her mandate and constitutes a grave intervention of China’s judicial sovereignty and internal affairs,” Hong Lei, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said at a daily news briefing, according to the Xinhua report. Ms. Pillay had released a statement on the anniversary calling on China to free dissidents. “China has chosen a viable path to develop human rights, and this is not to be changed by any discordant voice,” Mr. Hong added.

Beijing kept the historic site tightly guarded on Wednesday. 

Among those who had assembled around Victoria Park was one man defending the armed crackdown. He held a sign in Chinese that read: “Oppose overturning the verdict on June 4; the democracy movement is a menace to national tranquillity. Without a prompt crackdown, China would not be what it is today.”

The man, Chiu Keng Wong, a Hong Kong resident and camera dealer, said he was in China in 1989.

People don’t understand the situation back then,” he said. “This had to be done to defend reform and opening up. Older people who have spent time in China understand my view.”

A T-shirt and a headband displayed to symbolize the hunger strike of pro-democracy activists in the spring of 1989, ahead of a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

Several groups in Hong Kong allied with the Beijing government have tried to make the case that dwelling on June 4 is politically unhealthy, and one of them, the Voice of Loving Hong Kong, held a small gathering near Victoria Park. Guarded by a phalanx of police officers and metal barriers, the group had a banner urging the people of Hong Kong to “let go of this burden.”

The democracy movement in Hong Kong has fractured over how to deal with Beijing’s steadfast refusal to change its official stance on the Tiananmen Square crackdown, and over Beijing’s reluctance to allow greater democracy in Hong Kong itself. The clearest sign of that division was a separate protest Wednesday evening on the opposite side of the harbor from the Victoria Park candlelight vigil, which has been held every year since 1989.

The rival event, which the police said attracted 3,060 people, was organized by the Proletariat Political Institute, a group led by Wong Yuk-man, a democracy activist who is also on the 70-member Legislative Council. He contends that the established pro-democracy parties are not sufficiently assertive in challenging Beijing.

The vigil has been held for more than two decades, and the significance of the vigil is diminishing,” Mr. Wong’s group said in a statement Tuesday evening. “It is now no more than a routine ceremonial event.”

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 Crowds gather in Hong Kong for anniversary of Tiananmen Crackdown