Two reports consider scale and scope of Chinese censorship

Justin Hendrix / Feb 26, 2021

Two new reports- one from The New York Times and one from the Rainey Center, a "post-partisan" think thank in Washington DC, each consider the scale and scope of Chinese censorship.

New York Times columnist Li Yuan, who writes about technology and politics in Asia, reports on an online database of speech crimes by an anonymous person in China that tallies thousands of instances of punishment by the Chinese government. the Google sheet- "which links directly to publicly issued verdicts, police notices and official news reports over the past eight years"- is hardly a complete record of the swift and brutal approach the Chinese government takes against its domestic critics. The author of has described the effort on a Twitter account:

“Big Brother is watching you... I tried to look for the eyes of Big Brother and ended up finding them everywhere.”

The spreadsheet documents all manner of enforcement against direct critique, as well as against comedic skits. Some detentions are short lived- others long, and punitive against the families of the offender:

"Huang Genbao, 45, was a senior engineer at a state-owned company in the eastern city of Xuzhou. Two years ago he was arrested and sentenced to 16 months in jail for insulting the national leader and harming the national image on platforms like Twitter. He shared a cell with as many as more than 20 people and had to follow a strict routine, including toilet breaks. He and his wife lost their jobs, and he now delivers meals to support his family."

“My life in the detention center reminded me of the book ‘1984... Many of the experiences are probably worse than the plots in the book.”

-Huang Genbao, a Chinese citizen imprisoned for things he said on Twitter

A new think tank report published Thursday says American companies played a significant role in building the Chinese censorship apparatus.

"The Chinese communist government controls its citizens’ online behavior in two ways: by limiting what information from the outside world is available and by censoring content posted within its borders," writes Jonathon Hauenschild, Policy Advisor at the Rainey Center in his new report, Exporting Censorship and Internet Sovereignty: How China Uses its Economic Power, American Companies and its Own Technology Companies to Implement its Vision for a Controlled Internet Globally.

Hauenschild reminds the reader of the role of companies such as Yahoo!, Cisco and Sprint in helping to develop key aspects of the infrastructure that came to be known as the Great Firewall and the Golden Shield Project, and the ongoing price of admission that companies like Apple must pay to be in the market. "If a western technology company wants access to the Chinese market, the company must adopt China’s vision of a censored internet, at least for products distributed in China," he writes, referencing a staff research report from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Hauenschild concludes that "by promising, granting, or threatening to close access to its market, China has started to export its cultural values and vision of the internet beyond its national borders."


Justin Hendrix
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & ...