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Anatomy of Chinese censorhip

Phil Pan continues his elucidating series on China's Internet censorship with a long look at Zhao Jing, the Chinese blogger that Microsoft censored in December.

Phil Pan continues his elucidating series on China's Internet censorship with a long look at Zhao Jing, the Chinese blogger that Microsoft censored in December. Pan reveals that for quite a while MSN Spaces was much less censored than other blog sites, especially Chinese ones. Google's Blogspot site is blocked entirely. Ultimately, Zhao, or Anti as he is known in the blogosphere, pushed hard enough that Chinese officials came knocking.

(Pan just completed an online discussion about his series, taking reader questions. Read it here.)

The situation came to a head in late December after the party replaced the top editors of the Beijing News, a scrappy tabloid that Zhao admired for its aggressive reporting. Zhao said he knew it was risky to write about, but decided he could not stay silent.

He expressed disgust on his blog and urged readers to cancel their subscriptions to the newspaper in protest.

One day later, on Dec. 30, the Shanghai Municipal Information Office, an arm of the party's propaganda department, called Microsoft's joint venture.

Zhang Xiaoyu, a senior official in the agency, said the government told Microsoft to remove Zhao's blog because it contained comments on the news, and only Chinese Web sites with licenses could publish such material. He said bloggers were barred from writing about "political, economic, military or diplomatic news."

Microsoft, which by then was hosting 3.3 million blogs in China, deleted Zhao's blog the next day. A company official said the Internet laws are vague and selectively enforced, and managers were caught off-guard by the request. He said Microsoft decided to comply because it came from an agency with regulatory authority.

Pan found that Chinese bloggers were not uniformly democratic rebels. Many bloggers had grave  misgivings about Zhao's activities and one college student wrote a scathing attack on Zhao. Of course, in China, one must expect that government agents are blogging, too, and participating in discussion boards. But as in America, bloggers come of all political stripes, and in China that means some substantial support for censorship.

As Zhao himself says:

"With more readers, I needed to be more reasonable," he said. "I always said I supported democracy, but I tried to explain it in a sensible way. Otherwise, people would start calling me a traitor or an American running dog."

Surprisingly, after MSN took down his blog, Zhao got a call from Microsoft offering to send him a CD of his archive. The catch: They would have to mail it to an address outside China.