China’s Tough New Internet Rules Explained

Hu Yong


On August 7, the State Internet Information Office issued a new set of guidelines entitled “Provisional Regulations for the Development and Management of Instant Messaging Tools and Public Information Services.” These regulations require that instant messaging service providers who engage in “public information service activities” obtain “Internet news service qualifications”; that users of instant messaging tools authenticate their own identities before registering; that users who open public accounts in order to provide “public information services” undergo “examination and verification” by the instant messaging service provider; and that this information be sorted and put on file with the “controlling department for Internet information and content.” In addition, articles on current events may be published or reprinted only on public accounts owned by media organizations and news websites, or reprinted on public accounts owned by non-media organizations that have obtained “Internet news service qualifications.” No other public account that has not been officially approved may publish or reprint such content.

Let’s take a careful look at these new provisions and try our best to tease out all the implications.

1. What are “qualifications,” and what is “content”?

National legislation about information transmitted via the Internet, particularly Internet news, generally confines itself to two concepts: “qualifications” and “content.” The new Instant Messaging Regulations—colloquially known as the “WeChat Articles”—take a similarly binary approach. Consider this passage from Article 7:

Public accounts maintained by news organizations and news websites may be used to publish or reprint current events reporting, and public accounts set up by non-news organizations that have obtained Internet news service qualifications may be used to reprint such articles. Other public accounts may not be used to disseminate or reprint news about current events without approval.

Who can publish or reprint news about current events, who is only allowed to reprint it, and who may not do either are all questions of “qualifications.” What constitutes “current events reporting” is a question of content.

2. What constitutes “current events reporting”?

The WeChat Articles are, for the most part, extensions of existing controls on Internet content. I like to think of them as taking the regulations that govern Internet use on personal computers and transplanting them wholesale onto the mobile web. For example, when the new regulations came out, everyone on WeChat was asking the same question: Do opinion pieces count as “reporting on current events,” as described in Article 7? Not many individually-held public accounts are capable of breaking original news stories, but what about the host of public accounts that offer commentary and analysis of current events? These are the accounts that are most likely to be charged with what the government calls “disseminating malicious rumors.” And what about finance and technology—does that count as “current events reporting”?

Actually, the 2005 “Provisions on the Administration of Internet News and Information Services” include a detailed description of what constitutes “current events reporting”:

Article 2. Internet news and information services entities in the People’s Republic of China shall follow these provisions.

The news and information services in these provisions refers to news and information on current events, including reports and comments related to politics, economics, military affairs, diplomatic affairs, and so on, and reports and comments on sudden social occurrences.

The Internet news and information services in these provisions refers to publishing news and information, providing bulletin board services for current events, and transmitting current communications to the public via the Internet.

According to this definition, opinion pieces and articles on finance both clearly fall under the umbrella of “current events reporting.”

3. The “learning curve” effect.

The 2005 provisions were formulated before the mobile web revolution, and so pertained only to websites, online forums, text messages, etc. Now, these same regulations have been grafted onto the mobile web.

In the WeChat Articles, it’s easy to see where earlier measures for controlling Internet use on personal computers have been extended to cover the mobile web. Requiring users to register with their real names, and encouraging governmental institutions, companies, and civic organizations to maintain public accounts are the same strategies that were used earlier to conquer the rogue turf of Weibo. This goes to show that from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, and now in the age of the mobile web, the government has felt its way to a fairly effective strategy for regulating the Internet, and can adjust quickly to the latest technological developments. The Chinese government is a quick study, and has made powerful use of the learning curve effect: The more frequently they perform a task, the less time it takes for them to get up to speed.

4. What’s “new” in the new WeChat regulations?

Probably the most important new twist is a stricter control over grassroots media—the kind of unofficial, amateur journalism practiced on WeChat using “public accounts.”

Blogging reached its peak in China during 2005 and 2006, but in those days there was no high-minded talk of “grassroots media.” However, the blogging craze turned us into a nation of writers, and then, when Weibo arrived on the scene, we went from a nation of writers to a nation of one-person news outlets. Everyone loved Weibo—both ordinary folks and the élite—and it took the whole country by storm. But even when Weibo was at its liveliest nobody was talking about the idea of grassroots media.

The grassroots media sensation really took off with the advent of mobile web technology, which introduced new ways of producing and disseminating content. It reached its culmination in WeChat, whose public accounts, introduced on August 23, 2012, allowed individuals and organizations to create mass postings of text, pictures, recordings, and later video. This turned WeChat from a private communication tool into a media platform. At the same time, because users could form circles, WeChat had the potential to become a tool for social organization—much more so than Weibo had been.

This prompted the Internet monitors to step up their game, and at least on paper their regulation of WeChat public accounts has been far stricter than their policing of Weibo’s Big V users [its most influential users, who have been verified not to be posting under a pseudonym]. Right now, a Weibo account with several million followers doesn’t need any “qualifications”; but a WeChat public account with a couple thousand subscribers does. Of course, we don’t know whether a similar set of regulations governing Weibo’s Big Vs is waiting in the wings.

All this hammers home how risky the media business is in China, since it’s so vulnerable to the shifting winds of government policy.

5. Gray areas in the new regulations.

Article 4 of the WeChat Articles reads:

Instant messaging service providers shall obtain corresponding qualifications as stipulated in laws and regulations. Instant communication tool service providers engaging in public information service activities shall obtain Internet news service qualifications.

What exactly are “Internet news service qualifications”? Articles 5, 7, and 8 of the 2005 provisions define them explicitly:

Article 5. Internet news and information services entities shall be divided into the following three classes:

(1) Internet news and information service entities publishing news and information that is beyond the range of what the entity has already published, providing bulletin board services for current events, and transmitting current communications to the public.

(2) Internet news and information services entities that are established by non-news organizations and that reprint news and information, provide bulletin board services for current events, and transmit current communications to the public.

(3) Internet news and information services entities established by news entities and that publish news that the entity has already published or broadcast.

The establishment of Internet news and information services entities prescribed by Items 1 and 2 of the above clause shall be examined and approved by the Information Office of the State Council in accordance with the Decision of the State Council on Establishing Administrative Exams and Approvals that Must Remain Subject to the Administrative Licenses and the relevant administrative regulations.

The establishment of Internet news and information services entities of Item 3 of Clause 1 of this article shall apply for registration to the Information Office of the State Council or the Information Offices of the provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly under the central government.

Article 7. Internet news and information services entities fulfilling Item 1 of Clause 1 of Article 5 shall be subject to the following conditions:

(1) They shall have complete administrative rules and regulations.

(2) They have more than five full-time news journalists with more than three years of information work experience.

(3) They have the necessary facilities, equipment, and capital, and such capital shall be from legal sources.

The institutions applying to establish Internet news and information services entities shall be central news organizations of the provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly under the central government and news organizations directly under the municipalities of the people’s governments of the provinces and autonomous regions.

[ … ]

Article 8. The establishment of Internet news and information services entities complying with Item 2 of Clause 1 of Article 5 and in accordance with Clauses 1 and 3 of Article 7, in addition shall have more than ten full-time news editors, of whom more than five shall have more than three years’ experience working in news and information entities.

The organization that applies to establish an Internet news and information services entity prescribed by the above clause shall be a lawfully established legal entity engaging in Internet news and information services for more than two years and it shall not have violated any of the laws, rules, and regulations on Internet news and information services in the last two years; the applying organization shall be an enterprise legal person and it shall have a minimum of RMB 10,000,000 in registered capital.

[ … ]

These regulations say nothing at all about individuals. But now for the first time, using WeChat’s public accounts, individual citizen journalists are challenging the Internet censorship regime. Under the new policies, is it legal for public accounts created by individuals to offer analysis of current events? If so, to whom should they apply for “Internet news service qualifications”? What conditions do they need to meet in order to apply? What’s the procedure? And what criteria will be used to grant or deny them “qualifications”?

Article 7 of the WeChat Articles also stipulates:

Instant messaging service users opening public accounts in order to engage in public information service activities shall undergo examination and verification by the instant messaging service provider. The instant messaging service provider must file this information in a categorized manner with the controlling department for Internet information and content.

This article clearly places an obligation on the shoulders of service providers to maintain whitelists of allowed users.

So if an individual user wants to apply for a public account with an instant messaging service provider, what’s the procedure? How long does the “examination and verification” process take? If public account holders who haven’t published information about current affairs before want to start doing it now, is there a supplementary procedure? All of these are gray areas in the new regulations.

In the past, when gray areas existed in rules governing Internet use, service providers and users were left to interpret them themselves and act accordingly. This system of dual responsibility on the part of websites and website users will, almost certainly, influence the way WeChat is regulated, although right now the regulations don’t explicitly pertain to individual users and groups. One likely consequence, however, is that the new regulations will pose a challenge to the internationalization of the WeChat platform.

6. The vetting process is central to “qualifications.”

In the new regulations, “qualifications” take the form of a permit. But a permit is just a legal concept; what’s most important is the vetting process used to grant the permit. The requirement that public account owners obtain “Internet news service qualifications” and that current affairs reporting be restricted to news organizations means that the regulation of WeChat will proceed along established courses, which is to say that the Chinese Internet economy is doomed to be hampered by bureaucratic red tape. The Internet used to be the least regulated sector of the economy, which created an explosion of entrepreneurship. But now “Internet permits” are setting up economic roadblocks, which suck up time and effort on the part of business owners and, when quotas are used, often encourage rent-seeking behavior. Permits increase costs for businesses, and the governmental institutions tasked with administering them generally make a mess of things, or else do nothing at all.

7. A new style of regulation for new forms of content.

Actually, a system of permits like these was already in place before the Internet came along. In China, during the pre-Internet era, channels for speech and expression were controlled using a handful of “floodgates,” each of them manned by a particular controlling department. The book publishing, newspaper, magazine, recording, and printing industries were managed by the General Administration of Press and Publication. The radio and television industries were supervised by the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television. The Ministry of Culture oversaw literature and art and the development of the cultural marketplace, and the Ministry of Public Security was in charge of combatting pornography and “unhealthy” information. The National Copyright Administration was responsible for managing and protecting copyrights.

At first the government saw online information services as no different from traditional activities, just carried out in a new medium. But as the Internet underwent explosive growth, every individual could potentially become a publisher, a press office, a radio station, or a TV station, and the state began to deepen and broaden the system of permits it used to control the flow of information. For example, in early 2008 the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television issued a circular decreeing that beginning on January 31 of that year, not only would any company providing online video broadcasting services be required to obtain an “Online Film Broadcasting License,” but all companies offering such services must be state-funded enterprises or companies in which state-funded enterprises owned a controlling share.

Many new kinds of media could not be mapped neatly onto the existing agencies, but the government persisted in trying to regulate them according to the old categories. Not only was the controlling department for each kind of media required to manage new content using the old system of permits, but special regulations were issued targeting new online news aggregators, like the “Administration of Internet Electronic Messaging Services Provisions,” “Several Provisions of the Beijing Municipality on the Administration and Development of Microblogging in Beijing,” and most recently the WeChat Articles.

8. A unified administration.

The responsibilities of the various departments often overlapped, and it was inevitable that squabbles would arise as departments jockeyed for power, competing to extend their own areas of jurisdiction. When the Central Internet Security and Informatization Leading Group was established on Feburary 27, 2014, it was a sign that the government was moving toward a unified administration for online information management, in hopes of cutting down the number of cooks in the kitchen. The State Internet Information Office (SIIO) was originally part of the State Council Information Office, but it later split off and became the overarching organization responsible for regulating the Internet. It was the SIIO that issued the WeChat Articles, and from now on it’s likely that many of China’s Internet regulations will bear the stamp of this organization.

9. The lack of a transparent legislative procedure.

The SIIO’s new regulations share a key trait with other Chinese legislation regarding the Internet, which is that they were made by governmental departments, not legislative bodies. In general, the administrative regulations of the State Council, the departmental regulations issued by its various departments, and the ordinances passed by provincial and city governments all fall under the umbrella term of “executive legislation.” Though originating at different levels of government, they are all considered “laws.” In addition, there is another category, “Other Normative Documents,” which are not considered laws but which exist in great numbers and affect legal practice. It is generally these “lower-level” regulations, which are more concrete and targeted, that the “front line” administrative organs rely on in their enforcement of laws. And it is to these regulations that private parties usually look for guidance on what is considered legal. The WeChat Articles fall under this category; the process by which they were passed was not transparent.

10. The scope of the law is key.

When the new regulations are put into practice they will probably be selectively enforced and frequently flouted, because they are so incomplete. The problem with the Chinese government’s Internet regulations is that they are often ambiguous and too broad in scope, which turns ordinary people involved in everyday activities into potential targets for attack. The ambiguous nature of these regulations gives Internet monitors a great deal of latitude when it comes to enforcing the law. Monitoring can be easily taken to extremes, like when the city of Zhaoqing in Guangdong province recently ordered all owners of WeChat public accounts to register in person at the Public Security Bureau.

As I’ve noted before, though we have a vast array of rules governing Internet use, their names almost never include the word “law.” Most are simply regulations, and many are “provisional,” even though some have been in place for many years. This is one area where Chinese Internet law remains inadequate. And of course, in reality it doesn’t matter what the law is called; what matters is how effective it is, and how it’s enforced.

Widely disregarded, selectively enforced laws are damaging to the legal climate, devaluing the rule of law. To paraphrase Montesquieu, there are two kinds of social ills: when people don’t respect the law, and when the law itself encourages bad behavior. The latter is an incurable curse, because the medicine itself is what is causing the problem.

* * *

In conclusion, I’d like to tell a personal anecdote that illuminates the contradictions inherent in the new instant messaging regulations.

The day after the regulations came out, I posted an essay on my public WeChat account entitled “How to Read the WeChat Articles,” criticizing the new regulations for their ambiguity and for the opacity of the legislative process. Someone from the Public Security Bureau read it and posted a reply, saying, “Hu Yong’s article violates the new regulations.”

Sounds ridiculous, right? But strictly speaking, what the public security official said was true. My article counts as “reporting on current events,” since the 2005 Provisions clearly state that analysis of the news falls under this category. As an individual WeChat user, if I want to offer “public information services” I ought to undergo “examination and verification” first. And the regulations define public information services extremely broadly, as “distributing information to the public through public accounts on instant messaging tools and other means.” In other words, if I, as an ordinary citizen interested in public affairs, want to write comments about current affairs on my public WeChat account, I need proper qualifications and official approval; otherwise, I’m breaking the law. This reminded me of a question I heard posed by the head of a media organization: “The new regulations issued by the SIIO say that you need a permit to reprint anything related to current events. Now, I feel like I owe it to my fellow citizens to let them know about this groundbreaking new legislation. Technically, I can’t, because I need a permit. But how else am I going to share the news with my friends who don’t read Xinhua? Don’t blame me if they go on unwittingly breaking the law.”

The “channels-and-floodgates” method of controlling the media still works fine for the few remaining traditional media sources. But applying it to the million outlets of the grassroots media is like trying to close a door with a sieve. Furthermore, if people with WeChat public accounts are forbidden from publishing commentary on current affairs, then what about Weibo? Will that be forbidden too? Will the voices of the blogosphere be silenced?

Translated by Austin Woerner.



習一日兩會兼顧公平與發展 劃定7年改革路線圖

習一日兩會兼顧公平與發展 劃定7年改革路線圖


2014年08月19日 下午4:40





































Teddy Ng

2014年08月19日 上午11:33










上月,《東方早報》出版商上海報業集團推出新媒體項目《澎湃新聞》(The Paper)。用戶既可在網上瀏覽,也可通過手機應用和微信閱讀。





(翻譯/Jean Zhou;編審/Alison Yeung)



Xi Jinping calls for new style of media organisation

Xi Jinping calls for new style of media organisation

Reform initiative aims to create groups that are ‘diversified’, ‘advanced’, and ‘competitive’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 11:51pm

Teddy Ng in Beijing


President Xi Jinping called for the country to build a homegrown new media industry yesterday as he chaired the powerful central leading group for deepening reform.

The meeting came after the conclusion of the annual informal closed-door talks among Communist Party leaders at the seaside resort of Beidaihe in Hebei, and ahead of a series of key events including the 110th birthday anniversary of late leader Deng Xiaoping and the party’s fourth plenary session in October.

Xinhua reported that various other reform initiatives were discussed at yesterday’s meeting, including regulating the pay of top executives at state-owned enterprises.

Xi also chaired a meeting of the leading group for financial and economic affairs yesterday, at which he called for a faster adjustment of the economic development pattern.

A report on promoting the integration of traditional and new media was approved at the reform group meeting, calling for measures to be taken to develop new media organisations that are “diversified”, “advanced”, and “competitive”, Xinhua reported.

“Several new media groups that have strength, communication capacity, credibility and are influential should be established,” Xi was quoted as saying.

Authorities have to “properly integrate and manage traditional and new media, ensuring the integration is heading in the right direction,” Xi said.

New media is hugely popular in China. Nearly 400 million monthly active users were reported in the first quarter for the instant messaging platform WeChat, where more than 5.8 million content providers are disseminating information on its public accounts. Many journalists also use the platform.

The Shanghai United Media Group, which publishes the Dongfang Daily, last month launched The Paper, which is available online and through a mobile phone app and WeChat.

Hu Yong, a journalism professor at Peking University, expected the central government would give political and financial support for more new media platforms as the impact of traditional media dwindled.

Qiao Mu, an associate professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the impact of new media would be limited because authorities were tightening their grip over all platforms.

Earlier this month, the State Internet Information Office said only news agencies and news websites were authorised to publish original news content on instant messaging platforms.

“The authorities still want to maintain tight control over ideology. The promotion of new media will not lead to any real change in the nature of the media industry,” Qiao said.

Additional reporting by Stephen Chen

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Xi calls for new style of media organisation










来自开罗的摄影师艾尔沙米(Mosa’ab Elshamy凭借令人印象深刻的照片赢得最佳博客奖。他用图片讲述开罗最新时事,也描绘埃及文化中的日常生活。目前,他正跟随拍摄年轻的开罗地下乐手们的生活。 2013年,《时代》周刊将艾尔沙米在埃及革命中拍摄的一张照片列为年度十佳图片之一。Bobs国际评委认为,“艾尔沙米以令人印象深刻的方式展现埃及社会的冲突与巨大鸿沟。”


视觉巴勒斯坦(Visualizing Palastine 获得最佳社会运动奖。该网站以信息图(infografics)的方式呈现巴勒斯坦的情形。不单涉及热点话题,如以色列修建定居点,也关注环境、医疗和教育的情况。国际评委认为,“该网站将一个非常复杂、且充满情绪的冲突以一种容易理解的方式呈现出来。”


王左中右的字新闻获得最佳原创奖” 在微博上,他用字创意的形式描述当天在中国社交网络上最热门的新闻。所谓字创意,就是以汉字(有时是英文)为原型,对其进行各种各样的关联变形,来表达某种批评含义。王左中右向德国之声表示,他是一个媒体人,现在在上海一家媒体集团做一个互联网新闻产品。他说,写字新闻主要是出于兴趣爱好,一般利用业余时间来写,获奖代表了这种形式得到了某种肯定,还是蛮开心。国际评委认为,在中国的网络环境下,王左中右的“字新闻”聪明且具创意。


本年度德国之声全球媒体论坛(Global Media Forum的主题是信息与参与。印度地方周报新闻浪潮Khabar Lahariya 荣获该奖项。这份地方周报以六种印地语方言出版。12年来,一个女性团体负责该报的撰稿、制作与运营。这份报纸主要面向印度东部和北部的村民。那里基本没有互联网。“新闻浪潮”是许多人最重要的信息来源。国际评委认为,“民主政体的运作取决于所有人都有获取信息的权利,这份报纸充分显示了这一点”。




今年的记者无疆界特别奖由亚努科维奇解密YanukovychLeaks 获得。乌克兰前总统亚努科维奇逃离后不久,在他的别墅发现了被扔进湖里的文件。一些乌克兰记者正在收集和整理这些文件。“亚努科维奇解密”的目标是,对文件中大量的信息进行调查和分类。国际评委认为,特别在目前的危机中,对批评性记者提供支持十分重要,“必须鼓励他们勇敢前行”。





艾晓明工作室博客 获中文新媒体奖。艾晓明是学者、独立制片人、人权教育工作者。本为中山大学教授的艾晓明从2006年起自觉地开始纪录片与社会运动相结合的创作实践,完成了《天堂花园》、 《中原纪事》和《关爱之家》等纪录片。2008年至2010年间完成《我们的娃娃》、《公民调查》、《花儿为什么这样红》、《忘川》和《国家的敌人》共五 部作品在内的川震校难纪录片系列。最新的纪录片是《新公民案审判》。





莫之许 独立评论人















From Control to Participation: The Structural Transformation of China’s Public Opinion
 > Vol.9 No.2, summer 2014 > Cover Stories

From Control to Participation: The Structural Transformation of China’s Public Opinion

By Hu Yong


As China has the world’s largest community of Internet users, it is not surprising that the impact of social media would be potentially more transformative there than in many other countries. But to truly understand the potential of social media in China, it is essential to put it into historical context and weigh its development against thousands of years of dynastic control over public discourse, writes Hu Yong, a professor at Peking University and one of China’s most widely read bloggers.
Published: Jun 16, 2014

IN ancient China, during the Warring States period, Shang Yang, a famous statesman of the state of Qin, advocated strengthening the king’s power. He believed that in “current times” when “strong states aim at annexation while weak ones are concerned to maximize their defense,” it was necessary to adopt strong laws, and that violence in the form of “punishment imposed on people at home and wars against other states abroad” was the only solution. He stressed that “laws are the life of people and the basis of the king’s rule.” Therefore, people must be taught to obey laws, he argued.

To ensure that people were well taught, Shang Yang appointed legal officers to teach all people throughout the state. In other words, Shang Yang empowered these officers to take over the educational system. He called this set of theories and practices Yijiao(literally “unified teaching”), which banned all thoughts and opinions against the laws and his doctrine of Nongzhan, meaning “agriculture and war” (Shang Yang believed that “the means whereby a country is made prosperous are agriculture and war”). According to him, “Yijiao will make inferiors obey superiors.”

Han Fei, a philosopher known for developing the framework of Chinese Legalism, inherited Shang Yang’s “unified teaching” and believed that “people, within the state’s boundary, when practicing persuasion and eloquence, must always conform to the law.” Han Fei said, “The literati disturbed laws by means of letters and martial heroes transgressed prohibitions by means of violence, yet the king still treats them both with propriety,” and this was the cause of disorder. A marked practice of “disturbing laws by means of letters” was “being half-hearted towards the king and engaged in private studies.” Therefore, “such practice must be banned, the gangs dissolved, their partisans dispersed.” Han Fei then put forward the renowned Legalist proposal for education: “Therefore, in the state of the enlightened sovereign there is no literature written on bamboo slips, but the law is the only teaching; there are no quoted sayings of the early kings, but the magistrates are the only instructors.”

Although Han Fei failed to implement his proposal, his fellow scholar Li Si (they were both under the tutelage of the great Confucian Xun Zi), a minister of Qin Shi Huang, finally pushed the edict throughout the Qin Empire. Qin Shi Huang was the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty, and in the 33rd year of his reign (214 BC), Li Si proposed to burn all the copies of “the Classic of Poetry (Shi Jing), the Classic of History (Shang Shu), and the writings of the hundred schools of philosophy.”

Under his proposal, “the books that have exemption are those on medicine, divination, agriculture, and forestry” and “those who have interest in laws shall instead study from law officers.” As a result, Li Si brought to an extreme the belief of Shang Yang and Han Fei that “the law is the only teaching and the law officers are the only instructors.” Ever since, China’s rulers have enforced an orthodox code of learning, religious beliefs and social norms in order to put these recommendations into practice.

Adopting Qin Practice 

Mao Zedong once remarked, “All dynasties adopted Qin’s way of rule.” Although the Qin Dynasty did not last forever, despite Qin Shi Huang’s prediction to the contrary, he did create a system of centralized authority that united China and lasted for more than two thousand years. The residue of the system can be seen even in modern times. For example, Chinese today are familiar with the slogan, “Listen to the Party,” which is actually to listen to Party officials — a modern version of “law officers are the only instructors.” In the Cultural Revolution, the “great leader” was also referred to as the “great instructor,” who managed both politics and people’s thoughts. To manage thoughts was to eliminate dissidence from public opinion — a reflection of “people, when practicing persuasion and eloquence, must always conform to the law.”

When Mao started a campaign against “Hu Feng’s anti-revolutionary clique” in 1955,1he said, “there should be a unified public opinion as well as one set of unified laws.” By saying that, Mao meant that if there was anti-revolutionary dissidence in ideology and public opinion, the state legal apparatus should punish those who dared to dissent. Independent thinking by Hu Feng and his followers was at first deemed a “petit-bourgeois viewpoint,” then “anti-party and anti-people artistic thoughts,” and finally an “anti-Party” and “anti-revolution” crime. Hu was sentenced to a 14-year term in prison. At the end of December 1965, he was released from the notorious Qincheng Prison. But two years later he was imprisoned again and sentenced to life for the crime of “writing anti-revolutionary poems.”

The Hu Feng incident left behind a grim legacy — the “unification of public opinion” being ensured by the state apparatus and by laws. Expansive government control over ideology and severe restrictions on the freedom of expression were institutionalized, and exerted long-lasting influence. During the Cultural Revolution, “the unification of public opinion” was brought to an extreme and transformed into the idea that “the dictatorship of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie must be fully implemented in all areas of the superstructure.”

From Unified to Guided

After the Cultural Revolution, China’s political atmosphere became far more open, with much bolder criticisms and challenges to corrupt leaders and the bureaucracy. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) policy of “the unification of public opinion” turned into “the guidance of public opinion,” which means to encourage some kinds of public opinion while suppressing others. The Propaganda Department often told the tightly monitored state media that they should not be reporting on “wrong points of view” and instead should cover positive stories that promote “socialist values.”

Guo Luoji, a political commentator, pointed out: “‘The guidance of public opinion’ assumes someone’s opinion is superior to the society’s view and cannot be challenged. It imposes the principle of monopoly instead of the principle of competition.” In other words, even as the development of a market economy and the opening up of society mean public opinion can no longer be unified, the authorities still want to maintain the old structure of the “opinion field.” Market-oriented media have, to some extent, helped people air their ideas, but basically they are still affiliates of official media.

The situation began to change in the 1990s when the Internet emerged in China. But the real turning point came in the first decade of the 21st century when social media such as blogs and microblogs gained popularity.

What do social media mean for China? It is a gathering place for citizen journalism, allowing local news to become national. It is a home for public discourse, a national arena that transcends place and class as never before. It is a source of citizen action, where the people unite and struggle together to improve society. In sum, social media have massively strengthened the public spirit of China’s netizens, as shown in the emergence of the “online crowd.”

In other words, China’s public opinion has gone through a structural transformation. The so-called “mainstream public opinion field” no longer dominates discourse; a wave of popular opinion has arisen to compete with and challenge the official discourse.

Transformation of Opinion

Many acute observers have captured such a structural transformation. Nan Zhenzhong, the former Chief Editor of Xinhua news agency, said that there are now two public opinion fields in contemporary China: one is the “official field” represented by the party-controlled traditional media, and the other is the Internet. In the former, media resources are highly concentrated in the hands of a few, while in the latter, “gatekeeping” is greatly weakened. Anonymity on the Internet gives online commentators more sense of security and a greater desire for expression. As a result, the diversity of thoughts, lifestyles and cultures is far more obvious on the Internet. Hence, audiences prefer online media to traditional media.

Such a preference was explained by Qi Shuyu, a professor at China National School of Administration, when he interacted with readers at, the website ofPeople’s Daily (the official organ of the CCP). He said that People’s Daily is the mouthpiece of the party and the government, while the Internet is the mouthpiece of people representing their own voice. “We cannot turn the Internet into the party’s mouthpiece; otherwise, the very existence of the Internet makes no sense.”

Discussions in the two public opinion fields have very different topics, types of discourse and forms. The official media claim to represent “mainstream public opinion,” which, according to Zhang Shouying, Director of the News Research Center of People’s Daily, “promotes mainstream values of the state or the party.” He maintains that the mainstream media’s major task is to promote the principles and policies of the party and the government and to disseminate socialist core values. Mainstream media report news as well as “guide public opinion,” but in both roles, they have shown more of a one-way output.

Public opinion on the Internet has the opposite effect. The official public opinion field focuses on how the government creates a harmonious society rather than how civic culture develops, while the public opinion field of the Internet explores how citizens are motivated to influence the current political system through their creativity and initiative.

Less limited by codified social norms and institutionalized authority, the Internet has helped Chinese popular opinion emerge from obscurity. In the real world, many Chinese may still belong to the “silent majority,” while on the Internet they have the chance to voice their opinions and take actions they think proper. Online commentators have never been as active as they have in the past several years. Any significant incident, be it domestic or international, can give rise to a huge online discussion, arousing passions and stimulating actions that governments, institutions and public figures cannot ignore. Until recently, such a phenomenon was quite beyond the imagination.

The new interactive medium enables anyone anywhere to observe their social surroundings and inject a thought, a criticism or a concern into public discussions. Different forms of networks in the public sphere are in the making, through which everyone can speak, question and investigate without turning to traditional media. As a result, we have seen a new and decentralized approach to government supervision. It also influences agenda-setting, starting new political discussions as well as re-arranging the issues that concern most people. In sum, people who were once “subjects” and part of a passive audience now become potential contributors to political dialogue and actors on the political stage.

Hu Yong is a professor at Peking University’s School of Journalism and Communication, and a well-known New Media critic and Internet pioneer. He is also an active blogger and microblogger. His blog boasts a readership of 6 million, and his microblog has more than 2 million followers.

1 Hu Feng, a leftist literary theorist, was a leading proponent of the subjective view of literature who asserted an active and dynamic role for the self in the creative process. Hu stood for a position in the leftist literary field that was opposed to the political, utilitarian view of literature held by Mao Zedong and the cultural bureaucrats of the Chinese Communist Party.

Guo Luoji, “What Are the Benefits of ‘Uniformity of Public Opinion’?”

Han Fei, Han Feizi, Zhong Hua Press, 2007.

Mao Zedong, “In Refutation of ‘Uniformity of Public Opinion’”, in Selected Works of Mao Zedong, Vol. 5, People’s Publishing House, 1977, pp. 157-159.

Nan Zhenzhong, “Close Ties with the Masses as a Focal Point to Improve News Coverage,” Chinese Journalist, March 2003.

Qi Shuyu, “We Cannot Turn the Internet into the Party’s Mouthpiece,” June 26, 2009,

Shang Yang, The Book of Lord Shang, Zhong Hua Press, 2009.

Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian, Columbia University Press, 1993.

Zhang Shouying, “Some Rules of Mainstream Newspapers,” News Front, March 2012,



China intensifies crackdown on social media with curbs on instant messaging

China intensifies crackdown on social media with curbs on instant messaging

Ban on pseudonyms and republishing news without a licence among further checks on apps such as WeChat and KakaoTalk


China has issued tough new rules for mobile instant messaging services such as WeChat, expanding an internet crackdown that has already muzzled microblogs and websites in what it called a bid to promote “true freedom of speech”.


The new requirements, published by the state news agency Xinhua, are to include real name registration and agreement by users to obey seven “bottom lines”, including upholding the socialist system, social morality and authenticity of information. They also ban public accounts from republishing current affairs news unless they have specific licences to issue news.


Service providers are required to suspend updates on accounts “that violate the user agreement” until they are fully closed and keep relevant records of violations and report them to the authorities.


“Some people are damaging other people’s rights and interests and public security in the name of freedom of speech,” Xu Feng, head of mobile internet management at the State Internet Information Office said, according to Xinhua. “The regulation will promote the quality of instant messaging services to ensure that citizens enjoy the convenience of such services. This is the true freedom of speech.”


International messaging apps such as KakaoTalk have been disrupted in China over the last month. China blocks many international social media services, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Instagram became unavailable for download from most major app stores last month.


WeChat, known as Weixin in China, allows users to share voice messages, pictures, group chat and video as well as text and has become hugely popular. It has approaching 400 million users worldwide, its owners Tencent said recently. WeChat has more than 4m public accounts according to data from Sogou, the Chinese search firm which Tencent has a stake in.


In China, WeChat became the forum for lively debate about the clampdown on microblogs, which included the threat of jail for individuals if they are responsible for “online rumours” that are forwarded 500 times or viewed 5,000 times.


The state-owned English language newspaper China Daily said it was hoped that the real-name system would deter people spreading illegal information or promoting violence, terrorism and pornography.


Hu Yong, a professor of new media, said the new rules, which come into force immediately, were no surprise.


“If we consider the overall picture of mobile internet development, these are regulations that would be introduced sooner or later. There should be no blind spot when it comes to information control, regardless of the technology advancement and user needs,” he said.


But Xu Xin, a law professor at Beijing Institute of Technology, who runs a popular legal aid public account that occasionally republishes current affairs reports and commentaries, said the new regulation was the toughest yet and beyond his imagination.


“I have just told the volunteers who help me run the public account that from now on we cannot publish current affairs content,” Xu said. “It is likely that many current affairs public accounts run by individuals will close down.”


South Korean authorities said China had told them that it blocked the messaging apps KakaoTalk, Line, DiDi, Talkbox and Vower as part of efforts to fight terrorism, Reuters reported on Thursday. Disruptions to services began a month ago, but no explanation had been offered previously.


According to Seoul’s ministry of science, ICT and future planning, China said it was blocking applications because terrorist organisations were plotting or inciting attacks and spreading information about how to make bombs through channels such as mobile messaging apps and video websites.


It added: “The ministry will continue negotiations with relevant Chinese counterparts to ensure that service disruptions for KakaoTalk and Line as well as inconvenience for the users in China are resolved as early as possible.”


Additional research by Luna Lin



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