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06 January 2006

Microsoft kisses Chinese government's ass to silence bloggers

Friday 6 January 2006

Microsoft censors
Chinese blogger

by Jeremy Kirk, IDG News Service

Microsoft has removed the website of a Chinese blogger critical of the government, raising sharp questions about the company's complicity with a repressive regime.

The decision to delete Zhao Jing's site from its Microsoft hosting package was defended by the software giant's CEO Steve Ballmer. "We have an obligation in all the countries where we do business to abide by the laws and the government decrees in those countries," he said.

But the decision has raised critical voices within the company itself, with several employees worrying about a US company aiding restrictions on free speech.

Zhao Jing's blog, formerly located on the MSN Spaces service

"has been blocked to help ensure the service complies with local laws in China," according to a statement from Microsoft.

It's not clear what triggered Microsoft's move, although Zhao, who also goes by the name Michael Anti, has a reputation for writing posts questioning government policy and commentaries on current news events. The sacking of his blog around the end of last year was noted in a blog posting by Rebecca MacKinnon, a research fellow at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society and former CNN journalist.

Some Western companies with IT operations in China have been criticised for tailoring their own policies in line with Chinese government laws considered to violate widely-accepted human rights standards. The rise of the Internet has represented a leaky crack for festering discontent, and the Chinese government is believed to have advanced Internet monitoring mechanisms in place detecting such keywords as "democracy" in online content.

In an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ballmer reiterated that the company is bound to respect local law. "We do here, we do in Europe; we also do in places like China. And anybody can choose not to do business in any country. We all have that option."

Yahoo was criticized last year after providing evidence that led to a ten-year prison sentence for a Chinese journalist. Shi Tao was convicted of divulging state secrets to foreigners after passing along an e-mail that contained a warning from the Chinese government urging its officials to watch out for dissident activity ahead of the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Last month, Microsoft said it moderates "limited but specific parts of Spaces" to ensure the content in publicly visible forums abide by the laws and norms of China.

MSN uses a filter for blog URLs, the MSN Space title, subtitle and blog headers but does not filter blog entries or comments, the company said. Microsoft said it has a joint venture with a Chinese company, the Shanghai MSN Network Communications Technology Company, to manage MSN Spaces.

Microsoft employees have weighed in debate, with some writing critical salvos on their blogs while others defended the company's policies in China. Robert Scoble, a Microsoft technical evangelist, wrote on his personal blog that the Zhao situation is "depressing".

"It's one thing to pull a list of words out of blogs using an algorithm," Scoble wrote. "It's another thing to become an agent of a government and censor an entire blogger's work. Yes, I know the consequences. Yes, there are thousands of jobs at stake. Billions of dollars. But the behaviour of my company in this instance is not right."

Michael Connolly, a product unit manager for MSN Spaces, wrote on his personal blog that China is unique in that it regulates certain kinds of speech. If a blog is reported to MSN as offensive, Microsoft checks to see if it adheres to the code of conduct, a series of standards Microsoft has as a requirement for posting on the service, Connolly wrote.

"In many cases, the answer is 'Yes, this site is fine'," Connolly wrote. "But, in some cases, the answer is 'no.' And when an offense is found that actually breaks a national law, we have no choice but to take down the site."


The 2005 Deutsche Welle International Weblog Awards is led by an international jury of independent journalists, media experts and blog experts. The jury, with 12 members in all, has the difficult decision of making nominations and deciding on Jury Award winners in each of the categories.

[minibio of one of the judges]

Michael Anti (ZHAO JING)

A freelancer and columnist for several Chinese newspapers, has been promoting the freedom of speech in the Chinese cyberspace and real society for years. His blog is one of China's rare domestic sources of true information.


I'm pretty sure this is Zhao Jing's blog

We can still read it. It would help if we could read Chinese. But we can still read it.


The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
23 December 2005

China's web censors
struggle to muzzle
free-spirited bloggers

by Hamish McDonald, Herald Correspondent in Beijing

WHEN a dozen Chinese newspapers recently ran stories about a rash of sadistic cat killings in Shanghai by a perverse postgraduate student, it was another quiet triumph for a young man in Beijing called Zhao Jing.

To a widening blog readership in China and abroad, Zhao is better known by the pseudonym Anti. As well as indicating an oppositionist stance in English, it also strikes a dissident note in Chinese, roughly meaning "security alternative."

Thanks to Anti's persistent writings on his blog


the activities of the Shanghai serial cat mutilator got into China's mainstream media, and this was far from a unique example.

Some years after their American counterpart Matt Drudge shook up the US media in the Monica Lewinsky affair, Chinese bloggers are starting to have an impact on their country's conventional print and broadcast media, all tightly controlled by the Communist Party's propaganda department.

Although the party and police this year tightened their licensing regime and keyword filtering mechanisms on internet services, particularly news websites and search engines, the free spirits of the largely amateur, non-commercial blogosphere are slipping around the so-called Great Firewall of China and setting the news agenda.

A harsher crackdown may be in the offing, but for now authorities seem caught between two policies: clamping down on political dissent, and hothousing the development of internet businesses and electronic commerce.

"It's not tolerance," says Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California, Berkeley. "I think they are still trying to figure out how to deal with this new phenomenon."

Blogging took off in China three years ago when a slim young woman with a mass of tawny-streaked hair called Mu Zimei put a highly explicit log of her very active sex life online.

Servers crashed all over China as a people emerging from the imposed puritanism of the early communist years into a 1970s style sexual revolution rushed to see what they were missing.

Suddenly notorious, Mu Zimei found herself out of her day job on a magazine in Guangzhou, while the central propaganda department ordered a news blackout on her, and recalled a collection of her best diary items from book shops three days after it was published.

Still, she has been published in Taiwan, Hong Kong and France, with contracts signed in Japan, Germany and the Netherlands. Recently, one of China's biggest blogservers,, which is financed by a $US10 million ($14 million) investment from an American venture capital fund, hired her to promote the concept of blogging.

Now 27, Mu Zimei has shifted to podcasting, an audio package accessed through the internet, but her themes remain familiar. One recent podcast was an hour-long sound track of an amorous encounter, starting with "Please come in" and finishing in climactic groans, panting, and shrieking. It gets about 10,000 visits a day.

Mu Zimei won't call herself the "mother" of Chinese blogging, but admits to being a kind of "bomu", or aunty, who extended the boundaries. "At least it helped Chinese people to recognise the possibilities," she says.

Several other female bloggers have taken the sexual route to fame. The current hot favourite is Mu Mu, who claims to be a Communist Party member and keeps her identity and face concealed - while posting near naked body pictures along with witty advice and satirical comments.

But with anything between 2 million and 8 million active web logs, Chinese blogging has moved far beyond vicarious sex into important political issues. "Mu Zimei showed me what blogging can do," says Zhao Jing.

Two recent contentious events - the toxic benzene spill into the Songhua River in north-eastern China, and the shooting of village protesters at Dongzhou, Guangdong province - have drawn thousands of caustic postings, despite tight censorship.

All internet operators have special teams who do nothing but watch what is posted on blogs and bulletin boards and knock out contentious items, says Berkeley's Professor Xiao. "The hosting service will give a warning: 'We have a business here; you can't do this to us' even before the police take any action.

"That said, you can still write all kinds of things, in the grey area, making fun of things," Professor Xiao adds. For example, in the last few days one key statement coming up again and again again by netizens is: "Wo zhidao - I know."

"It means I know what happened in Dongzhou," Professor Xiao said. "Even if you are deleting all the information, people are asserting: I know. It's part of a statement of protest, that their commentary is being deleted."

The path of soft protest is taken by Wang Xiaofeng, 38, a journalist on a mainstream magazine whose personal blog is "Massage Cream" and whose online pseudonym is Three Watches. The blog name has a naughty tinge, as massage parlours are well-known covers for illegal brothels, and the Chinese for his pseudonym, Dai Sange Biao, is a nonsensical anagram of Sange Daibiao, or Three Represents - the name of the contribution of the former communist leader Jiang Zemin to party ideology.

"Sometimes it's more comfortable to use the blog to express opinions because there are so many controls on the conventional media," Wang said. "It's a different mental status when I write the blog from when I write for the magazine. I feel more free," he said. "My editor sometimes asks me to write something in my blogging style, but I can't."

Wang has not been warned about his blog yet. "I know very clearly what I can and cannot write," he said. "But China's control over the internet media is not as tight as foreigners think. Unless you talk directly about some sensitive topic like Falun Gong, ethnic problems or the image of the top leaders, you can say a lot."

Recent topics have included broad criticism of the discredited state of journalism in China, due to extensive censorship and widespread corruption, and on the 60th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War a swipe at the Red Army's record in fighting the Japanese, in which he noted only two of its generals had died in combat, as against more than 100 in the Kuomintang (Nationalist) army.

Professor Xiao says it is also a question of approach. "In general, Dai Sange Biao is making fun of things; he's not really taking on somebody, or having a message. He sort of deconstructs the ideological base," he says.

"That kind of thing the authorities can only watch, until he crosses the line - and of course people like Dai Sange Biao are very clever. He will not cross the line. He will push a little then he'll come back."

Zhao Jing - aka Anti - is different. A graduate of Nanjing Normal University, Zhao, 30, is committed to the cause of democracy in China and earns his living interpreting for a big Western newspaper - which earns him monthly cups of tea with his case officer at the Ministry of State Security. "Anti is more direct, he's more active, he's working with a lot of foreign journalists and he also has this little character of being 'subversive'," Professor Xiao says. "He's also clever enough - he knows where is the limit, but he's right on the border. If he crosses he'll get a phone call or he'll be blocked."

Sipping coffee at a Starbucks in Beijing, Zhao says his previous blog was shut down in August, apparently because he had posted an internal letter by a journalist at the China Youth Daily, a newspaper attached to the Communist Party youth wing, criticising its editor.

Hits at his new blog are about 8000 a day and picking up, and with the help of interested friends he is posting English translations of important political commentaries by Chinese writers.

"I aim to highlight Chinese intellectuals," Zhao said. "I want to show the world how the Chinese mind thinks, the entire political spectrum from the far left to the far right, from the Maoists to the liberals and democrats."

Bloggers like Zhao are also an important input to China's intellectual debate, feeding in news from foreign language websites or external Chinese-language websites run from Taiwan, Hong Kong or the dissident diaspora.

The Anti website, for example, recently broke the news of the death of the exiled Communist Party reformer Liu Binyin, and discussed the resurgence of the Kuomintang in local Taiwan elections.

How long the party propaganda chiefs wear this is anyone's guess, but it must be pushing tolerance. The party chief, Hu Jintao, is putting all the party's 79 million members through Marxist re-education, and Beijing has slammed the whole idea of "public intellectuals" existing outside the party hierarchy.

But what do they do when their suspect suddenly veers to the defence of Shanghai's cats?

Copyright © 2005, The Sydney Morning Herald


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