According to the U.S. State Department, companies offering Internet services were “pressured to sign the Chinese government’s ‘Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the Chinese Internet Industry.” Under the agreement, they promised not to disseminate information that “breaks laws or spreads superstition or obscenity” or that “may jeopardize state security and disrupt social stability.”5 Providing Internet services required a license which in turn required not circulating information that “damages the honor or interests of the state” or “disturbs the public order or destroys public stability. ,,6
Censorship in China involved self-regulation by Internet companies as well as government actions. The government did not provide a list of objectionable subjects—instead companies inferred which topics were out of bounds by observing what the government censors removed. The State Council Information Office also convened weekly meetings with Internet service providers. An American executive explained, “It’s known informally as the ‘wind-blowing meeting’—in other words, which way is the wind blowing. They say: ‘There’s this party
2 The New York Times, January 25, 2006.
3 Washington Post, February 22,2006. Google shared a license with a Chinese company Ganji.com. This practice was common among foreign Internet firms.
4 The New York Times, January 25, 2006, op. cit.
5 BusinessWeek, January 23, 2006.
6 Clive Thompson, “Google’s China Problem (And China’s Google Problem),” The New York Times Magazine, April 23,2006.
This document is authorized for use only in International Business Processes by EDMC at EDMC Online Higher Education from April 2010 to April 2013.
Google in China P-54 p.3
conference going on this week. There are some foreign dignitaries here on this trip.'”7 Xin Ye, a founder of Sohu.com, a Chinese value-added Internet services firm, was asked how hard it was to navigate the censorship system. He said, “I’ll tell you this, it’s not more hard than dealing with Sarbanes and Oxley.”8
Zhao Jing, a political blogger in China, “explained that he knew where the government drew the line. ‘If you talk every day online and criticize the government, they don’t care. Because it’s
just talk. But if you organize even if it’s just three or four people—that’s what they crack down on. It’s not speech; it’s organizing.'”9 In December 2005 Zhao called for a boycott of a newspaper because it had fired an editor. In response, the Chinese government asked Microsoft’s MSN to close Zhao’s blog and Microsoft complied.10 Brooke Richardson of MSN said, “We only remove content if the order comes from the appropriate regulatory authority.”11
Yahoo and MSN, as well as other sites, complied with Chinese law as well as exercising self-censorship.12 Robin Li, chairman of the Chinese search company Baidu.com, said, “We are trying to provide as much information as possible. But we need to obey Chinese law.”13 Baidu had reached an agreement that allowed the Chinese government to oversee its website and in exchange it avoided the disruptions of service and strict operating rules that plagued foreign Internet companies.14
In 2004 Yahoo provided information to the Chinese government that led to the arrest of the journalist Shi Tao. Shi was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison for releasing state secrets on a foreign website. Shi had provided information by e-mail about a Communist party decision. Yahoo general counsel Michael Callahan said the company regretted that action but had no alternative since its Chinese employees could have been arrested on criminal charges for not providing the information to the government. Callahan also said that Chinese law prohibited disclosing how many times the company had provided information on users to the government.15
The agencies that regulated the Internet employed 30,000 people who monitored e-mail, websites, blogs, and chat rooms. Internet cafes were required to use software that stored data on all users. Anyone establishing a blog was required to register with the government. Telephone companies were required to incorporate software that censored text messaging.
A key part of the censorship system was the control by the government of all gateways into China. This allowed the censors to block undesired content on websites and restrict Internet search results. Referred to as the Great Firewall of China, routers at China’s nine Internet