China Gets Wired

On February 15, 1996, China ordered all Internet users to register with the police within thirty days.

The Internet is revolutionizing every aspect of society. One of its effects is empowerment of individuals, which makes totalitarian governments (and wannabes) wary of connecting to it. At the same time, economic and military reality dictates that advanced information technology is essential to survival in the 21st century.

Communist China is now attempting to get Chinese universities on the Internet, while at the same time prevent dissenting opinions, pornography and other unwanted material. Already by 1996, about six thousand computers in China were connected to the Internet. The state-run Xinhua News Service reported that China had 40,000 Internet accounts as of July 1995. The actual number is likely higher.

The Boston Globe reported that Chen Tongbao, director of the new-technology division in China's Bureau of Scientific and Technical Information, praised the benefits of the Internet for scientific research, but said, "information coming from the Internet is closely related to cultural, social and political issues. Some unhealthy information comes in -- information that is not good for young people." Chen noted that "it is very difficult to prevent" discussion of disapproved material.

To put it another way, young people armed with information are not good for Communist dictatorships.

China believes it can limit Internet access to scientific and technical disciplines without giving hackers and dissenters a chance to express their version of the Internet society. Among China's ideas is China Internet Corporation, for commercial Internet use and controlled by the state-run Xinhua News Agency. Users must access the 'net in Xinhua offices.

Another more chilling idea was the Ministry of Public Security's February 1996 directive to all users of the Internet and other international computer networks to register with the police within thirty days of signing up for service or switching service providers. Yang Zhihui, a cog in the censorship bureaucracy, was quoted as saying registration would "promote the healthy development of the country's information industry."

Another straightjacket on the Internet is China's bottlenecks: the Ministry of Post Telecommunications is the sole (legal) provider of connections between Chinese computer users and international networks, and Xinhua is the censor for foreign news agencies that want to provide economic news services to Chinese customers.

James Chu, chief executive officer of China Internet, says "not just the Chinese government, but all governments, are concerned that information on the Internet could cause social instability."

Revolution gives a hearty welcome to all Chinese citizens who have managed to circumvent their country's controls to view this page!

Source: September 13, 1995, Boston Globe article, "China gets wired, but warily," and February 15, 1996, Associated Press article, "China orders Internet users to register within 30 days."