Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

China’s Internet cafes face clampdown [Straits Times]

According to this report, the $17.2 billion Internet Cafe industry services 135 million users in China. Beyond simply serving as a place to surf the Internet, this industry seems to be bastion of online freedom that the state seems keen to make history. The claim that ‘the management of these cafes is chaotic and that they have become hangouts for young Internet addicts and delinquents’ – is something I will have to go find out. It feels more like these ‘physical/virtual’ spaces may be sowing the seeds that threaten the stability China knows it has to upkeep; and China has a record and capacity of nipping things in the bud before they become out of hand.

For more information on the Green Dam, please visit this analysis by the University of Michigan.

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China’s Internet cafes face clampdown
Plan to tie them to franchises could mean more censorship, govt surveillance, say netizens
Source – Straits Times, published February 10, 2011


The chaotic management and popularity of the independently run cafes with young Internet addicts are cited as reasons for the clean-up plan. -- PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

In the middle of last month, Deputy Culture Minister Ouyang Jian announced that the government wanted to clean up China’s hundreds of thousands of independently run Internet cafes, many of which are adept at circumventing government rules.

According to Chinese state media, the main reasons for the move are that the management of these cafes is chaotic and that they have become hangouts for young Internet addicts and delinquents.

‘We will let more than 80 per cent merge into franchise companies, become professional and enjoy the benefits of branding and scale of operation by the end of 2015,’ Mr Ouyang told a meeting of officials, the Beijing Morning Post reported.

Although the move is welcomed by parents, there is fear it would lead to the loss of yet another territory of relative online freedom, said watchers of China’s Internet scene.

‘There’s no guarantee that the government would not mandate the installation of something like the Green Dam Youth Escort software in all Internet cafe terminals through its control of those few franchise companies,’ remarked Mr Tan Wei, an undergraduate from central China’s Hubei province, in the Beijing Morning Daily.

In 2009, the government had mandated the pre-installation of the Green Dam software, which is used for electronic censorship and surveillance, in all new computers. But the plan petered out due to technical and management reasons.

Zuola, a well-known blogger from Hunan province, said the reorganisation would make life more difficult for Internet users who want to conceal their identity online, reported Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. Said Zuola: ‘When dealing with clients who want to remain anonymous, some indie Internet bars are flexible and use someone else’s identity card number to register for them.’

But larger Internet cafes or those that are part of a franchise chain stick more closely to government rules, he added. He claimed a friend working at a software firm said some cafes cooperated closely with the police. ‘They record every single detail about what the users have browsed or typed, and provide the information to local police whenever they need it,’ he said, warning that China would lose its last freewheeling Internet cafes with the reorganisation.

Nearly 140,000 Internet cafes in China provide service to about 135 million, or 30 per cent, of its Internet users, said Mr Ouyang in his speech last month. The industry generated 88.6 billion yuan (S$17.2 billion) in turnover in 2009, he added.

According to unofficial statistics, there are also hundreds of thousands of illegal underground Internet cafes in China, which provide online access to banned sites and undercut their legal competitors with low fees.


Filed under: AP, Beijing Consensus, Chinese Model, Communications, Domestic Growth, Hong Kong, Human Rights, Influence, Internet, Media, Politics, Social, Strategy

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