you're reading...
Communication & Technology

This chart explains everything you need to know about Chinese Internet censorship

China Internet Chart

China Internet Chart

What goes through a Chinese web user’s head the moment before he or she hits the “publish” button? Pundits, scholars, and everyday netizens have spent years trying to parse the (ever-shifting) rules of the Chinese Internet.

Although Chinese authorities have been putting ever more Internet rules and regulations on the books—one famously creates criminal liability for a “harmful” rumour shared more than 500 times—the line between what’s allowed and what isn’t, and the consequences that flow from the latter, remains strategically fuzzy. And that’s just how Chinese authorities like it.

But a discerning observer can still sketch out the shadowy form of the (often unwritten) rules that govern the Chinese web. Before posting, a Chinese web user is likely to consider basic questions about how likely a post is to travel, whether it runs counter to government priorities, and whether it calls for action or is likely to engender it.

Those answers help determine whether a post can be published without incident—as it is somewhere around 84 percent or 87 percent of the time—or is instead likely to lead to a spectrum of negative consequences varying from censorship to the deletion of a user’s account to his or her detention, or even arrest and conviction. The flowchart below, based on my years following developments in Chinese cyberspace, provides a glimpse into the web of considerations that may determine the fate of a post—or its author.

A few notes on this chart merit particular explanation:

  • Being famous on the Chinese Internet isn’t necessarily desirable. So-called “Big Vs,” or well-known social media commenters, are more likely to be scrutinised, censored, and jailed. They are thus likely to think extra hard before sharing anything on an open platform.
  • Posts that don’t criticise the government can be censored if they seem likely to spur private action on a major public issue. For example, in early March authorities quashed discussion of seemingly government-approved environmental documentary “Under the Dome” after it triggered a nationwide discussion on pollution.
  • Posts that get people to hit the streets are likely to get the axe, even if they aren’t political. In March 2011, authorities censored posts spreading the rumour that salt could stave off radiation poisoning from the recently ruptured Fukushima reactor in neighbouring Japan, because the rumour had led to a run on the commodity.
  • The Chinese government wants web users to call out specific instances of corruption in the Communist Party—just not publicly. That’s why the website for the country’s top corruption watchdog allows citizens to report graft directly to government authorities.
  • Posts that criticise the government aren’t automatically censored. General grousing about the government by a small-time user isn’t going to topple the ruling party, which means the censors are unlikely to care.

There is much, of course, the above graphic does not and cannot capture. A user, for example, may have a powerful backer that allows him or her to push the envelope—or conversely, a history of activism that makes any post suspect. And the consequences beyond censorship are too uncertain and multifarious to be visually represented.

It’s also worth emphasising that most posts are left alone. But that’s only after each survives a gauntlet of possible pitfalls, managing not only to obey laws as written but also to avoid contravening the interests or sensibilities of the central government and relevant local officials. That’s led to endemic self-censorship, particularly when the topic hits at anything even approaching politics.

In turn, that makes Chinese cyberspace less likely to host the kind of raucous (and, to the government, potentially destabilising) national debates and movements that used to spring up without warning before authorities tightened the screws on online speech starting in late 2013. China’s web users now have a strong incentive to stick to entertainment and e-commerce, rather than using the web as a platform for speech and debate on the major issues shaping their country’s future.

China Internet Chart

China Internet Chart

Contributed by Italy China Web
Source: China File – This Chart Explains Everything You Need to Know About Chinese Internet Censorship


About Sky In Company

I am Genevieve Cheung, originally from Hong Kong. After completing secondary studies, I moved to Australia where I completed a degree in Bachelor of Business Management at the VUT in Melbourne. After graduation I moved to Italy where I have been living for more than twenty years. My vast cultural background and extensive linguistic knowledge (speak and write fluent English, Mandarin/Cantonese Chinese and Italian), allow me to join our company- SKY IN COMPANY (HK/ITALY). We provide main services such as web-site translations from Italian/ English to Chinese/English, and SEO services for the Chinese search engine "Baidu". Our offices, based in Hong Kong and Italy, have a young and dynamic team with collaborators around the world. Sono Genevieve Cheung, originaria di Hong Kong; dopo aver completato gli studi secondari, mi sono trasferita in Australia, dove ho conseguito una Laurea in Bachelor of Business Management presso la VUT di Melbourne. Dopo la Laurea mi sono trasferita in Italia, dove vivo ormai da più di venti anni. Il mio background culturale e la vasta conoscenza linguistica (parlo e scrivo correntemente l’inglese, il cinese mandarino e l’italiano), mi consentono di partecipare in quest’attività di traduzione in Italiano/English/Cinese. La principale attività della nostra ditta – SKY IN COMPANY (HK), consiste nella traduzione in lingua cinese di siti web italiani, nonché di servizi di tipo SEO rivolti al motore di ricerca cinese “Baidu”. La nostra ditta principale, con base in Hong Kong, dispone di un team giovane e dinamico con collaboratori in tutto il mondo. WWW.SKYINCOMPANY.COM skyinhk74@yahoo.com.hk HONG KONG OFFICE: Flat b 15/F, Block 7 Yee Mei Court, South Horizon, Ap Lei Chau, Hong Kong Island Hong Kong Tel: ++852 92235260 ITALY OFFICE: Via Metastasio 27 Firenze 50124 Italy Tel: ++39-347 1429011


3 thoughts on “This chart explains everything you need to know about Chinese Internet censorship

  1. Reblogged this on Rough Diplomacy.


    Posted by sara | December 27, 2016, 2:22 pm


  1. Pingback: Chinese Internet Censorship Update | SocialBrandWatch.com - May 2, 2015

  2. Pingback: Apple disables news in China rather than censor service | China Daily Mail - November 5, 2015

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

China News

China News is not affiliated in any way with any publication in China or anywhere else.

Enter your email address to receive an email each time an article is published, or join our RSS feed. 100% FREE.

Join 3,869 other followers

Want to write for China News?

Read “Contributor Guidelines” above to join our team of 84 contributors. Write news or opinion about issues in China, or post photos and video. Promote your own site.

Recent Posts

China News Articles Have Been Featured In:

%d bloggers like this: