profrv at nex.net.au
Thu May 13 00:47:47 PDT 1999
Net surfers refuse to stay between Beijing's flags
August 24 2002
New official Net cafes offering only restricted Web access don't have the
allure of unrestricted pirate cafes, writes Hamish McDonald from Beijing.
There is a lull mid-afternoon in the Internet cafe in Yanjiao, a
fast-growing dormitory city of new apartment blocks and shopping malls an
hour's drive outside the Chinese capital.
Only one web-surfer, a shirtless teenager with spikey hair dyed flamingo
pink and tattoos on his shoulder, is still at his screen. Three friends lie
sprawled asleep across chairs. But soon the sound of gunfire and explosions
from the game of Counter-Strike he is playing, arouses the sleeping
surfers. One by one, they log on and join in the interlinked combat simulation.
As evening approaches, all 60 computer booths fill up with teenagers and
young people. A girl in a chic sundress and pale lipstick puts on
headphones and joins an online chatroom. Her friends have gone out to buy
snacks for the evening. "What time is the last bus back to Beijing?" she
calls out to a staff member.
Officially, this cafe is closed, like all the others across Yanjiao that
have "Closed for Rectification" signs in their windows. But, entered
through a neighbouring shopfront and up some backstairs, the cafe is all
systems go: every seat occupied, in some cases by boy and girl pairs, and
air-conditioners struggling to cope with the fug of cigarette smoke and 60
Yanjiao had a brief moment of fame last Sunday when the Beijing Youth Daily
newspaper ran a front page article that showed it as a kind of Nevada for
Nerds, where students from Beijing flocked for all-night benders on the
Net, attracted by its low charges (two yuan or 45 cents an hour) and
Police raids followed on Monday but, within a day, it was business as usual
in many Internet cafes.
The Chinese Government's campaign to rectify the fast-growing Internet of
"unhealthy" and subversive content, most recently using the pretext of a
tragic fire at an unlicensed Net cafe in June that killed 25 young people,
is meeting resistance at several levels.
On one level, it comes from frustrated young surfers such as those at
Yanjiao, who mostly access games and chatrooms, who don't have access to
the Web at home (China has about 16 million Internet-linked computers, but
an estimated 45 million regular surfers), and who can't afford the higher
fees (around eight yuan an hour) at the few registered cafes.
At another level, the issue is engaging human-rights activists. A petition
circulating Beijing is calling for freedom of the Web, and it has been
signed by about 200 prominent intellectuals, including the Tiananmen
activist Liu Xiaobo. The New York-based group Human Rights Watch has
criticised Western Internet service providers, such as Yahoo!, which have
signed a "Public Pledge on Self-Discipline for the Chinese Internet
Industry" promoted by Beijing in March. About 300 local and foreign
companies have also signed the pledge.
In a letter to Yahoo! Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth
wrote: "Yahoo! would be seen in China and around the world not so much as a
portal offering access to new ideas, but as a gatekeeper for an oppressive
government." The company has not yet responded.
New regulations for the Internet have been drafted by a panel from four
ministries and approved by the State Council (the cabinet). An official in
the Ministry of Culture said the new rules would be promulgated in two weeks.
Just what the authorities have in mind can be seen at one of the 30
registered Net cafes allowed to open in Beijing over the past month, in
place of the estimated 2400 licensed and unlicensed cafes operating before
the June fire.
The Internet-Coffee centre in Hongmiao is new and spacious, with
well-marked fire escapes and safety equipment. Mostly young men play war
games such as Counter-Strike and it has a military theme.
Customers register by showing identity cards, under-18s are not allowed
(except between 8am and 9pm on national holidays), and the centre shuts
from midnight to 8am.
Rules posted on the wall list information on bans: porn and violence,
anything deemed "splittist" (ie pro-Taiwan, or supporting separatism),
subversive of the communist regime or socialism, or anything "damaging the
reputation of state organs".
Another rule requires Net cafe proprietors to keep a log of every site
accessed by each customer for 60 days, and to make it available to security
The computers are brand new. But they have one unusual feature: not one has
an a:/ drive or CD portal, meaning customers cannot bring in their own
storage discs to upload information on to the Net, or download to them either.
By eliminating the anonymity of the Net cafe and preventing publication on
the Net of documents, the authorities clearly hope to suppress the
subversive potential of the World Wide Web.
You RSA ho's will pay one day.
More information about the cypherpunks-legacy