April 12, 2012:
China's efforts to control the Internet went into overdrive recently when a senior government official, who was also outspoken and popular with the military, was removed from office for corruption. The Chinese Internet immediately lit up with rumors and speculation about what would happen next. This speculation alarmed the government more than anything that was happening (not much, in fact). The government sought to shut down web sites (especially microbloggers, who substitute for Twitter, which is banned in China) and arrested a few people. This did not slow down the spread of rumor and criticism. The government censors were caught short once more as microbloggers adopted code words to defeat the automatic filtering software the government used. As quickly as the government figured out the code, a new one was in use. It's not that the government didn't know about this, it was widely used in the 1990s when most Chinese were texting (more than talking) on their cell phones. But no solution was ever found. While the government efforts can keep many Chinese in the dark, too many find out what is really going on. The government censors will now go back to the drawing board to try and come up with a solution.
The latest battle with the censors saw the government falling back on traditional media. The official Chinese military newspaper, the Liberation Army Daily, openly warned troops to disregard Internet rumors about disloyalty in the military. This is the result of popular politician Bo Xilai being removed from office for corruption. Bo Xilai was a rare official who preached a return to communist ideals, while also delivering better government in the southwestern city of Chongqing (population 28 million). What really brought Bo Xilai down was too much publicity and the fact that the majority of the Chinese leadership has accepted that communism in China is dead in fact, if not in fiction. Bo Xilai thought his well-publicized efforts to deliver more efficient government would start a nationwide movement to restore communism, but it only united the national leadership against him. Bo Xilai was popular in the military because he spoke out against the many corrupt officers in the military. This sort of thing has been going on in the Chinese military for thousands of years, despite many attempts to stamp out the stealing and favoritism. After Bo Xilai was removed on March 12th, rumors began appearing on the Internet. One of these rumors had mutinous troops marching on Beijing to overthrow the government. In response, more restrictions were placed on what could be said on the Chinese Internet. But the incident frightened many senior officials. What also frightens officials is how leftist politicians like Bo Xilai stir up enthusiasm for failed communist movements of the past, like the Maoist "social revolution" (which killed over 10 million Chinese and accomplished nothing positive). At the same time, Chinese leaders do not hesitate to say, often and in public, that the biggest danger China faces is corrupt officials.
China needs the Internet for economic reasons and because it is a major form of communication and entertainment for most people. But the downside is that the Internet is also a major source of news, and the communist government in China has long depended on a news monopoly to keep dissent under control. The Internet has proved difficult to censor and control. While the government has imposed more control over the Internet than any other country, that has not been enough to control embarrassing or troublesome news from getting out of control. The government is not giving up, especially since it is losing.