Awaiting a Democratic Hong Kong
New Article: Born and Banned in China: Internet Censorship and Tiananmen Square
PLEASE ALSO SEE: Typepad Banned in China. There are other stories of Internet Censorship in Hong Kong within that post.
You can also find other articles here: Cyber dissidents
This is my story of how China.com got banned in China, and Internet Censorship at work.
In 1998-1999 I was the the person behind one half of the (then) formidable hongkong.com in the (then) very vibrant Asian Internet space. As the producer of hongkong.com I ran the whole English site including the (then) actually useful and readable cityguide along with launching all the (then) “exciting and new” features such as message boards and chat functions as well as China.com.
Even though I was the person who sat there painstakingly blocking combinations like “June 4th 1989” “Tiananmen Massacre,” “Democratic Protests,” from ever appearing on the “new and exciting” functions, me and someone else was at the same time sneaking in Basic Law and Human Rights News via those portal into China.
We copied, pasted and linked in the news items. Stories on Hong Kong people suing our government, pictures of the protests that were happening and hunger strikers sitting outside the secretariat -as people fought for Right of Abode.
We followed the story on how eventually the Hong Kong Government ignored the court orders and asked China for a "re-clarification" of the Basic Law and the uproar both here and internationally that followed it. We were showing people using the courts against the heads of state, publicly gathering, and speaking out in what was then newly Chinese sovereign land. None of which had happened in China since 1989.
As June forth approached, another person and I started discussing if we could link to the news of the Memorial that happens every year.
Starting in 1990, and every year since, on June 4th a group of Hong Kong people gather in Victoria Park. Every year 60,000 to a 100,000 people stand with candles and ask China for three things.
1) That China frees the remaining jailed student leaders and participants and allows those in exile to return home.
2) Reevaluated what happened, grant amnesty to all involved.
3) Acknowledge and accept responsibility of what went on as well as compensate the families who lost their children.
1999 was especially significant, as it was the tenth anniversary. And some of us at China.com wanted people in China to know we remember and report on the commemoration for the students on Chinese land.
But a month or two before the date our site was banned in the mainland. Someone caught eye of what was happening and shut access down. The game was over, and we were quietly told that we should be more careful with what was allowed and what was not. Xinhua News Agency (the Government Press Bureau) were (and still is) part owners of Hongkong.com and China.com and getting that banned had consequences outside of the financial. No more Basic Law. No more Human Rights. No more news on the political situation in China or Hong Kong, not even on the International Stage. Stick to Financial and Cultural stuff.
Instead, we did the everyday resistance of those who are powerless and made it a joke. Pictures of hand shaking and ribbon cutting. The most disinteresting, unimportant, and ridiculous things we could find that could possible be passed off as “news.” If China.com didn’t allow proper news, we should at least make it irrelevant. No point in pretending it was offering a service it wasn’t. It was our private “black out.”
Up until the block, for a while China got to hear what was going on, through servers and databases the government paid for and government owned. Eventually the ban was lifted because we complied with the rules. And China.com went back into China but without what it once had.
But I couldn’t sleep knowing I was responsible of the censorship of news, responsible for pretending that things that were happening weren’t because it might have made people think and want more than what they had. Rights that they deserved.
It was so a hard going in every day and be part of something I despised even if I loved all the other aspects of my job and the very nice pay package. I didn’t want to be part of the silence, when previously part of the pleasure of work was cracking in a bit of light. It didn’t matter how many people read and saw, as long as I knew they could if they chose to. So when a personal call came, I decided to quit irregardless of what it meant on my resume.
I do have a small regret over that decision to leave because I didn’t stay long enough to do what I wanted. Which on the day of the 10th anniversary, I would go in the office and post June 4th 1989, Tiananmen Massacre related news items onto the site, followed by my resignation, and then for how many hours it might have been, for a moment people in China could have read about what happened in 1989 uncensored, unhidden.
Sadly I didn’t do it. Maybe someone else might still. But Glutter isn’t banned as far as I know. As sites like these are the new ways to sneak things in.
As more people got access to the Internet, the mechanisms of censorship became ever more sophisticated. Hong Kong papers got banned. Yahoo got banned, CNN got banned, BBC got banned. Any site related to Democratic Protests, and Taiwanese Suffrage was banned. No more cyber cafes, not even in Beijing or Shanghai. China tightened and continued to close up the leak the Internet provided. Some foreign businesses were able to avert it with systems of proxies, maybe an educational institute or two but for most, it’s all quiet in there.
So I keep writing about it all every so often, and there is no one I need to be accountable to except myself. I hope a page or two slips to someone who wants to read it, know that someone out here is thinking of them. As China gets richer, and its economy booms, and multinational companies open stores, and business set up factories, and people dress and act like they are in the first world, it’s so easy to forget that they don’t have a free press and a choice of news. And those who want change much like many do in Hong Kong do not have access to what others are saying, or anyone to talk with. And when they search these items out, when they in return speak, those individuals can land themselves in jail.
I think about this a lot, and I know it is part of why Glutter exists. Not everything about it, but one part and its that part that keeps me invested in this site. And the reason I choose to write about this today is because it’s the 17th of February 2004. It’s the last day of my twenties. Tomorrow I wake up and I go into a brand new decade. For a few days now, I been thinking of some of the things I did that made me who I am in the last twenty nine years. For the purpose of Glutter I decided to share this one.
Wish Me Luck
Photo From: Almost a Revolution by Shen Tong (Cover)