Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 At times when news and instructions simply need to be disseminated, dissident groups deploy a range of online channels to broadcast their messages, including email, websites and web-based magazines. The capability of one-way Internet communication, particularly mass emailing, enables the dissident community to transmit uncensored information to a massive population within China. The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) uses a permission-based approach to mass emailing, where visitors to the ICT website can request to be added to the “Save Tibet Email Alert Network”. Consequently, they would receive emails from ICT containing recent statements about the Dalai Lama, news of Tibetan political prisoners, and reports on Chinese efforts to repress Tibet. In essence, the emails keep subscribers up-to-date with advocacy campaigns as well as information on how they could contribute to their efforts.

Comment Icon0 The more offensive approach was also the first of such mass emailing events, and it took place just after the Internet became public in China. On 4 June 1995, Chen Ziming mass-emailed his article, on the sixth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, to thousands of Chinese Internet users (Usdin, 1997). As mass emailing grew in popularity, spamming became an increasingly potent weapon for overseas dissidents and free-speech advocates. The publishers of two Chinese-language electronic magazines, Tunnel (Suidao) and VIP Reference (Da Cankao), are the most popular and successful around, thanks to their sophisticated emailing strategies.

Comment Icon0 Released on 3 June 1997, the Tunnel was the first Chinese weekly e-magazine for the mainland China demographics. Produced within China, the e-magazine was sent to Silicon Valley, and returned to the PRC as mass email using anonymous email accounts based in the United States. The magazine’s goal was to “break the current information blockade and suppression of speech on the mainland” and could thus be used to “disintegrate the two pillars of an autocratic society: monopoly and suppression” (Chase & Mulvenon, 2002). Two years later in November 1997, the e-magazine VIP Reference debuted. Apparently the name VIP Reference is a play on the names of several classified compilations of translated Western news reports available only to senior party and government officials. This e-magazine was edited and distributed by approximately one dozen overseas Chinese informationtechnology (IT) professionals, students and academics based in Washington, D.C. and New York. Their goal was to support freedom of speech and they declared that they are “destined to destroy the Chinese system of censorship over the Internet”. VIP Reference editor Richard Long (most likely an alias) claimed that he could send 1,000,000 email messages to China within a period of 10 hours (Platt, 1999).

Comment Icon0 In order to protect readers and prevent them from being blocked from public access by the Chinese authorities, editors of both VIP Reference and Tunnel employ a variety of counter-measures. First, both e-magazines attempt to provide a degree of “plausible deniability” to their subscribers by spamming tens of thousands of copies to recipients who have not requested them, including numerous CCP and Public Security Bureau officials. Secondly, the editors of VIP Reference also frequently change website addresses and use different email addresses every day. Lian Shengde, an informationsystems specialist who worked on VIP Reference, said that “this is like a war, [and] the Internet is the front line” (Liu, 1999). There is a trend towards more groups and individuals becoming involved in activities of this type, which Xie Wanjun, director of the CDP’s Internet department, described as a form of “Internet guerilla warfare” (Pao, 1999).


Figure 24: China Democracy Party (Overseas Division) website at cdp1998.org.

Comment Icon0 Besides disseminating information via mass emailing, these unsanctioned NGOs also utilize websites to broadcast their own form of propaganda. In particular, the China Democracy Party, Frank Lu, Falungong and the Tibetan exile community maintain particularly interesting and informative websites (Chase & Mulvenon, 2002). As seen in Figure 24, the China Democracy Party has an elaborate “overseas division” website (cdp1998.org), which includes links to organizational information, important CDP documents, a publicity department, an invitation to join the CDP, and a variety of BBS forums. The CDP shares its entire organizational structure, on the mainland and overseas, and publishes biographies of prominent members such as those who had been jailed and were operating overseas. Frank Siqing Lu, the one-man operator of the Hong Kong Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, maintains a webpage that features daily media releases on arrests of dissidents and practitioners of Falungong and Zhonggong, information on worker demonstrations, and links to news updates from a variety of international sources, such as the BBC and Radio Free Asia. The site also contains Chinese- and English-language versions of an introduction to the center and its mission, along with a fund-raising appeal, and invites readers to subscribe to China Watch, Lu’s email magazine (Pao, 1999). In contrast to Lu, the Falungong consists of an organized collective network of global websites, thanks to loyal followers in the United States who were talented in web design. After the official website (falundafa.org) was published, the network grew rapidly. The website is bilingual, contains messages from Li Hongzhi, a primer on the group’s beliefs, links to 26 local Falungong websites around the world, calendars of conferences and events, news items, and audio downloads that enable practitioners to listen to Master Li’s lectures from any place in the world (O’Leary, 2000). The Tibetan government-in-exile and its supporting NGOs maintain a sophisticated cluster of websites around the world. The official site for the Dalai Lama’s government (tibet.com) is being maintained in London. A companion site (tibetnews.com) is run by the Tibetan Government Department of Information and International Relations. Tibetnews publishes Tibetan Bulletin, the government’s official online journal. The main advocacy sites run into the hundreds, and can be divided into three general categories – official, supporters and radicals (Chase & Mulvenon, 2002).

Comment Icon0 To date, dissidents have used the Internet for email conversations, online petitions for rallying support, BBS forums for deliberating on pertinent political issues, as well as other channels for broadcasting propaganda, and these include mass emailing, dissident web presence and web-based magazines. Due to their relative effectiveness, even individual activists can use the Internet as a force multiplier to exercise incredible influence regardless of their own available resources. Still, while initial observers held high expectations about the potential of the Internet to degrade the Chinese Communist Party’s political power, most of them, including the Western media, have now reduced themselves to a more conservative assumption. Rather than expecting to see democracy distinctively taking hold of the Chinese society, the situation seems to be one of pluralism with constant negotiation between control and anti-control efforts of the Internet. The following section will focus on how the Chinese government manages Internet use, from the traditional to the more technical forms of controls.

Chapter 7.2.4 – Broadcasting Propaganda

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