Join for a Free Newsela Account

It's free to read Newsela. Join and get unlimited access to read every article at every reading level.

LAW
 

Getting around China's great information firewall

Xiao Qiang is chief editor of China Digital Times, a Berkeley-based website that tracks China's Internet, publishes censored Chinese Web postings and reports censorship instructions issued to Chinese state media. Foreign Policy magazine recently included Xiao in its "Pacific Power Index" as one of the 50 people most influential in shaping the U.S.-China relationship.
Xiao Qiang is chief editor of China Digital Times, a Berkeley-based website that tracks China's Internet, publishes censored Chinese Web postings and reports censorship instructions issued to Chinese state media. Foreign Policy magazine recently included Xiao in its "Pacific Power Index" as one of the 50 people most influential in shaping the U.S.-China relationship. Stuart Leavenworth/McClatchy DC/TNS

BEIJING — China's governing Communist Party maintains 24-hour control of what the country's citizens can and cannot see on the Internet. Critics call this content-blocking operation the Great Firewall.

In the United States, China Digital Times of Berkeley, California, tries to poke holes in the Great Firewall. Every day, its staff collects, translates and publishes many of the official requests for censorship the Chinese government sends to the media it controls. Such requests are known as censorship directives.

China Digital Times also tracks breaking news that is being blocked in China. They publish some of the most important stories China’s rulers do not want ordinary Chinese citizens to read.

“There is no way you could take all these critical voices and party directives and put them together on one website in China. It would be taken down immediately,” said 53-year-old Xiao Qiang, chief editor of China Digital Times. “But outside the Great Firewall you can do that. And that is what we do.”

Vaulting The Great Firewall

Xiao founded China Digital Times in 2003. Since then, it has become a go-to site for English speakers wanting to keep up with China’s Internet and its 640 million users.

China Digital Times is not only aimed at English speakers, however. After China blocked the site in 2006, Xiao made plans for a Chinese-language site, which he launched in 2011. China blocked that site as well, but Xiao said his team uses a variety of methods to break through the Great Firewall.

Imagine trying to fight a giant with pebbles, and you will have some sense of what China Digital Times is up against. China is thought to employ as many as 100,000 people to monitor and remove online posts it finds objectionable. China Digital Times consists of just six people.

Some Websites Are Fearful

Since Xi Jinping became China's president in late 2013, China has unleashed a broad crackdown on online activists. One example is Ilham Tohti, who used his blog to criticize the treatment of Uighurs, an ethnic minority group. Last September, a Chinese court sentenced him to life imprisonment.

Despite such harsh punishments, numerous Chinese tipsters continue to supply China Digital Times with news items. Among them are the instructions sent to state media telling editors which postings should be removed or toned down.

In a typical posting, China Digital Times reported Wednesday that the government had instructed news media to downplay coverage of recent explosions at a factory. The factory produces paraxylene, a highly toxic chemical.

“Do not place news of the Zhangzhou, Fujian PX explosion in lead story sections of news agency websites,” the directive read. Several websites quickly complied.

Small But Determined Team

China Digital Times has about 250,000 to 500,000 readers a month, about two-thirds of them in mainland China. The numbers vary depending on China’s success in preventing China Digital Times from burrowing through the Great Firewall.

Sarah Cook is an American expert on Chinese media. Xiao and China Digital Times, she said, have provided a real service, through their decade-long tracking of the directives. “They must have quite a network of contacts in the country,” she said.

Jeremy Goldkorn, another expert on China media, agrees that China Digital Times has been very valuable. In part, he said, this is because “they have kept at it for so long.”

The organization’s six team members are split between the Chinese-language and English-language sites.

Xiao says it is “an uphill struggle” to raise money to run China Digital Times. He keeps doing it, he said, because of feedback from readers.

Maybe Real Change Will Come

Xiao believes China's leaders are cracking down more these days because they are feeling insecure. It may be only a matter of time before many Chinese begin calling for real change. The country's current leadership could end up losing power.

"If the economic situation goes well," and good-paying jobs are plentiful, "they can hang on for another decade or longer,” Xiao said. “But they know they are in trouble.”

For Xiao, political reform in China cannot happen soon enough. Beijing currently forbids him from returning to China, even to visit his family.

Xiao said his 80-year-old father is ill and unable to visit him in the United States.

Asked about China’s future, Xiao said that he believes China will be able to change, but says: "What I fear is that I will not be able to see my father before he dies.”

Join for a free account to read the full article.
Related Articles
Related Text Sets

Quiz

1080L

You must be a registered user

to submit quizzes.

1
Anchor 2: Central Idea

What are two main ideas from the article?

A

The Chinese government censors the news to maintain political control in China; the China Digital Times wants to get rid of the Chinese government

B

The Chinese government censors the news to maintain political control in China; Xiao is no longer allowed to return to China because of his criticism of the Chinese government.

C

The Chinese government censors news in China by using the Great Firewall; the China Digital Times tries to bypass the Great Firewall.

D

The Chinese government censors news in China by using the Great Firewall; Xiao is no longer allowed to return to China because of his criticism of the Chinese government.

2
Anchor 2: Central Idea

Which sentence from the section "Small But Determined Team" helps explain the main idea of the article?

A

China Digital Times has about 250,000 to 500,000 readers a month, about two-thirds of them in mainland China.

B

The numbers vary depending on China’s success in preventing China Digital Times from burrowing through the Great Firewall.

C

The organization’s six team members are split between the Chinese-language and English-language sites.

D

Jeremy Goldkorn, another expert on China media, agrees that China Digital Times has been very valuable.

3
Anchor 3: People, Events & Ideas

How has running the China Digital Times affected Xiao's personal life?

A

He has been criticized by the Chinese government.

B

He has become very popular in China.

C

He is no longer allowed back in China.

D

He is no longer allowed to read news websites.

4
Anchor 3: People, Events & Ideas

Based on the article, why did Xaio Qiang start the China Digital Times?

A

to analyze news stories coming out of China

B

to explain Chinese news to Westerners

C

to criticize censorship by the Chinese government

D

to identify which Chinese news stories are the most important

Write

1080L
{{ answers_for_review[0].student.user.first_name }} {{ answers_for_review[0].student.user.last_name }}
Write Preview

Write is a feature that allows students to answer open-ended questions. Teachers are able to customize which questions they want to ask their students.


Sample Prompt

Write a short paragraph that explains the central idea of the article. Use at least two details from the article to support your response.

Escriba un párrafo corto que explique la idea central del artículo. Use al menos dos detalles del artículo para apoyar su respuesta.

Select a class for your response
{{classroom.name}} / {{teacher.user.last_name}},
Edit Prompt
Your Prompt
Default

Note: Some of your students have already responded to the default prompt. You are editing a prompt that students have already written against. Editing the prompt now may affect the meaning of existing student work.


Recommended Annotation Visible only to you
     
Annotate

Unable to save at this time.