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IN FRATERNAM MEAM
Monday, April 10, 2006
CENSORS LOSING GRIP ON WIRED CHINESE
BEIJING -- When "Brokeback Mountain" came to China, government censors balked at a gay cowboy romance and refused to approve the film.

But Chinese movie fans barely noticed. They were too busy watching the film.

Most had picked up a pirated DVD, for about $1, on the street. Others simply downloaded crystal clear copies from Chibese file sharing sites. Still more were posting their praise or criticism on one of the country's racucous Web forum.

China certainly has the most sophisticated censorship regime in the world. And it is utterly outmatched.

The government is adept at curbing expression, sometimes brutally, with prison terms of more than 10 years for unlawful political speech. But understanding China today means looking beyond the confines of mainstream communication - the dutiful newspapers, the censored films, the Google-scrubbed search pages -- to a shadow marketplace of ideas in which Chinese citizens are finding, watching and reading a growing share of what they want.

"Real film fans in China never have any expectation from mvoie theatres. Most movies that show here are rubbish," said Liu Qiwen, a 23 year old movie buff and senior at Nankai University in the industrial city of Tianjin. "I can find almost any movie I like, especially rhe latest ones. Old movies can be a little harder to dig up, but there is always a way."

The debate over free expression in China today centers on revelations that U.S. companies such as Google, Yahoo and Cisco are cooperating with China's govrenment to filter such words as "Democracy" and "Dalai Lama", as well as providing personal e-mail information that autorities use to prosecute citizens.

The companies are mortified that their agreements came to light; under fire from lawmakersm a Google executive told a congressional committee that this company's actions violate "Google's most basic values and commitments."

But amid the attention on all that gets censored, it is easy to lose sight of all that gets through.

The internet, even censored with U.S. corporate help, is fundamentally altering China's one party state. In the span of barely a decade,the Communist Party has lost the monopoly on knowledge. China's ranks of 111 million Web users have grown nearly 20 percent from a year ago.

To keep an eye on them, China has enlisted an estimated 30,000 Web watchers who troll for sensitive Web sites and chat postings to remove. Yet the censor's task has barely begun; 92 percent of China's population has yet to go online. With analysts predicting that China could have 400 million Web users within 10 years -- more than the U.S. population -- authorities face a daunting challenge to keep pace.

Censorship opportunities are getting savvier too. Chinese Web user's whp want to elude China's firewalls can now choose from a range of online services with names such as Freegate and UltraSurf. Though they are difficult to use, the sites funnel Web traffic through third party computers, allowing Web users in China to view sites and send messages that otherwise are blocked.

The information explosion is not only in scale but in form. Today China has an estimated 16 million bloggers - up from just a smattering five years ago - posting about everything from politics and sex to advetising and food.

The Web authorities rarely filter such apolitical discussion. So, as it grows unchecked, it is creating a generation of Chinese who never read the state run People's Daily newspaper but routinely use a file sharing protocol to downpoad films or television programs that their government officially rejects. It is a generation raised to expect a cnesored world and an uncersored one, even when that world is Wisteria Lane.

"Like a lot of 'Desperate Housewives' fans, the only reason we watch the (state) television version is to find how different it is "from the uncut version, said Ye Shannan, 23, a teacher in Shanghai and one of China's fervent new fans of the American television series.

When "Desperate Houseviews" debuted on Chinese television in December, it was a short, sanitized version of itself; censors had snipped out sex and violence, toend down references to bodily functions and dubbed it in Mandarin. It drew lousy ratings. State media quickly explained, as the China Daily nmewspaper put it, that the show bombed because its characters were "too far removed from ordinary Chinese, even the burgeoning middle class".

But online, something else was happening. Fans who had downloaded the uncut version, or paid about $17 for a full season's worth of pirated DVDs, quickly found each other. They formed forums and blogs to swap gossip and commentary. Viewers in Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere huddled over plot twists and American slang. They advised each other where to cyberspace to find the best digitized version of the show.

For viewers like Ye, obtaining what once was out of reach has become mundance.

"For young people like me, you don't need to worry", she said. "We can basically find all the programs that we want".


(Source:CHICTRIB by: Evan Osnos/eosnos@tribune.com)
posted by infraternam meam @ 2:56 AM  
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Name: infraternam meam
Home: Chicago, United States
About Me: I am now at the prime of my life and have been married for the past 25 years. Sickly at times, but wants to see the elixir vita, so that I will be able to see my grandchildren from my two boys.
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