The Shawshank Prevention

Sun, 05/06/2012 - 8:00pm

By Rebecca Mackinnon

ShutterstockThe "Shawshank Redemption" has nothing to do with China, but that hasn't kept social media censors from blocking the movie's title from searches on the country's most popular Twitter-like microblogging service, Weibo.

After last month's dramatic escape by the the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng from house arrest in Shandong Province into U.S. diplomatic custody, Weibo's internal censors moved quickly to ban searches for Chen's name and related terms like "embassy." People determined to discuss Chen's case were forced to speak in code — and the Shawshank Redemption, a Hollywood movie about a dramatic prison break — quickly caught on. So did the censors. According to the California-based China Digital Times, a website that closely monitors Chinese Internet censorship, the movie title has been banned on Weibo since April 28 — along with the names of Linyi township and Dong Shigu village where Chen is from, as well as the Chinese word for "pearl," which happens to be the English name of He Peirong, the woman who helped him escape and who is now believed in custody.

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in China for high-level diplomatic talks already overshadowed by Chen's case, this small but elite group was following news of her visit. To get the full story, however, they had to circumvent the nationwide Internet censorship system known popularly as the "Great Firewall of China" that keeps Chinese social media and other domestic web services within a censored walled garden. Some use circumvention software funded by Clinton's own State Department. But as Washington has been learning the hard way, bringing free and open Internet to a critical mass of Chinese people is neither cheap nor easy.

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Source: Foreign Policy


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