China's Latest Porn Purge Underway

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“Cleaning the Web 2014″ is underway, in which “all online texts, pictures, videos and advertisements with pornographic content will be deleted without exception,” according to a circular from the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications. However, these porn crackdowns are rarely just about pornography. China’s isolated online world is preparing itself for another purge, as Chinese media states the intention is “to purify the Internet environment.”

This new crackdown, even if it only concentrates on pornography (which is unlikely) will be a big hit for pretty much every website with loose content distribution, as the statement says, “Websites, channels or columns with serious problems creating or transmitting pornographic information, will be resolutely ordered closed for rectification or closed down in accordance with the law, and relevant administrative licenses will be revoked.” Sina Reader shuttered on April 14, one day after the commencement of the crackdown, to clean up its act.

Zhang Jialong over at Tea Leaf Nation with Foreign Policy says this crackdown has little to do with pornography, “But, at its core, this is about going after rumors—party parlance for destabilizing falsehoods—in the name of going after porn. In other words, it’s about ensuring that party organs, and not the Chinese grassroots, have the loudest voice on the country’s Internet.”

Indeed, if the various crackdowns in the past were actually aimed at porn, it’s hard to understand how some of the largest porn sites have somehow slipped through the cracks. If you want to read reports from Amnesty International or the New York Times in China, you are bang out of luck unless you have a VPN. Still, the glorious proletariat can look at Porn.com until they’re blue in the face. Xinhua last year even published photos of some pretty graphic snuff porn on its website as an “actual” state execution in the U.S. The embarrassment must have been multiplied when they realized that this is one of the many, many pornography sites that China has failed to block in its random crackdowns.

Literature can also expect a thorough going over in this most recent crackdown, with slash fiction reportedly taking some of the blame. Slash Fiction, also known as Boys’ Love comics, is a sort of male-on-male fan fiction, read largely by young, straight women. Websites that produce such fiction, like dmxsw.com, have already been shut down, while larger sites like jjwxc.net have cleansed their archives of this homoerotic literature.

Offbeat China quoted one netizen as saying this is a homophobic move, “This is not cleaning the cyberspace. This is pure discrimination. I may never see a rainbow flag fly above China in my life time.” While there are many reasons to dislike slash fiction (often depicting young, kidnapped men falling in love with their rapists), as if to confirm suspicions, a police officer in charge of the slash fiction crackdown said this type of literature “promotes homosexuality.”

Using pornography as a baton to batter any subject the CCP finds offensive is nothing new. Ai Weiwei was hit with a pornography (and bigamy) charge in 2012, and Apple took its licks last year from the porn police. In short, pornography crackdowns are a weapon that can be used against any site that aggregates original or copied content.

As to who reports pornography to the authorities, that job is left to Chief Pornography Identification Officers. However, normal citizens, or “whistleblowers” as they are called in the statement from the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications, can join in by reporting infractions by phone or email to their office. For a little bit of perspective, between March and May 2013, Chinese authorities bragged of seizing 180,000 online publications and closing down 5.6 million illegal publications. Earlier that year, a crackdown claimed 225 websites, 4,000 web channels, and 30,000 blogs.

While the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications will be in charge of the crackdown, they take their marching orders from Liu Yunshan and the Central Leading Group for Propaganda and Ideological Work. This office has been tirelessly working for a porn-free Internet for a long time, but not nearly as long or as hard as they’ve been working on a dissent-free China. Liu has cemented himself as a hard-line, pro-censorship propaganda chief, and these crackdowns—varying in subject from rumors to porn—continue to be broad enough to be used as a net and tangible enough to be used as a cudgel. For now, websites around the nation will need to hide their pornography under their collective mattresses until this crackdown blows over in November.

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