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Freedom on the Net

Freedom on the Net 2017


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Not Free
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Internet Freedom Scores

(Freedom on the Net Score:
0=Most Free, 100=Least Free)

Quick Facts

1.38 billion
Internet Penetration: 
53.2 %
Social Media/ICT Apps Blocked: 
Bloggers/ICT Users Arrested: 
Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Key Developments: 

June 2016–May 2017

  • A cybersecurity law passed in November 2016 strengthened requirements for network operators to register Chinese users under their real names and store their information within China (see Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity).
  • Evidence emerged of greater censorship on WeChat; several people were also detained in relation to comments shared on the messaging platform (see Content Removal and Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities).
  • New regulations sought to limit user-generated news content, adding licensing requirements for all forms of digital news gathering and dissemination (see Media, Diversity, and Content Manipulation).
  • Rules issued in 2017 introduced licensing for virtual private network (VPN) tools, which are used to bypass censorship (see Blocking and Filtering).
  • Activists received sentences of up to 11 years in prison for advocating democracy online (see Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities).

China was the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom in Freedom on the Net for the third consecutive year. New regulations increased pressure on companies to verify users’ identities and restrict banned content and services. Meanwhile, users themselves were punished for sharing sensitive news and commentary, with prison terms ranging from five days to eleven years.

The government tightened online controls in advance of the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in October 2017, at which President Xi Jinping, the party’s general secretary, cemented his leadership for the next five years. “Cyberspace sovereignty” has been a top policy goal under Xi, and related legal changes were incorporated into a cybersecurity law adopted in November 2016. The legislation, most of which took effect in June 2017, continued a trend of escalating requirements on internet companies to register their users’ real names, among other provisions. The law also obliges foreign companies to store Chinese user data in mainland China.

The drive to codify what were previously ad hoc censorship and surveillance strategies persisted during the coverage period, with new regulations to license digital tools like VPNs that are used to circumvent website blocking by the centralized censorship apparatus known as the Great Firewall. Other new restrictions targeted citizen journalism, and several sought to prevent websites from republishing “unverified” news from social media. According to regulations issued in May 2017, sites that are not licensed cannot provide any online news and information services.

These rules are taking their toll on civil society. A number of notable domestic websites were closed down during the past year, including Gongshi Wang, a website that sought common ground among different ideological camps regarding democracy and good governance, and Zhongmu Wang, a website serving the Hui Muslim community. At least three website operators in the civil society sector were arrested, including Huang Qi, founder of the human rights website 64 Tianwang, who was detained in December 2016 and later charged with providing state secrets to foreigners.

Dissidents and members of ethnic or religious minority groups received the heaviest penalties for online speech, but ordinary internet users also felt the impact of the increasingly repressive regime. Multiple administrative detentions were used to punish individuals whose posts challenged local or national officials, even in closed messaging groups.

Obstacles to Access:
(Freedom on the Net Score: 0=Most Free, 100=Least Free)

China boasts the world’s largest number of internet users, yet obstacles to access remain, including poor infrastructure, particularly in rural areas; a telecommunications industry dominated by state-owned enterprises; centralized control over international gateways; and sporadic, localized shutdowns of internet service to quell social unrest.

Availability and Ease of Access

There were 731 million internet users in China as of January 2017,1 according to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC). From December 2015 to December 2016, the number of mobile internet users grew from 620 million to 695 million, accounting for 95percent of all internet users.2

Though the digital divide between urban and rural areas narrowed marginally in previous years, 72.6 percent of users are based in cities, according to the most recent government figures.3 Penetration rates vary significantly by province, from 77.8 percent in Beijing to 39.9 percent in Yunnan.4 The CNNIC reported that 52 percent of all internet users were male.

The share of internet users connecting through cybercafes and public computers remained relatively constant in 2016, at 16.3 percentand 16.4 percent, respectively.5 Demand for such access points is higher in rural areas and small towns.

The China Broadband Development Alliance reported nationwide average broadband speed at 11.90 Mbps in the fourth quarter of 2016. The highest available rate was in Shanghai, which averaged 14.03 Mbps, while the lowest was in Xinjiang and Tibet, which averaged 9.66 Mbps and 9.27 Mbps, respectively.6 Akamai, which measures access to the global internet, registered slower average speeds (see Availability and Ease of Access: Key Indicators). “Broadband China,” a government strategy issued in 2013, aimed to boost penetration to 70 percent nationwide by 2020 and increase connection speeds to 50 Mbps in cities and 12 Mbps in rural areas, with even faster Gbps speeds promised in bigger cities.7

In July 2016, China Telecom announced plans to gradually eliminate mobile roaming charges to reduce costs for consumers.8 Roaming charges can be double the regular cost per minute of phone use. In a 2017 government work report, Premier Li Keqiang urged telecom companies to remove roaming fees before the end of 2017.9

Restrictions on Connectivity

Nine state-run operators maintain China’s gateways to the global internet, giving authorities the ability to cut off cross-border information requests.10 All service providers must subscribe via the gateway operators overseen by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

The government has shut down access to entire communications systems in response to specific events, notably imposing a 10-month internet blackout in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region—home to 22 million people—after ethnic violence in the regional capital, Urumqi, in 2009.11 Since then, authorities have continued the practice on a smaller scale. For example, after a knife attack by three assailants reportedly resulted in eight deaths in February 2017, networks in Xinjiang’s Pishan County were cut off.12 A similar outage was reported in a Tibetan area following a reported self-immolation in protest against CCP rule.13 Popular social media applications have been disabled in certain localities in order to “maintain stability.”14

Rights activists and their families are subject to targeted network disconnections. Yang Maoping, sister of imprisoned human rights activist Guo Feixiong, told international journalists that her home broadband service was repeatedly disconnected in August 2016 in a pattern suggesting deliberate disruption, though the provider said there had been a technical error.15 Her access to WeChat Moments, a timeline feature in the WeChat app, appeared to have been blocked during the same period.

Uyghurs, Tibetans, and others who express critical opinions about CCP rule are frequently detained or punished on the pretext that they threaten national security. For that reason, legal provisions that could enable network disruptions to prevent terrorism and protect cybersecurity are cause for concern. Article 84 of an antiterrorism law passed in 2015 introduced fines and detentions of up to 15 days for telecommunications operators and internet service provider (ISP) personnel who fail to “stop transmission” of terrorist or extremist content, “shut down related services,” or implement “network security” measures to prevent the transmission of such content.16 The cybersecurity law passed in November 2016 and effective from June 1, 2017, also provided legal grounds for officials to instruct network operators to stop transmission of certain content to protect public security (see Legal Environment).

ICT Market

In 2011, an antimonopoly investigation accused state-owned China Telecom and China Unicom of abusing their market dominance to manipulate fixed-line broadband pricing, marking the first use of a 2008 antimonopoly law against state enterprises.17 The telecom giants revised their internetwork pricing structures to allow rivals to access their infrastructure,18 and customers can now choose from among many smaller, privately owned ISPs.19

State-owned China Mobile, along with China Telecom and China Unicom, dominate the mobile market. In 2014, the government formally authorized the three major players to set pricing for services according to market forces, resulting in price cuts.20 Private capital was allowed to enter the network leasing business in 2015, and MIIT had issued at least 42 network leasing licenses to private companies by the end of that year.21 In some cities, municipal governments proposed regulations to ensure telecommunication market diversity so that residents in a single community could have a choice of providers.22

Despite the gradual lifting of long-standing market controls, network leasing represents only a small part of the telecommunications sector. Licenses for basic telecommunications services are still effectively monopolized by the three state-owned incumbents, and no other companies are involved in other key services such as public network infrastructure construction.23 In May 2016, state-owned China Broadcast Network (CBN) received a license for basic telecommunications business from MIIT,24 but it would only provide infrastructure and data-transmission services and was not seen as a threat to the three dominant players.25

Authorities exercise tight control over cybercafes and other public access points, which are licensed by the Ministry of Culture in cooperation with other state entities.26 In practice, restrictions can be difficult to enforce. The Ministry of Culture reported 14,000 illegal internet cafés (hei wangba) in operation nationwide as of 2014.27 In November 2014, the Chinese government loosened restrictions on opening new cybercafes, lifting a 2013 rule requiring them to be affiliated with larger chains.28 There were 140,417 cybercafés in China as of June 2016, mostly in second-tier cities.29

Regulatory Bodies

Several government and CCP agencies are responsible for internet regulation at the local and national levels, but the process has been consolidated under Xi Jinping.

The State Internet Information Office (SIIO) was created in May 2011 to oversee telecommunications companies.30 On August 26, 2014, the State Council formally authorized the SIIO to regulate and supervise internet content.31 In December 2014, it launched a new website as the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) and Office of the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs.32 Lu Wei, whom commentators referred to as China’s internet czar, headed the CAC between 2013 and 2016. He was unexpectedly replaced by Xu Lin, a former deputy of Xi Jinping’s, in 2016.33

The CAC reports to the Central Internet Security and Informatization Leading Group, which was formed in February 2014 to oversee cybersecurity and is headed directly by Xi Jinping, making it the highest authority on internet policy in China.34 In December 2014, the leading group took charge of the CNNIC, an administrative agency under MIIT that issues digital certificates to websites.35

In March 2016, Xinhua reported the establishment of the nonprofit Cyber Security Association of China to promote online security.36 It is made up of more than 200 member technology and cybersecurity companies and research institutions, and headed by Fang Binxing, who is recognized as the developer of the Great Firewall.37 In February 2017, the CAC released draft “Measures for the Security Review of Network Products and Services" (wangluo chanpin he fuwu anquan shencha banfa zhengqiu yijian gao) for public comment.38 Article 5 proposed the establishment of a Network Security Review Committee to coordinate network security policy.39

Two regulatory bodies, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) and the General Administration for Press and Publications (GAPP), both responsible for censorship in their respective sectors, merged in 2013 to form the State Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT).40 The body’s tasks include monitoring internet-based television, online videos,and streaming services. In addition, the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department oversees the ideological inclination of online content.

In March 2016, MIIT announced a draft regulation on domain name management (hulianwang yuming guanli banfa). The regulation requires all domain name holders to go through a real-name registration process, and domain names managed by overseas institutions will not be connected.41 Foreign media noted concerns that the measure could block all foreign websites,42 but MIIT clarified that the regulation only applies to websites with Chinese domain names.43 The draft was still being finalized in early 2017.44

Limits on Content:
(Freedom on the Net Score: 0=Most Free, 100=Least Free)

The CCP’s Central Propaganda Department, government agencies, and private companies employ hundreds of thousands or even millions of people to monitor, censor, and manipulate online content. Material on a range of issues is systematically censored, including independent evaluations of China’s human rights record, critiques of government policy, discussions of politically and socially sensitive topics, and information about the authorities’ treatment of ethnic and religious minorities. Censorship becomes more intense or expansive during politically sensitive events or in response to breaking news. During the coverage period, user-generated news reports were subject to heightened censorship and punishment. The heavily manipulated online environment still provides more space for average citizens to express themselves or criticize the state than any other medium in China, but digital activism has declined amid growing legal and technical restrictions as well as heavy prison sentences against prominent civil society figures.

Blocking and Filtering

The Chinese government maintains a sophisticated censorship apparatus, including both automated mechanisms and human monitors, to block online criticism of individuals, policies, or events considered integral to the one-party system. Several social media and communication apps are inaccessible from inside China without circumvention tools—and a crackdown on those tools was under way during the reporting period.

The most censored breaking news topics in 2016 were related to the reputation of the party or officials, health and safety, foreign affairs, official wrongdoing, media censorship, or civil society activism.45 There was also consistent and systematic censorship of content addressing long-standing taboos such as the Cultural Revolution, the 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters, Taiwanese independence, repression of minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet, and the banned spiritual group Falun Gong. In addition, censors have increasingly blocked international news outlets for reporting on issues like corruption and illicit wealth among high-level officials, especially those with Chinese-language websites. At least 15 global news websites tracked by the nonprofit news organization ProPublica were inaccessible inside China in 2016.46

The government took new measures in 2017 to restrict the use of circumvention tools to bypass blocking and filtering. VPNs offered by domestic or international software developers reroute the user’s traffic through a server outside the firewall to access blocked sites. In 2014, China boasted the largest number of VPN users in the world, according to Global Web Index.47 Circumvention tools are not illegal, since businesses and government supporters also rely on them to communicate and access information beyond China’s borders.48 But authorities have tried to regulate access to the software. Several overseas providers have reported connectivity issues and blocking.49

MIIT launched a campaign to crack down on unauthorized domestic VPNs between January 17, 2017, and March 31, 2018.50 Service providers are now barred from setting up VPNs without licensing, and illegal VPN operations will be subject to closure or blocking.51

Several social media and messaging apps are totally blocked, isolating the Chinese public from global networks. According to censorship monitor, 171 of Alexa’s top 1,000 websites in the world were blocked in China in 2017 (compared with 138 in mid-2016).52These include YouTube, Google, Facebook, Flickr, SoundCloud, and WordPress.53 A number of services operated by Google, including Google Maps, Translate, Calendar, Scholar, and Analytics, were blocked in 2017, according to

Blocking can affect the download pages for related software, or specific functions within an app. The messaging service WhatsApp, which was available in China in 2016, was subject to disruption of its video and call functionality in mid-2017, and later it was almost entirely blocked.55 In March 2017, Pinterest, a popular social media platform for curating visual content, was blocked for unknown reasons, having been fully accessible for many years.56 Most of its content is apolitical.

While the term “Great Firewall” is often used to refer to China’s internet censorship system as a whole, it alludes more specifically to the automated, technical blocking of websites and services based outside China. In some cases, whole domain names or internet protocol (IP) addresses are blocked, with users receiving an explicit message about illegal content. Other interventions are less visible. Over the past several years, observers have documented unusually slow speeds that indicate deliberate throttling, which delays the loading of targeted sites and services.57

Authorities also use deep packet inspection (DPI) to scan for any blacklisted keywords in both a user’s request for content and the results returned. Once the keywords are detected, the technology signals both sides of the exchange to temporarily sever the connection. Such granular control is less noticeable to users because specific pages can be blocked within otherwise approved sites, and because the interruption appears to result from a technical error.58 Returning fake pages, or replacing the requested site with content retrieved from an unrelated IP address using a technique known as DNS poisoning, is another routine method of disrupting access to specific content.

Censorship decisions are arbitrary, opaque, and inconsistent, in part because so many individuals and processes are involved. The impact may vary depending on timing, technology, and geographical region. ISPs reportedly install filtering devices differently, in the internet backbone or even in provincial-level internal networks.59 Blacklists periodically leak online, but they are not officially published. There are no formal avenues for appeal. The government has generally not been transparent about content controls,60 and criticism of censorship is itself censored.61

Content Removal

Websites and social media accounts are subject to deletion or closure at the request of Chinese censorship authorities, and internet companies are required to monitor and delete problematic content or face punishment. The cybersecurity law passed during the reporting period requires network operators to “immediately stop transmission” of banned content.62

SMS and instant messages are also subject to blocking and filtering.63 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo’s name, for example, was already blocked from searches on Chinese social media platforms during the coverage period.64 After his death in custody from liver cancer in July 2017, censorship on the messaging app WeChat and the microblogging service Sina Weibo also spiked.65

Gongshi Wang, a well-known site that championed liberal thought, was unexpectedly taken offline in October 2016.66 The owner told the South China Morning Post that he was “uncertain about its future.”67 Gongshi Wang sought common ground among different ideological camps regarding democracy and good governance. Among other domestic websites that were closed down during the past year, Zhongmu Wang, a popular site serving Chinese Hui Muslims, was shuttered in December 2016 along with its official social media accounts due to allegations that it was “spreading extremism.”68 Officials were apparently concerned that the site’s advocacy for better labeling and application of halal standards in China—which is opposed by some Han Chinese groups69—would encourage conflict.

Domestic social media companies and content providers delete or block sensitive content shared by users. In 2017, one company estimated that 20 to 30 percent of its labor costs were dedicated to “auditing” content.70

Sina’s efforts to manage Weibo content are well documented. Staff members delete individual posts or accounts, often within 24 hours of an offending post, but sometimes long after publication;71 make published posts visible only to the account owner; or personally warn individual users.72 Hundreds of terms have also been automatically filtered from Weibo search results over time.73

WeChat censorship is also increasingly sophisticated. The company no longer informs users when content has been censored,74 and after Liu Xiaobo’s death, WeChat users reported that images depicting him and his wife Liu Xia were also blocked; those sent via private messages were not visible to the recipient.75

In September 2016, President Xi misread the phrase tong shang kuan nong (“facilitating business and deregulating agriculture”) as the similar-looking tong shang kuan yi (“facilitating business by undressing”) during a speech to world business leaders at a Group of 20 (G20) summit held in Hangzhou. The term “kuan yi” was then blacklisted on Weibo and WeChat.76 In another case, censorship authorities issued orders to delete all online references to a newly discovered species of beetle, which a Chinese scientist had named after Xi.77 The Weiboscope project at the University of Hong Kong, which tracks censored Weibo content, reported that the keywords “Cultural Revolution,” “Lei Yang,” “police,” “lawyer,” and “government” were the most likely to be censored in March 2017.

Companies also block entire accounts. In September 2016, the CAC announced that in the first nine months of 2016, a total of 11,459 WeChat public accounts were closed, mainly due to alleged rumor mongering.78

A number of noteworthy Individual accounts were shuttered during the coverage period:

  • On August 1, 2016, the Weibo account of renowned lawyer Chen Guangwu was closed by Sina for unknown reasons.

  • The Weibo account of Yi Fuxian, a demography scholar who had criticized China’s restrictions on family size and reproduction, was closed in September 2016.79

  • In early 2017, liberal economist Mao Yushi’s Weibo account was terminated.80

  • In February 2017, a Weibo account promoting feminism was closed.81

In June 2016, the CAC announced plans for a campaign to purge undesirable content from online comments. Chief content editors from Tencent and NetEase pledged to improve systems for managing user comments.82 On June 28, 2016, the CAC released a “mobile internet apps information service regulation” (yidong hulianwang yingyong chengxu xinxi fuwu guanli guiding), requiring companies that offer digital apps to manage content produced and disseminated by users, effective from August 1 of that year.83

International companies also complied with government requests to remove content. In late December 2016, Apple removed the New York Times app from its regional App Store in China.84 “We have been informed that the app is in violation of local regulations,” the technology company said, without elaborating on the nature of the regulations or how it had been informed, according to the Times.

In November 2016, the New York Times reported that Facebook—which is blocked in China—had “developed software to suppress posts from appearing in people’s news feeds in specific geographic areas,” citing anonymous former employees. The software could enable a partner company in a country like China to monitor users’ news feeds and prevent chosen content from appearing.85

Censors targeted video content as well. In July 2016, the Ministry of Public Security launched a three-month nationwide campaign to purge illegal content from live-streaming websites.86 The alleged purpose of the campaign was to remove obscenity, pornography, gambling-related material, and content that endangers public security.87 In Guangdong Province, a total of 51 websites and 423 live-streaming channels were closed by the police.88

In September 2016, the chief executive of QVOD, which operated the peer-to-peer video-streaming application Kuaibo, was sentenced to 42 months in prison and fined CNY 1 million (US$150,000) on charges of “disseminating pornographic material for profit.”89 Three other executives were also jailed and fined. Kuaibo was taken offline in 2014 during an investigation into pornographic content shared through the site. The court held that the company and its top manager were liable for content posted and shared by users.

Media, Diversity, and Content Manipulation

The digital news media are subject to significant control, and several new regulations limiting user-generated content were passed during the reporting period. Online journalists regularly practice self-censorship. Editors and reporters who post banned content—or content that is critical of the CCP, its high-ranking members, or its actions—risk disciplinary warnings, job loss, or even criminal detention. (News websites in Hong Kong operate with considerably more freedom but have been subject to periodic obstruction.90)

Websites and social media accounts other than those operated by print and broadcast outlets are not allowed to produce news content by law, although the definition of news is not clear. Regulations in effect since March 2016 clarified restrictions on foreign investment in online publishing, and listed requirements for domestic companies to obtain an online publishing permit. In addition to compliance with censorship rules, the requirements included having at least eight full-time editorial or publishing staff members.91 Some news outlets have been punished for content violations through restrictions on their distribution. In October 2016, authorities issued a two-month suspension that prevented other websites from republishing content produced by Caixin, a relatively independent business publication.92

Starting in mid-2016, the authorities tightened the ban on “illegal” online news content in an apparent effort to reduce the social and political impact of user-generated content:

  • In July, the CAC stipulated that news media should not publish unverified content sourced from social media.93

  • The same month, the local cyber affairs office in Beijing ordered the web portals Sina, Sohu, NetEase, and to terminate several news and information programs that used unofficial information sources.94

  • On November 4, the CAC published internet live-streaming service regulations (hulianwang zhibo fuwu guanli guiding) to govern live video content.95

  • In December, the SAPPRFT ordered social media platforms such as Weibo and WeChat to cease promoting user-generated news videos.96

  • In January 2017, the Beijing authorities closed 17 websites, many for providing news services without a proper license.97 The website of the Tianze Economic Research Institute, a liberal think tank established by outspoken economist Mao Yushi, was among them.

  • Separately in January, the government ordered the new video website Pear Video to shut down temporarily for publishing news without authorization.98

  • The popular cartoon video site Bilibili told users not to upload news or political content in February 2017.99

Some new measures are likely to give the state more direct influence over private companies’ management of online content. In April 2016, regulators sought feedback from major Chinese internet companies like Baidu and Tencent on a proposal for the state to purchase a 1 percent stake in such firms.100 The proposal was broadened to include video streaming services during the reporting period. SAPPRFT urged popular video platforms such as Youku, Tudou, and Tecent TV to sign an initial agreement with state-owned media groups including China National Radio and China Radio International.101

On May 2, 2017, CAC regulations on managing internet news and information services (hulianwang xinwen xinxi fuwu guanli guiding)102said that only traditional media or state-controlled enterprises were eligible to obtain a license to gather or disseminate news in any online format.103 Critics said the regulations were unconstitutional and violate China’s trade agreements.104

Online content is subject to extensive manipulation. Propaganda officials instruct internet outlets to amplify content from state media. Since 2005, propaganda units at all levels have trained and hired web commentators, known colloquially as the “50 Cent Party,” to post pro-government remarks and influence online discussions.105 Commentators may report users who have posted offending statements, target government critics with negative remarks, or deliberately muddy the facts of a particular incident.106 Coordinated smear campaigns have been used to discredit high-profile government critics.107 In January 2017, a new analysis of comments estimated that about 1 out of every 178 social media posts is sponsored by the government, amounting to some 448 million posts per year; most of the posts in the study’s sample praised the government to divert attention away from potentially negative stories.108

Much of this activity is conducted on official sites and accounts. In January 2017, the CCP published “Guidance on the use of WeChat for party members” (dangyuan ganbu weixin shiyong zhinan), announcing that party members will be penalized for discussing important government policies without discretion (wangyi dazhen fangzhen) on social media.109

The content manipulation also extends to platforms that are blocked in China. One 2014 study identified over 2,500 “50 Cent” users spreading misinformation on Twitter.110 In 2015, an analysis of the People’s Daily Twitter account found patterns suggesting that many of its followers were artificial.111 Companies also pay for “astroturfing”—positive comments promoting products or services—which further erodes public trust in online content. Commercial commenters are colloquially known as the “internet water army.”112

Local authorities have mobilized ziganwu, volunteer commentators motivated by ideology rather than cash, to promote the government’s image online,113 part of a propaganda strategy to “spread positive energy among society.”114 A document leaked in 2015 revealed hundreds of thousands of “youth league online commentators” in China’s higher education institutions, tasked with swaying students against supposed Western values.115 In 2016, a handful of ziganwu were appointed to a social media division of the Communist Youth League.116 The league’s new media working group uses Weibo, WeChat, and other social media platforms to tailor political messages to younger audiences.117 The CCP has also sought to reach younger readers through new, more appealing state-backed online media outlets such as The Paper, launched in 2015, and an English-language version called Sixth Tone, unveiled in April 2016.

Despite extensive censorship, the internet has provided a forum for discussion and the sharing of information on important social and political issues, including sensitive topics like democracy and constitutional government.118 A certain amount of open debate has allowed officials to monitor public sentiment, debunk “enemy” ideology,119 and conduct internal power struggles, though the space for such online expression has dwindled in recent years.

Civil society organizations involved in social and cultural issues often have a vigorous online presence, while others that are perceived as a political threat are penalized (see Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities). Ethnic minorities and persecuted religious groups attempt to use the internet to disseminate banned content, but they remain underrepresented. In August 2016, a research team in Qinghai launched the first Tibetan-language search engine, Yongzin. Some commenters welcomed the platform, but a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) report said it mostly returned results leading to state news and video content.120

Many internet users bypass censorship with circumvention technology or creative work-arounds. Humorous neologisms, homonyms, and cryptic allusions substitute for banned keywords, forcing censors to filter seemingly innocuous terms like “tiger.”121 This version of the Chinese internet does not resemble a repressed information environment so much as “a quasi-public space where the CCP’s dominance is being constantly exposed, ridiculed, and criticized, often in the form of political satire, jokes, videos, songs, popular poetry, jingles, fiction, Sci-Fi, code words, mockery, and euphemisms.”122 However, a crackdown on VPNs (see Blocking and Filtering) and advances in keyword filtering raised new obstacles for those seeking to evade censorship over the past year.

Digital Activism

Social media used to be a vibrant space for activism.123 Amid stricter internet controls, however, activism has been gradually waning since 2013.124 The word “netizen”—a translation of the Chinese wangmin, or citizen of the internet—conveys the sense of civic engagement associated with online exchanges, but the term was less common in China by 2015.125 Recent prosecutions of prominent human rights workers have removed important advocates and sources of information from the online environment, and even local activism sometimes resulted in sanctions during 2017. When internet users protested the Henan provincial government’s plans to build four nuclear power plants in the next five years, one was detained for five days in connection with an online article (see Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activity).126

Authorities remain responsive to public opinion online, though the ultimate impact is limited. In May 2016, for example, Lei Yang, a well-educated environmentalist in Beijing, was found dead after he was detained by local police on charges of soliciting a prostitute. Police said he died of a heart attack, but family members said they saw bruises on his body, sparking an online debate about police brutality.127In June, under this public pressure, the authorities announced that they would investigate five police officers for possible involvement in Lei Yang’s death.128 However, prosecutors decided not to charge them in December, and students and graduates of Lei’s alma mater Renmin University, one of China’s most prestigious institutions, launch an online petition in protest.129 Lei’s family eventually declined to pursue litigation over the incident.


Violations of User Rights:
(Freedom on the Net Score: 0=Most Free, 100=Least Free)

A number of criminal laws and internet regulations can ensnare users who post content deemed undesirable by the CCP, and a new cybersecurity law was passed during the reporting period. Criminal charges of subversion, separatism, and terrorism, as well as defamation and “provoking quarrels,” are regularly invoked to imprison citizens for their online activity. Civil society websites were targeted in the latest crackdown on perceived threats to social and public order. Real-name registration requirements undermine users’ privacy and anonymity, and surveillance has increased in ethnic minority areas. Websites, hosting services, and dissidents’ email accounts are routinely attacked by hackers based in China.

Legal Environment

Article 35 of the Chinese constitution guarantees freedoms of speech, assembly, association, and publication, but such rights are subordinated to the CCP’s status as the ruling power. The constitution cannot generally be invoked in courts as a legal basis for asserting rights. The judiciary is not independent and closely follows party directives, particularly in politically sensitive freedom of expression cases. Government agencies issue regulations to establish censorship guidelines. These are highly secretive and subject to constant change, and they cannot be challenged by the courts. Prosecutors exploit vague provisions in China’s criminal code; laws governing printing and publications; subversion, separatism, and antiterrorism laws; and state secrets legislation to imprison citizens for online activity. Trials and hearings typically lack due process.

On November 7, 2016, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress passed a cybersecurity law that came into effect on June 1, 2017.130 The law consolidated the role of the CAC (see Regulatory Bodies), which it identified as the principle agency responsible for implementing many of its provisions.131 The law also codified existing restrictions, strengthening self-regulation and real-name registration requirements for internet companies and obliging them to assist security agencies with investigations (see Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity) and help implement censorship or, potentially, network shutdowns (see Content Removal and Restrictions on Connectivity).132

Other laws and regulations have implications for online speech. In 2013, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the top prosecutorial body, formally defined online manifestations of crimes including defamation, creating disturbances, illegal commercial activities, and extortion.133 Criminal defamation carries a possible three-year prison sentence under “serious” circumstances.134 The new interpretation defined those circumstances to cover defamatory online content that receives more than 5,000 views or is reposted more than 500 times.135 Online messages deemed to incite unrest or protest are also subject to criminal penalties under the interpretation.

In November 2015, an amendment to the criminal code introduced penalties of up to seven years in prison for those who disseminate misinformation on social media.136 Separately, the antiterrorism law adopted in December 2015 instructed companies to delete terrorist content or face administrative detention for their personnel, and barred social media users from sharing information about acts of terrorism or spreading “inhuman” images that could promote copycat acts. It also increased pressure on private companies to provide the government with user data (see Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity).

Some detentions, including administrative detentions authorized by public security bureaus, do not require approval by a court.137Chinese authorities abolished the form of administrative detention known as “reeducation through labor” in 2013 in response to domestic calls for reform,138 but individuals can be detained without trial under similarly poor conditions in drug rehabilitation and “legal education” centers.139 State agents also abduct and hold individuals in secret locations without informing their families or legal counsel. In 2012, the National People’s Congress enacted an amendment of the Criminal Procedure Law that strengthened the legal basis for detaining suspects considered a threat to national security in undisclosed locations, among other changes.140

Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities

As of December 1, 2016, at least 38 journalists were behind bars in China, 34 of whom worked online, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.141 Many other citizens have also been jailed for their online activities, including advocates of political reform, human rights workers, members of ethnic and religious minorities, and ordinary users who stir dissent or criticize CCP leaders. A number of long prison sentences were issued during the reporting period, and online speech was also frequently punished with brief administrative detentions. Though the people imprisoned represent a tiny percentage of the overall user population, prosecutions have a chilling effect on activism and encourage self-censorship in the broader public.

As in past years, known dissidents received the heaviest penalties in 2016 and 2017:

  • In June 2016, a court in Hangzhou imposed long sentences for subversion of state power on two prodemocracy activists whose trials concluded in September 2015.142 Lu Gengsong was sentenced to 11 years in prison for activities that included publishing essays on overseas websites. Chen Shuqing, who had published statements about other political detainees before his arrest, was sentenced to 10 and a half years in prison.143

  • In November 2016, Shandong democracy activist Sun Feng was sentenced to five years in prison on the lesser charge of inciting subversion of state power in online posts.144 He had been held for two years before trial.

Activists were also newly arrested for operating websites about civil society and human rights issues:

  • In June 2016, police in Dali, Yunnan Province, detained Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu, a couple who documented and tallied protest incidents on the Not News website and associated social media accounts. They were charged with “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.”145 Lu was sentenced to four years in prison in August 2017.146 Li was released after a closed-door trial in April, though no verdict was immediately announced.147

  • Liu Feiyue, founder of Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, a grassroots platform for monitoring human rights issues, was reported missing in November 2016, apparently after being detained by police in Hubei Province. He was charged with inciting subversion of state power in December.148 His case had not gone to trial by mid-2017; prosecutors may have been considering more serious charges.149

  • Police in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, formally detained Huang Qi, founder of the human rights watchdog website 64 Tianwang, in December 2016.150 He had been missing for several days.151 Huang was accused of providing state secrets overseas,152 but no sentence had been issued as of mid-2017.153 Huang has been imprisoned several times before, including in 2008 after he posted complaints from the parents of victims of the Sichuan earthquake.

Other online speech cases resulted in administrative detentions, which can last up to 15 days. Several resulted from content published in closed WeChat groups. The topics involved ranged from personal criticism of Xi Jinping to current affairs:

  • Wang Wei, a university student from Anhui Province, was held for 10 days for reposting a doctored photo depicting Xi as Adolf Hitler on Sina Weibo in July 2016.154

  • In September 2016, a resident of Sichuan was detained for seven days because he described Xi as a coward in a private WeChat conversation.155

  • Separately in September, a resident of Shenzhen was detained for 10 days on a charge of “disseminating rumors” because she reposted international news coverage of the Wukan village democracy movement on WeChat.156 That month, police had crushed a protest in Wukan, a small Guangdong Province fishing settlement, after an elected village leader was sentenced to prison.

  • In January 2017, Guangdong human rights activist Sun Desheng was detained for 10 days for sharing an image mocking Xi Jinping online.157 News reports said the image showed Xi riding on a flying pig labeled “Chinese Dream.”

  • In February 2017, Anyang resident Wang Shoufeng posted an article online criticizing the Henan provincial government’s nuclear power program (see Digital Activism). Wang was administratively detained for five days for disseminating false information to disrupt public order.158

  • Two internet users in Inner Mongolia were detained that month for 10 days each on charges of “disseminating false information to disrupt public order.” They had expressed dissatisfaction with the local administration in a WeChat group.159

  • Also in February, a resident of Sichuan Province was detained for five days for allegedly disseminating misinformation after local officials objected to his WeChat post about high smog levels.160

  • An internet user in Zhejiang Province was detained for 10 days the same month for allegedly inflating the death toll from a fire in a WeChat group discussion.161

  • In a separate February case, an internet user was detained for five days for allegedly publishing misinformation about the death toll from a chemical explosion in Anhui in WeChat discussion groups.162

At least two cases involving WeChat comments resulted in longer stints in prison:

  • On June 6, 2016, migrant worker Hu Changgen disappeared in Shanghai. More than two weeks later, he was found to be in police custody for publishing comments about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in a WeChat group.163 He spent a year behind bars before being released in June 2017.164

  • In April 2017, a court in Shandong ordered a retrial for an internet user who had been sentenced that month to two years in prison for allegedly picking quarrels on WeChat and QQ, including by using a banned nickname for Xi Jinping, “Steamed Bun Xi.”165

A number of recent detentions have targeted users of VPNs as part of a crackdown on circumvention tools (see Blocking and Filtering). One 2016 example involved an internet user who downloaded propaganda videos from the Islamic State militant group and was charged under the antiterrorism law.166 Another case in February 2017 centered on a Xinjiang resident who used a VPN to reach uncensored news on Radio Free Asia and was detained for 15 days.167

Religious and ethnic minorities face particularly harsh treatment for online activity. Radio Free Asia reported in 2015 that a Uyghur teenager sentenced to life imprisonment in Xinjiang had “simply watched videos on his cellphone,”168 while Tibetan monks received long prison sentences in 2016 for involvement in a WeChat group about commemorating the Dalai Lama’s birthday.169 According to aFebruary 2017 Freedom House study on religious freedom, many Falun Gong practitioners have been jailed for posting messages about the spiritual group or human rights abuses on WeChat or QQ, accessing banned websites, and possessing VPN technology.170

Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity

The cybersecurity law adopted in November 2016 strengthens obligations for network operators to register users under their real names, requires that information about Chinese users be stored on servers located within the country,171 and indicates that technology companies may have to undergo security checks.172 International companies said the terms in the law were vague, but many began efforts to come into compliance.173 Implementing regulations that would clarify several provisions had yet to be issued at the end of the reporting period.

Privacy protections under Chinese law are minimal. In the words of one expert, the law explicitly authorizes government access to privately held data, and “systematic access” to “data held by anyone” is a realistic possibility once e-government strategies are fully implemented.174 China’s national identity cards, which are administered by police, are required to be digitally embedded with fingerprints.175 The State Council aims to link credit, social security, and other personal information to these biometric databases.176Companies and municipalities are also testing “social credit” schemes that will allow an assessment of individuals’ online activities alongside other personal data before they are granted financial credit or access to certain services.177 The schemes have been subject to criticism within China due to privacy and other concerns, but plans to expand the idea continued to be debated over the past year, including some with an ideological slant. In February 2017, CCP magazine Red Flag Digest (Hongqi Wenzhai) suggested the introduction of a credit and review system for significant opinion leaders on social media.178 The central government plans to launch a nationwide, mandatory social credit system by 2020.179

Companies offering web services are required to register users. Businesses must gain users’ consent to collect their personal electronic data, and outline the “use, method, and scope” of the collection, but there are no limits placed on law enforcement requests for personal records.180 Mobile phone users have been required to register since 2010, so providing a phone number is a common way of registering with other services.181 Registration requirements are difficult to enforce, and users have exploited loopholes to evade them,182 but related rules have been steadily tightened.183 On December 28, 2016, for example, MIIT mandated real-name registration for all telecommunications services, effective from February 2017.184

News portals, bulletin boards, blog-hosting services, and email providers have long enforced some form of user registration.185 MIIT requires website operators themselves to register as part of the licensing process.186 Sina Weibo’s reports to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have noted the company’s exposure to potentially severe penalties due to its inability to fully comply with real-name registration rules.187

Cybercafes check photo identification and record user activities, sometimes in cooperation with law enforcement. The Public Security Bureau in Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province, developed a real-name registration app for cybercafés in the city in 2015.188 In March 2017, local news reports said facial recognition technologies had been used to match customers’ faces and ID photos in cybercafés in the city of Xingtai, Hebei Province.189 Hebei authorities instructed public Wi-Fi providers to comply with user registration requirements in April.190

The cybersecurity law introduced new penalties for companies that infringe on privacy,191 but many other laws ensure that companies make user data available to officials. Amendments to the State Secrets Law in 2010, for instance, obliged telecommunications operators to cooperate with authorities investigating leaked state secrets or risk losing their licenses.192 An amendment to the Criminal Procedure Law that took effect in 2013 introduced a review process for allowing police surveillance of suspects’ electronic communications, which the Ministry of Public Security permits in many types of criminal investigation, but the wording about the new procedure was vague.193

Various regulations have outlined requirements for companies to retain user data. In June 2016, for example, the CAC required Chinese app providers to register users and keep user activity logs for 60 days.194 Other ISPs are required to retain user information for 60 days, and submit it to the authorities upon request without judicial oversight or transparency.195

As with censorship, measures that erode privacy disproportionately target groups perceived as threats to the regime. In 2015, the Xinjiang government required real-name registration for Uyghurs attempting to purchase electronic devices with storage, communication, and broadcast features. Stores selling such equipment were required to install software that provides police with real-time electronic records on transactions.196

The authorities justify real-name registration as a means to prevent cybercrime, but experts warn that uploaded identity documents are vulnerable to theft or misuse,197 especially since some verification has been done through a little-known, government-linked contractor.198 In December 2016, millions of personal data records, obtained through an app that allows customers of the State Grid Corporation to pay for electricity online, were sold on the black market by unknown actors.199

Chinese companies have scored poorly in assessments of the user protections incorporated in their technology,200 and there are limits on tools that help internet users conceal their location or the nature of their activity, including VPNs (see Blocking and Filtering). The antiterrorism law passed in 2015 requires companies to offer technical support to decrypt information at the request of law enforcement agencies, among other provisions.201 Regulations for the Administration of Commercial Encryption dating to 1999, and related rules from 2006, separately require a government regulator to approve encryption products used by foreign and domestic companies.202

Direct surveillance of internet and mobile phone communications is believed to be pervasive. One academic study from 2011 reported that when users entered blacklisted search terms on Baidu, their IP addresses were automatically sent to a location in Shanghai affiliated with the Ministry of Public Security.203 Given the secrecy surrounding such capabilities, however, they are difficult to verify.

Intimidation and Violence

Allegations of torture and extralegal harassment are widespread among Chinese detainees, particularly political prisoners and those involved in freedom of expression cases. In 2015, Human Rights Watch reported “physical and psychological torture during police interrogations, including being hung by the wrists, being beaten with police batons or other objects, and prolonged sleep deprivation,” in a review of hundreds of ordinary criminal cases. “Political prisoners … have experienced much of what is described in this report and often worse,” the report said.204 A Uyghur man detained for watching videos on a smartphone was reported to have died in custody in June 2016.205 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo died in custody from complications of liver cancer in July 2017, after authorities refused to let him travel abroad for treatment.

Other allegations of mistreatment were made during the coverage period of this report. Lawyers defending Wu Gan, a digital activist arrested for participating in a performance protest in 2015, reported in December 2016 that he had been repeatedly held in solitary confinement and tortured.206

Internet users also risk being held under house arrest. The conditions and degree of confinement can be adjusted arbitrarily over time. Poet Liu Xia, the wife of Liu Xiaobo, has been confined in her Beijing home since 2010, often without an internet connection.207 She went missing for several weeks after her husband’s funeral in July 2017.208 Some groups monitor the number of dissidents under house arrest, but there are no statistics showing how many were targeted specifically for online activity.209

Law enforcement officials frequently summon individuals for questioning in relation to online activity, an intimidation tactic referred to euphemistically as being “invited to tea.”210 Activists have also been forced to travel within the country during sensitive political events, effectively keeping them away from their normal online activities.211

Technical Attacks

Hackers, known in Chinese as heike (dark guests), employ various methods to interrupt or intercept online content with political implications. Attacks known to have originated in China can rarely be traced directly to the state, and much of the activity appears decentralized and uncoordinated. But many attacks employ sophisticated technology, and experts believe that Chinese military and intelligence agencies either sponsor or condone technical attacks on political targets.

Domestic and overseas groups that report on China’s human rights abuses have suffered from distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which temporarily disable websites by bombarding host servers with traffic. 212 Spear-phishing, in which customized email messages are used to trick recipients into downloading malicious software by clicking on a link or a seemingly legitimate attachment, is another common tactic. Tibetans, Uyghurs, and others have been targeted with emailed programs that install spyware on the user’s device.213 In September 2016, American cybersecurity company FireEye reported that two Hong Kong government departments were subjected to phishing attacks originating from APT3, a Chinese hacker organization, prior to the territory’s Legislative Council elections. The motive was “certainly” political, FireEye said.214

In 2015, the Canada-based monitoring organization Citizen Lab analyzed a massive DDoS attack targeting the anticensorship group, along with content that the group hosted on GitHub. “While the attack infrastructure is co-located with the Great Firewall, the attack was carried out by a separate offensive system, with different capabilities and design, that we term the ‘Great Cannon,’” the group reported. Both the technology and the target offered “compelling evidence” of Chinese government involvement.215

China remains a top source of global cyberattacks,216 though those with commercial targets have declined or become harder to trace.217The degree of state support for commercial attacks is unclear. Other targets have strategic importance.218 In December 2016, investigators said hackers linked to China’s military had seized control of workstations in the Washington, DC–based Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which regulates commercial banking, in 2010.219 During the reporting period, Russian media reported that China had reduced cyberattacks against the United States while increasing those against Russia,220 including attacks on military intelligence targets.221


1 China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC),中国互络发展状况统计报 [The 39th Report on the Development of the Internet in China], January 2017,

2 CNNIC, 中国互络发展状况统计报

3 CNNIC, 中国互络发展状况统计报.

4 CNNIC, 中国互络发展状况统计报.

5 CNNIC, 中国互络发展状况统计报[The 39th Report on the Development of the Internet in China].

6 中国宽带速率状况报告 第14期, Broadband Development Alliance,

7 Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, 国务院关于印发“宽带中国”战略及实施方案的通知, 2013,

8 Xinhua Agency, 中国电信:年内将逐步取消长途漫游费, July 15, 2016,

9 Sina News, March 5, 2017, 年内取消国内长途漫游费 专家:不强推很难实现,

10 CNNIC, 中国互络发展状况统计报 [The 31st Report on the Development of the Internet in China], 21.

11 See Alexa Olsen, “Welcome to the Uighur Web,” Foreign Policy, April 21, 2014,

12 Qiao Long, “新疆皮山县对外通讯中断 一网民议论民族政策被警告”, Radio Free Asia, February 16, 2017,

13 VOA, “Video of a Self-Immolation In Tibet Appears On The Internet” April 15, 2017,

14 “Police Increase Checks of Uyghur Smartphone Users in Xinjiang,” Radio Free Asia, January 8, 2016,

15 Yang Fan, Radio Free Asia, 郭飞雄姐姐微信被屏蔽 为弟弟发声被指“炒作”, August 4, 2016,

16 Drew Foerster, American Bar Association, “China’s Legislature Gears Up to Pass a Sweepingly Vague Cybersecurity Law,” May 2, 2016,; “Counter-Terrorism Law (2015),” China Law Translate, December 27, 2015,

17 Jan Holthuis, “War of the Giants—Observations on the Anti-Monopoly Investigation in China Telecom and China Unicom,” HIL International Lawyers & Advisers, Legal Knowledge Portal, March 2, 2012,; “Tighter Rules for Telecom Costs,” Shanghai Daily, April 26, 2012,

18 Lu Hui, “China Telecom, China Unicom pledge to mend errors after anti-monopoly probe,” Xinhua, December 2, 2011,; “Guo Jia Guang Dian Wang Luo Gong Si Jiang Qiang Cheng Li Zhong Yi Dong Wei Can Yu Chu Zi” [State Radio and Television Networks Will Be Set Up], Sina, November 15, 2012,

19 “Chinese Internet Choked by ‘Fake Broadband’ Providers,” Global Times, October 8, 2012,

20 Lan Xinzhen, “Full-Pricing Autonomy,” Beijing Review, May 29, 2014,; Paul Mozur and Lorraine Luk, “China to Liberalize Telecommunications Pricing,” Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2014, Prices were previously regulated by the government.

21 工信部支持民资进业务 打破, [MIIT supports private capital entering network leasing business, more antimonopoly policy is needed]

22 重庆出台电信新规 想用哪家宽带用户可自主选择, March 2, 2016

23中国广电成第四大运营商 业内称其仅拿到半个牌照 , May 6, 2016,

24广电国网获得基础电信业务经营许可, May 10, 2016,

25中国广电获批基础电信业务牌照 暂难撼动三大运营商, May 6, 2016,

26 These include the Public Security Bureau and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce. “Yi Kan Jiu Mingbai Quan Cheng Tu Jie Wang Ba Pai Zhao Shen Qing Liu Cheng” [A look at an illustration of the whole course of the cybercafe license application process],,

27 Jamie Fullerton, China Has Had Enough of Its Illegal Internet Cafés, December 8 2015,

28 Many Zuo, “China eases restrictions on number of internet cafes but adds space requirements,” South China Morning Post, November 24, 2014,

29 2015-2016年中国网吧行业顺网大数据报告蓝皮书, July 2016,

30 “China sets up State Internet Information Office,” China Daily, May 4, 2011, See also Freedom House, “New Agency Created to Coordinate Internet Regulation,” China Media Bulletin, May 5, 2011,

31 Xinhua, “State Internet Information Office regulates internet: Beijing,” Want China Times, August 30, 2014,; Government of China, 国务院关于授权国家互联网信息办公室 负责互联网信息内容管理工作的通知, press release, January 2014,

32 Office of the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs website,; David Feng, “Chinese Cyber Administration Office Goes Online,” Tech Blog 86, December 31, 2014,

33 China File, “A Grim Future for Chinese Web Freedom,” Foreign Policy, July 1, 2016,

34 Paul Mozur, “In China, Internet Czar Is Taking a Blunt Tone,” Bits (blog), New York Times, October 31, 2014,; Shannon Tiezzi, “Xi Jinping Leads China's New Internet Security Group,” Diplomat, February 28, 2014,

35 “CNNIC Undergoes Personnel Changes” [in Mandarin], Guangming Daily, December 27, 2014,

36 Xinhua, “China's first national NPO in cyber security founded,” March 25, 2016,

37 Austin Ramsy, “Architect of China’s ‘Great Firewall’ Bumps Into It, ”New York Times, April 7, 2016,

38 Xinhua, 我国拟成立网络安全审查委员会, February 7, 2017,

39 China Law Translate, “Measures for Security Reviews of Network Products and Services (Draft for Solicitation of Comments)” February 4, 2017,

40 Romi Jain, “China keeps its telecoms sector close,” Asia Times Online, January 29, 2014,

41 域名管理新規征求意見 調整域名管理體系,

42 域名须在华注册!中国拟再度收紧网管,

43 工信部回应域名管理新政:不影响外企正常业务

44 Xinhua News, January 11, 2017, 互联网域名管理办法出台渐近

45 Sarah Cook, “All the News unfit to print: What Beijing Quashed in 2016” Foreign Policy , December 2016,

46 Sisi Wei, “Inside the Firewall: Tracking the News that China Blocks,” ProPublica, February 13, 2015,

47 Jason Mander, “90 Million VPN users in China have accessed restricted social networks,” GlobalWebIndex blog, November 24, 2014,

48 Austin Ramsy, “Architect of China’s ‘Great Firewall’ Bumps Into It, ”New York Times, April 7, 2016,

49 "China blocks virtual private network use," BBC, January 26, 2015,; Jon Russell, "China Cracks Down On VPN Services After Censorship System ‘Upgrade,’" TechCrunch, January 23, 2015,

50 Oiwan Lam, “China Officially Outlaws Unauthorised VPNs”, Global Voices, January 23, 2017,

51 Ma Jingjing, Global Times, January 22, 2017, New regulations set rules for Internet access services sector: experts,

53 GreatFireChina, “Censorship of Alexa Top 1000 Domains in China,”

54 GreatFireChina, Some analytics features previously continued to function. . Julie Makinen, “China broadens crackdown on Google services,” Los Angeles Times, June 13, 2014,

55 Keith Bradsher, “China Blocks WhatsApp, Broadening Online Censorship” New York Times, September 25, 2017,

56 Pinterest is blocked in China, March 17, 2017, CNN,

57 “In Tandem with Slower Economy, Chinese Internet Users Face Slower Internet This Week,” China Tech News, November 6, 2012,

58 Ben Wagner et al., “Deep Packet Inspection and Internet Censorship: International Convergence on an ‘Integrated Technology of Control,’” Global Voices Advocacy, June 25, 2009,

59 Xueyang Xu, Z. Morely Mao, and J. Alex Halderman, “Internet Censorship in China: Where Does the Filtering Occur?” Passive and Active Measurement, (2011): 133–142,

60 Heather Timmons and Ivy Chen, “Beijing calls fears over internet crackdown ‘paranoia,’ briefly detains corruption-fighting blogger,” Quartz, September 18, 2013,

61 King, Pan, and Roberts, “How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression.”

63 Elaine Chow, “An Alleged List of Banned SMS Terms from China Mobile and Co.,” Shanghaiist, January 4, 2011,; Vernon Silver, “Cracking China’s Skype Surveillance Software,” Bloomberg Business, March 8, 2013,; Jedidah R. Crandall et al., “Chat Program Censorship and Surveillance in China: Tracking TOM-Skype and Sina UC,” First Monday 18, no. 7 (2013),; Jeffrey Knockel, “TOM-Skype Research,”

64 Xin Lin, “刘晓波获诺奖6周年 中国网络严禁搜索 刘霞处境堪”, October 7, 2016,

65 “HKU SMSC Weibo Censorship Index,” Journalism and Media Studies Centre, Hong Kong University,

66 “中國「共識網」無法訪問 創始人稱未來不容樂”, BBC, October 3, 2016,

67 Choi Chi-yuk, “Popular website for Chinese intellectuals pulled offline,” South China Morning Post, October 3, 2016,

68 Fu Maiche, “最大中文穆斯林網突關停 被指長期宣揚宗教極端思想”, Hong Kong 01, December 12, 2016,

69 “China’s Halal Constitution,” The Diplomat, May 27, 2016,

70 Reuters, “1984 meets Silicon Valley: A peek inside China's new censorship machine,” via Shanghaiist, September 29, 2017,

71 Keith B. Richburg, “China’s ‘weibo’ accounts shuttered as part of internet crackdown,” Washington Post, January 3, 2013,

72 Xiao Qiang, “From ‘Grass-Mud Horse’ to ‘Citizen’: A New Generation Emerges through China’s Social Media Space,” (presentation, Congressional-Executive Commission on China, Washington, DC, November 17, 2011),

73 “How a Weibo post gets censored: what keywords trigger the automatic review filters,” Blocked on Weibo (blog), November 26, 2014,; Xiao, “From ‘Grass-Mud Horse’ to ‘Citizen’: A New Generation Emerges through China’s Social Media Space”See also Tao Zhu et al., “The Velocity of Censorship: High-Fidelity Detection of Microblog Post Deletions” (paper for 22nd USENIX Security Symposium, Washington, DC, August 2013), arXiv,; King-wa Fu and Michael Chu, “Reality Check for the Chinese Microblog Space: A Random Approach,” PLoS ONE 8, no. 3 (2013),

74 The Citizen Lab, “One App, Two Systems,” November 30, 2016,;; The Citizen Lab, “We (Can’t) Chat,” April 30, 2017,

75 Amy Qin, “Liu Xiaobo’s Death Pushes China’s Censors Into Overdrive” July 17, 2017,

76 VOA, 中国网络审查员狂删习近平“宽衣”口误议论帖, September 6, 2016,

77 In July 2016, a search for the beetle’s Chinese name returned no results on Weibo. China Digital Times, “Minitrue: Delete News on “Daddy Xi” Beetle,” July 11, 2016,; Agence France-Presse, The Guardian, Quit bugging me: China censors beetle named after President Xi, July 12, 2016,

78 “中国网信办9个月封逾万微信公号”, Radio Free Asia, September 27, 2016,

79 Di Yufei, “人口學家易富賢社交媒體帳號被封”, New York Times, September 8, 2016,

80北京關閉17網站 敢言學者茅于軾微博被封, Apple Daily, January 23, 2017,

81 “两会前夕 中国女权组织微博帐号遭禁言注销”, On.CC, February 24, 2017,

82 Sina News, 国家网信办部署开展跟帖评论专项整治行动, June 22, 2016,

83 “国家网信办发布《移动互联网应用程序信息服务管理规定》”,, June 28, 2016,

84 Pengpai News, 苹果中国商店下架纽约时报APP 外交部作出回应, Janurary 5, 2017,; Katie Benner and Sui-Lee Wee, New York Times, Apple Removes New York Times Apps From Its Store in China, January 4, 2017,

85 Mike Issac, “為進入中國,Facebook秘密開發審查工具”, New York Times, November 23, 2016,

86 Beijing Evening News,, 公安部将在全国范围内开展网络直播平台专项整治, July 31, 2016,

87 Beijing Evening News,, 公安部将在全国范围内开展网络直播平台专项整治, July 31, 2016,

88 Radio Free Asia, 中国公安部展开网络直播平台专项整治 广东警方关闭51个网站423个栏目, July 31, 2016,

89 “Streaming App CEO Sentenced to 42 Months for Lewd Content” , Sixth Tone, September 13, 2016,

90 CPJ, “Hong Kong news websites barred from government events,” December 15, 2016,

91 Hogan Lovells, “Are Foreigners Banned from Publishing on the Internet in China,” May 2016,

92 “Minitrue: Two-month Ban on Republishing Caixin Content,” China Digital Times, October 11, 2016,

93 Edward Wong and Vanessa Piao, “China Cracks Down on News Reports Spread via Social Media”, New York Times, July 5, 2016,

94 The Paper, 北京市网信办责令新浪搜狐网易凤凰限期改正违规行为, July 24, 2016,

95 《互联网直播服务管理规定》发布 为网络直播“导航”, Xinhua Net, November 5, 2016,

96 “国家新闻出版广电总局发布微博、微信等网络社交平台传播视听节目的管理规定”, SAPPRFT, December 16, 2016,

97 北京市网信办等单位关闭属地17家违法违规网, Sohu, January 21, 2017,

98 “疑发布天安门翻车 “梨视频”遭整肃”, RFA, February 5, 2017,

99 “B站禁止个人用户上传时政视频” Radio Free Asia, February 10, 2017,

101 Oiwan Lam, “China Mandates State-Private Management Model to Censor the Internet”, Global Voices, June 1, 2016,

103 网信办颁新令 矛头指向谁, DW, May 2, 2017, “Specifically, those applying for an Internet news information gathering and dissemination license shall be news work units (including work units share-controlled by news work units) or work units controlled by news and propaganda departments. News work units refers to newspaper or periodical publishers, radio stations, television stations, news agencies and news film studios established lawfully and with permission of relevant state departments. Share-controlled means a proportion of over 50% of the capital contribution value, or the proportion of stock held in the total value of corporate capital, or the total share value, or, where even though the proportion in capital contribution value or held stock is less than 50%, the capital contribution value or held stock is sufficient to engender major influence on corporate decision-making. News and propaganda departments include all levels’ propaganda departments, cybersecurity and informatization departments, radio and television departments, etc.”

104中国网信办:非公有资本不得介入互联网新闻采编, May 2, 2017, Radio Free Asia,

105 David Bandurski, “Internet spin for stability enforcers,” China Media Project, May 25, 2010,

106 These propaganda workers are colloquially known as the 50 Cent Party due to the amount they are reportedly paid per post, though recent reports put the going rate as low as 10 cents, while some commentators may be salaried employees. See Perry Link, “Censoring the News Before It Happens,” New York Review (blog), New York Review of Books, July 10, 2013,; Rongbin Han, “Manufacturing Consent in Censored Cyberspace: State-Sponsored Online Commentators on Chinese Internet Forums” (paper for Annual Meeting of America Political Science Association, New Orleans, August 31–September 2, 2012),

107 Murong Xuecun, “Beijing’s Rising Smear Power,” New York Times, September 21, 2014,

108 Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret Roberts, How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, not Engaged Argument, January 14, 2017,

109 “小心!发朋友圈也可能违纪 党员干部微信使用指南”, China News Net, January 24, 2017,

110 “The New Generation of Fifty-Centers on Twitter,” I YouPort, October 9, 2014,

111 克里斯蒂安•谢泼德,中国官媒Twitter账号被疑“僵尸粉”过多, FT中文网

112 Rongbin Han, “Manufacturing Consent in Cyberspace: China’s ‘Fifty-Cent Army’,” Journal of Current Chinese Affairs 44, no. 2 (2015): 105-134, Cheng Chen, et al, “Battling the Internet Water Army: Detection of Hidden Paid Posters,” arXiv, November 18, 2011,

113 Local Chinese Authorities Use Internet Slang ‘Ziganwu’ in Their Propaganda Recruitments, Global Voices June 15, 2015

114 Oiwan Lam, Chinese Authorities Think Internet Companies Should Reward Netizens Who ‘Spread Good News’, Global Voices, December 11, 2015,

115 Sandra Fu, “Central Committee of Communist Youth League Issues an Announcement,” China Digital Times, January 19, 2015,; Xu Yangjingjing and Simon Denyer, “Wanted: Ten million Chinese students to “civilize” the Internet,” Washington Post, April 10, 2015,

116 Qiao Long, “留学生从“自干五”升团中央宣传部掌控新媒体”, Radio Free Asia, November 2, 2016,

117 Zhou Tian, “团中央新媒体:他们认同了“团团”,就会更加认同党”, China News Week, February 23, 2017,

118 Xu Qianchuan, “Constitution Debate Holds Broader Reform Implications,” Caijing, July 16, 2014,; King, Pan, and Roberts, “How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression”; Ashley Esarey and Xiao Qiang, “Digital Communication and Political Change in China,” International Journal of Communication 5 (2011): 298–319,

119 See “以敢于亮剑的精神确保西藏意识形态领域安全,” November 1, 2013,

120 中國上線首個藏文搜索引擎「雲藏」, BBC, August 23, 2016,

121 Anne Henochowicz, “Sensitive: PX Protests, Tigers, More,” China Digital Times, April 2, 2014,

122 Xiao, “From ‘Grass-Mud Horse’ to ‘Citizen’: A New Generation Emerges through China’s Social Media Space.”

123 David Barboza, “Despite Restrictions, Microblogs Catch On in China,” New York Times, May 15, 2011,

124中國立法嚴格管控 部落客噤聲接受再教育

126 “河南网民发声抵制核电项目 遭当局拘捕”, Radio Free Asia, February 21, 2017,

127 Didi Kirsten Tatlow, Chinese Man’s Death in Custody Prompts Suspicion of Police Brutality, May 12, 2016, New York Times,

128 Edward Wong, Chinese Prosecutors Investigate Beijing Police Over Death of Detained Man, June 1, 2016, New York Times,

129 雷洋家属放弃诉讼 人民大学校友联署抗议检方裁决, Wenxue City, December 28, 2016,

130 “中华人民共和国网络安全法”, Chinese NPC Web, November 7, 2016,

131 Drew Foerster, American Bar Association, “China’s Legislature Gears Up to Pass a Sweepingly Vague Cybersecurity Law,” May 2, 2016,

132 Gillian Wong, China to Get Tough on Cybersecurity, July 9 2015, The Wall Street Journal,

133 The definition was given in a judicial interpretation entitled “Regarding the Interpretation of Various Laws Concerning the Handling of Cases of Using the Internet to Carry Out Defamation and Other Crimes.” Human Rights Watch, “China: Draconian Legal Interpretation Threatens Online Freedom,” September 13, 2013,; Megha Rajagopalan and Adam Rose, “China Crackdown on Online Rumors Seen as Ploy to Nail Critics,” Reuters, September 18, 2013,

134 Justin Heifetz, “The ‘Endless Narrative’ of Criminal Defamation in China,” Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong, May 10, 2011,; Associated Press, “Chinese prosecutors decide not to charge journalists detained for online posts in 2013,” Star Tribune, September 10, 2015,

135 Human Rights Watch, “China: Draconian Legal Interpretation Threatens Online Freedom.”

136 刑法修正案下月起正式实施 微信、微博造谣最高获刑七年, October 28, 2015, Xinhuanet,

138 Xinhua, “Victims of Re-education Through Labor System Deserve Justice,” Global Times, January 28, 2013,

139 CHRD, We Can Beat You to Death With Impunity: Secret Detention & Abuse of Women in China’s “Black Jails”; Amnesty International, “China’s ‘Re-education Through Labour’ Camps: Replacing One System of Repression with Another?” December 17, 2013,

140 The amendment took effect on January 1, 2013. Observers praised other aspects of the measure, including tentative steps toward increasing police accountability for surveillance. Committee to Protect Journalists, “China’s New Law Sanctions Covert Detentions,” March 14, 2012,

141 Committee to Protect Journalists, “2016 prison census: 259 journalists jailed worldwide,” December 1, 2016,

143 Chris Buckley, “2 Chinese Activists Sentenced to Over 10 Years on Subversion Charges,” New York Times, June 17, 2016,

144 “Online activist Sun Feng sentenced”, Independent Chinese PEN Center, November 21, 2016,

145 “非新闻”创办人卢昱宇寻滋案起诉被延期 检察院称“案情复杂”, Bowen Presss, October 25, 2016,

147 Radio Free Asia, April 20, 2017, “非新闻”李婷玉案周四秘密审讯

148 Human Rights Watch, “China: Three Activists Feared ‘Disappeared’,” December 16, 2016,

149 Catherine Lai, “Founder of Chinese rights watch website may face life sentence if convicted of additional charge – Amnesty,” Hong Kong Free Press,

28 August 2017,

150 “"六四天网"创始人黄琦以“泄露机密”罪被正式逮捕”, BBC, December 22, 2016,

151 Michael Forsythe, “3 Chinese Rights Activists Vanish, Apparently in State Crackdown,” New York Times, November 30, 2016,

152 Human Rights Watch, “China: Three Activists Feared ‘Disappeared’,” December 16, 2016,

153 “Lawyers For Rights Activist in China's Sichuan Prevented From Viewing Case Files,” RFA, October 12, 2017,

154“中国多地网民“因言获罪” 安徽大学生转发照片被拘”, Radio Free Asia, July 28, 2016,

155 “微信私聊罵習近平“慫包” 四川網民遭行政拘留7天”, Hong Kong Peanut, September 23, 2016,


 “深圳维权人士黄美娟被以散布谣言行政拘留十天”, Rights & Livelihood Watch, September 15, 2016,

157 “孙德胜因言获罪遭控制 兄长寻人反被拘”, Radio Free Asia, January 8, 2017,

158 “河南网民发声抵制核电项目 遭当局拘捕”, Radio Free Asia, February 21, 2017,

159 Qiao Long, “内蒙两蒙古族青年微信批评官员被拘”, Free Radio Asia, February 27, 2017,

160 “为卖房散布雾霾谣言 成都一女子被拘”, February 7, 2017, ; BBC, 中国浙江足浴店18死火灾:室内火警如何自保? February 6, 2017,

161 “死亡人数"肯定不止18个" 女子造谣天台火灾被拘”,, February 9, 2017,; BBC, 中国浙江足浴店18死火灾:室内火警如何自保? February 6, 2017,

162 Li Yi, “发布铜陵化工厂爆炸“死了23个”虚假消息,一男子被拘留”, The Paper, February 11, 2017,

163 “六四”失联的上海农民工胡常根因网络言论遭刑拘, Radio Free Asia, June 26, 2016, ;

164 上海农民工胡常根案将于4月25日开庭, April 21, 2017,

166中国首次动用“反恐法” 济南男子翻墙观看ISIS视频被拘, In July 2016, the same antiterrorism law was applied to another case where an internet user from Wendeng downloaded and watched four videos related to terrorism. The individual was held in detention for 15 days and was fined for ten thousand RMB for the offence. Tao Xiangyin, “山东男子从QQ下载4段恐怖主义视频,被拘半个月并罚款一万”, The Paper, July 9, 2016,

167新疆警方 “反恐”清查升级 网民听“自由亚洲”遭拘留, March 2, 2017, Radio Free Asia,

168 Radio Free Asia, “Uyghur Teenager Serving Life Sentence Is Victim of China’s Strike Hard Campaign: Father,” November 16, 2015,

169 “China Jails Tibetans for Celebrating Dalai Lama’s Birthday: Nine Tibetans Get Varying Terms of 5 to 14 Years,” Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, December 7, 2016,

170 Sarah Cook, The Battle for China’s Spirit: Religious Revival, Repression, and Resistance under Xi Jinping (New York: Freedom House, 2017),

171 Some observers said the requirement may extend to non-citizens. See, Proskauer, “”A Primer on China’s New Cybersecurity Law: Privacy, Cross-Border Transfer Requirements, and Data Localization,” Privacy Law Blog, May 9, 2017,

173 Josh Horwitz, ‘A Key Question at the Heart of China’s Cybersecurity Law,’ Quartz, June 07, 2017,

174 Zhizheng Wang, “Systematic Government Access to Private-Sector Data in China,” International Data Privacy Law 2, no. 4 (2012): 220–229,

175 Cao Yin, “Efforts Stepped Up to Curb Fraudulent ID Card Use” [in Mandarin], China Daily, August 15, 2013,; Zhou Dawei, “Do We Really Need to Fingerprint 1.3bn People?” News China Magazine, January 2012,

176; Andy Yee, “How Social Commerce Tightens China's Grip on the Internet,” Global Voices, May 22, 2013,

178 Yang Fan,”《红旗文摘》建议对网络“意见领袖”评分年检”, Radio Free Asia, February 8, 2017,

179 Rachel Botsman, “Big Data Meets Big Brother as China Moves to Rate Its Citizens,” Wired, October 21, 2017,

180 Tim Stratford et al., “China Enacts New Data Privacy Legislation,” Covington & Burling LLP, January 11, 2013,

181 “Mobile phone real-name system implemented today, SIM card purchasers have to present their ID documents” [in Mandarin], News 163, October 1, 2010,

182 C. Custer, “How to Post to Sina Weibo without Registering Your Real Name,” Tech in Asia, March 30, 2012,

183 The real-name policy makes it harder for the state’s hired commentators. One study reported officials encouraging commentators to use pseudonyms and fake documents to hide their affiliation with the propaganda department. See Han, “Manufacturing Consent in Cyberspace.”

184工业和信息化部关于规范电信服务协议有关事项的通知”, Sina News, January 5, 2017,

185 “Ministry of Culture Will Curb Trend of Internet Indecency in 2009” [in Mandarin], Net Bar China, January 6, 2009,; Chen Jung Wang, “Real Name System Intimidates High School BBS,” CNHubei, November 29, 2009,; “Internet Society of China: Real Name System for Bloggers is Set,” XinhuaOctober 22, 2006,

186 Elinor Mills, “China seeks identity of Web site operators,” CNET News, February 23, 2010,

187 Securities and Exchange Commission, “Form F-1 Registration Statement Under The Securities Act of 1933, Weibo Corporation,” Washington, DC, Reg. No. 333,

188 江苏连云港警方首创网吧实名认证App, September 20, 2015, Xinhuanet,

189 Xingtai Daily, 落实网吧实名制登记 邢台推广“人脸”识别自助上网, March 3, 2017,

192 Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China, “Presidential order of the People’s Republic of China, No. 28” [in Mandarin], April 29, 2010,; Jonathan Ansfield, “China Passes Tighter Information Law,” New York Times, April 29, 2010,

193 Luo Jieqi, “Cleaning Up China’s Secret Police Sleuthing,” Caixin, January 24, 2013,

194 He Huifeng, Nectar Gan, All mainland app providers ordered to keep user logs for months to curb spread of ‘illegal information’, June 28, 2016, South China Morning Post,

195 OpenNet Initiative, “China,” August 9, 2012,

196 Bai Tiantian, “Xinjiang asks real-name registration for cellphones, PCs,” Global Times, January 29, 2015,

197 Danny O’Brien, “China’s name registration will only aid cybercriminals,” Committee to Protect Journalists blog, December 28, 2012,

198 William Farris, “Guangzhou Daily Looks Into the Economics of the Weibo Real Name System,” Google+, February 28, 2012, Daily, “实名制数亿元市场仅两家瓜分 被指收费不透明,” News 163, September 2, 2012,; “Du Zi He Cha Wei Bo Shi Ming Guo Zheng Tong She Long Duan” [Real-Name Verification of Weibo Suspected Monopolized by Guo Zheng Tong], Hong Kong Commercial Daily, December 30, 2011,

199“中国国家电网App泄千万个资 隐私打包贱卖网民呼吁“人肉”官员”, Radio Free Asia, December 22, 2016,

200 “Facebook tops list of secure app makers, Tencent fails”, Mobile World Live, October 27, 2016,

202 Adan Segal, “The Cyber Trade War,” Foreign Policy, October 25, 2014,

203 Becker Polverini and William M. Pottenger, “Using Clustering to Detect Chinese Censorware” (presentation, Eleventh Annual Workshop on Cyber Security and Information Intelligence Research, 2011),

204  Human Rights Watch, “Tiger Chairs and Cell Bosses: Political Torture of Criminal Suspects in China,” May 13, 2015,

205 Radio Free Asia, “Jailed for Watching Islamic Video, Uyghur Dies in Police Custody,” June 13, 2016,

207 PEN America, “Chinese Writers React to Crackdown,” February 25, 2011,

209 CHRD, “Deprivation of Liberty and Torture/Other Mistreatment of Human Rights Defenders in China,” June 30, 2013,

210 China Blog Staff, “'Sorry, no comment - we might get invited to tea,'” China Blog, BBC, December 9, 2013,

212六四天网、中国舆论监督网再遭攻击, August 18 2015, Radio Free Asia,

213 Dylan Neild, Morgan Marquis-Boire, and Nart Villeneuve, “Permission to Spy: An Analysis of Android Malware Targeting Tibetans,” research brief, Citizen Lab, April 2013,

214香港立法会选举前夕 港府两机构网站遭大陆黑客攻击, September 2, 2016, Radio Free Asia,

215 Bill Marczak et al., “China’s Great Cannon,” Citizen Lab, April 10, 2015,

218 Jim Bronskill, “Russia, China are out to steal Canada’s secrets, spy agency warns”, The Star, Novermber 21, 2016,

219 Dustin Volz and Jason Lange, “FBI probes FDIC hack linked to China's military”,, December 23, 2016,

220 Liu Xinyu, “俄媒:北京加强对俄工业网络间谍活动”, Radio Free Asia, August 29, 2016,

221 Bai Hua, “中国黑客大量攻击俄罗斯 战机资料成主要目标”, VOA, February 7, 2017,

Total Score: 
(0 = Best, 100 = Worst)
Obstacles to Access: 
(0 = Best, 25 = Worst)
Limits on Content: 
(0 = Best, 35 = Worst)
Violations of User Rights: 
(0 = Best, 40 = Worst)