Being a Good Citizen Online

Recently I signed up with a Chinese Flash-centered site called Just like with American websites, when you go through the free registration process you have to choose a username and a password, supply an e-mail address, etc. And then there are the terms of use. I was almost too lazy to read them before clicking on ÎÒͬÒâ, but something made me go ahead and read it through.

There was nothing in it that I wouldn’t agree with, but some of the terms would never appear on an American website, and the terms are indicative of the current state of the internet in China.

My slap-dash translation:

In order to uphold online public order and social stability, please conscientiously abide by the following terms:

I. You must not use this website to harm national security or to divulge national secrets. You must not violate national collective social rights or citizens’ legal rights. You must not use this website to create, duplicate, or propagate information that has the following effects:

  1. Incites resistance to or destruction of the consitution and law or administrative regulations in effect;
  2. Incites subversion of the state or overturn of the socialist system;
  3. Incites secession or destruction of national unity;
  4. Incites ethnic hatred or prejudices, or destroys ethnic unity;
  5. Concocts or distorts facts, spreads rumors, or disturbs social order;
  6. Propagates feudal superstition, obscenity, pornography, gambling, violence, murder, terror, or abetment of criminals;
  7. Blatantly humiliates others, slanders others, or carries out other malicious personal attacks;
  8. Hurts the nation’s reputation;
  9. Otherwise violates the consitution, law, and administrative regulations;
  10. Conducts commerical advertising.

II. Respect others, and be responsible for your own speech and actions.

Anyway, that gives you an idea. I don’t want to give the impression that internet discussions here are bogged down in an oppressive 1984-esque atmosphere because they really don’t seem to be, but clearly people have to be more careful about what they say.

This article also made me think: even though it’s kind of disturbing for a Westerner to see so many limitations on freedom of speech written out in black and white, how different is the USA, really?? Especially considering the events surrounding the current “war on terrorism,” the American government would probably take notice and respond pretty quickly to a lot of that kind of online behavior as well. But they don’t warn you beforehand.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Freedom of speech is good. It’s a good thing I hate writing about politics or I might have more to say on this.

(Also, if anyone wants to take a look at the original and suggest improvements to my clumsy translation, feel free.)

* * * * *

Speaking of “being a good citizen,” Edward Abbey once said, “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” Pablo Casals said, “The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?” Take a look, then, at how Richard of Peking Duck has recently been pronounced beyond splendid by the China Daily.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Da Xiangchang Says: July 14, 2004 at 7:21 am

    All those Chinese internet guidelines are a bunch of BULLSHIT with a capital B. The only rule is this: DO NOT PISS OFF THE COMMUNIST PARTY. Everything else is claptrap.

    The Peking Duck situation is hilarious! All this Chinese fixation with the West’s “nefarious” past is just one of wounded pride and incredible insecurity. Yes, the West behaved very badly with China, but no worse–and probably a lot better–than what the Chinese had done to themselves. You can add up every single Chinese death at a Westerner’s hands, and you probably won’t even reach 1/100th the number of Chinese killed by Mao. Secondly, China wouldn’t have been at the mercy of the West if it hadn’t been so damned backward all these years.

    And please, don’t equate Chinese draconian practices with American “censorship.” The supposed censorship of the press in America is a silly left-wing fantasy whose sole purpose is to denigrate the Bush administration. But in reality, censorship in 2004 in America DOES NOT exist. I can burn an effigy of George W. Bush right now in front of city hall in LA, and I’ll be okay. Try that with a Chinese leader in China, and you’ll never be seen again.

  2. Censorship of the press in the United States doesn’t exist because it doesn’t need to. The American press does an excellent job of not reporting news on its own.

    Though, really, about half of the rules in the list (part of 4 (the hate speech), most of 6, 7, 9, and 10) are probably in the Acceptable Use Policy of most American online forums in one form or another. It’s just that we’re not very afraid that some guy posting on a Flash discussion site will incite the Second Civil War ;).

  3. I did a similar translation of the Terms of Use for

    Blogspot link, Proxy link

    Granted, censorship in the US is less well-understood than the overt CCP censorship, but still, comparing them is absurd. In the US, you are free to start your own alternative news agency.

  4. “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” Pablo Casals
    reminded me of
    “ÎÒ°®¹ú£¬¿É¹ú²»°®ÎÒѽ” from Lao She
    (I love my country, but my country doesn’t love me back”)

  5. I think censorship/freedom of speech in China compared to the US is fundamentally different, as others above have mentioned. The US government is not jailing people for “tarnishing the reputation of the USA,” etc. Anyway, that laundry list of things you aren’t supposed to say should be translated like so: “Don’t say anything the CCP doesn’t want you to say.” The rest is window dressing…kind of like the Chinese constitution. It is a very reasonable document that is meaningless because it isn’t enforced.

    Read over those 10 items again. Almost any speech could be cast or “intrepreted” into one of those categories. Especially #5, 6, and 8. Whereas in the US, the American communist party is a perfectly legal orgainzation that seeks to overthrow the system of government in the US. Or the KKK, for instance.

  6. I wasn’t trying to suggest that the US government and the Chinese government allow similar degrees of freedom of speech. Obviously that’s ridiculous.

    I was just thinking about how where matters of national security are concerned, Americans’ free speech rights are not 100% guaranteed either.

    They’re two wholly different situations. I guess maybe I was just trying to provoke a little response. 🙂

  7. Da XiangChang, your notion of “You can add up every … killed by Mao.” is unacceptable. Mao did not kill, there were lot of people died during his administration indeed, but it is still wrong to say he killed them. I am not saying he is not respobsible for the chaos in 1960’s though. But be aware Mao is a respectable great leader in most of Chinese eyes even till now, he freed China from West’s extorts and led Chinese army to fight with UN/US army in Korea: We defeated UN then entered it.
    Meanwhile, are you hinting that one guy can beat another guy “since so damned backward all these years” ? Hehe, American…

  8. Given the general lack of courtesy and the tendency of Americans to overlook things that they shouldn’t, maybe a term of use statement like that should be appearing on US sites too.

  9. Da Xiangchang Says: July 15, 2004 at 9:11 am

    Well, I don’t think Mao intended to kill tens of millions of people; it just happened. If there’s a difference between Nazism and communism, it’s this: unlike Nazism, communism’s intended goals never including killing millions of people. But again, it just happened. Nazis purposely used gas chambers and bullets to wipe out millions of people; communists inadvertently caused millions of starvation deaths. Of course, the drunk driver who wipes out your entire family never intended to kill anyone either, but what’s the difference? Your family’s still dead. Mao’s the drunk driver who killed millions of families.

    As for the Korean War, the American government propped up a country that today is an economic powerhouse, a model of East-Asian democracy, and one that enjoys one of the highest standards of living. The Chinese government propped up a country that recently caused the deaths of 2 million people.

  10. Zhang, I didnt know the Korean/Chinese Army defeated the UN/US, I thought there was a truce until this day.

    Techinically, you’re still at war.

  11. yidali laowai Says: July 15, 2004 at 10:35 pm

    “[Korea] a model of East-Asian democracy”

    …now that’s interesting…

  12. Well said. Mao is responsible for butchering millions of innocent people, and South Korea would have been a part of this terrible gulag, had not the United States and other freedom loving nations stood up to the Chinese aggression there. Hopefully, the Chinese have learned their lesson, and will now help turn things around in North Korea, and eliminate the horrible reign of their soulmates in brutal tyranny.

  13. bitch 2 Says: July 18, 2004 at 2:59 pm

    if you actually started writing things about how you were going to overthrow the US government violently you would find yourself in a world of shit.

    Stalin did commit mass genocide on the order of 10 million dead. He targeted essentially the same people Hitler did, but his efforts were not as systematic.

Leave a Reply