Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Defending China's 'Great Firewall': there's a course for that

By Peter Shadbolt, for CNN
March 11, 2014 -- Updated 0835 GMT (1635 HKT)
China has some of the most stringent and widespread controls governing Internet use in the world.
China has some of the most stringent and widespread controls governing Internet use in the world.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • China to hold special courses to train government leaders in ways of managing online opinion
  • Management of the Internet is now a "big task for all of our country's leaders," says report
  • Course looks at ways of directing online discussion and discusses influence of 'Big V' bloggers
  • Microblogging has exploded in China, presenting serious pressure point for government

Hong Kong (CNN) -- China plans to hold special courses to train government leaders in ways of managing online public opinion, according to a report in state-run media.

The report by the Xinhua new agency said China had one billion Internet users "making the shape of our society more complicated ... managing online public opinion has already become a central fixture of managing our society."

Management of the Internet is now a "big task for all of our country's leaders, at every level," the report added.

The six-day course -- to run from March 27 to April 1 -- aims to use "use case studies, simulations, group discussions" to train "government organs and administrative units" who would be examined and awarded a certificate ranking them either an analyst or manager of "Internet public opinion."

'Directing' discussions

China tweaks Internet censorship
Censorship clash in China
China censors NY Times after Wen story
2012: Fighting the great firewall

According to the course website, the program shows ways of directing online discussions on "mass incidents" -- shorthand for civil unrest and rioting that breaks out periodically in Chinese towns and cities -- and even uses discussion on the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s as an example of a contentious social issue.

The Chinese government has only just permitted discussion of the tumultuous political period, which was marked by paralyzing social upheaval.

READ: People power sign of times in China's Internet age

Another part of the course discusses the influence of popular bloggers -- called "Big V" users on Sina Weibo -- who must maintain a sense of "social responsibility" in their posts, according to the program website.

"Big V should proactively conform to state management departments in striking down rumors and purifying the online environment," it stated.

Spread of rumors

China's President Xi Jinping has tightened controls over the Internet since coming to power in 2012, bringing in tough legislation to control the "spread of rumors" online.

Last year, the Supreme People's Court issued new guidelines stating that any false defamatory post online that is viewed 5,000 times or forwarded 500 times could be deemed "severe" and result in a prison sentence of up to three years for the culprit.

Microblogging has exploded in China in recent years, presenting a serious pressure point to a government that has built an industry around restricting comment.

Microblogging campaigns have targeted corruption, suspicious lawsuits, kidnapped children and the plight of activist lawyers.

Despite this, however, large Internet companies such as Sina Weibo and Renren employ content monitors to make sure their sites do not contravene Chinese information laws. According to Chinese Internet entrepreneur Gang Lu, the banks of censors are often regarded by Internet companies as simply a requirement in China of doing business in a new industry.

READ: China suffers massive Internet outage

"Almost half the team at Sina Weibo are engaged in monitoring content at some level. Even so, Sina is very bold but they are under pressure as well -- they still have to be responsive to the government." he told CNN.

Facebook, Twitter banned

Unrestricted social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are banned on mainland China and only determined or relatively wealthy individuals use virtual private networks (VPN) to get around the Chinese Internet restrictions, which have been dubbed "The Great Firewall of China."

Even so, cracks have occasionally appeared in the wall.

According to a report in Hong Kong's South China Post, Beijing could soon lift a ban on Internet access within the Shanghai Free-trade Zone, allowing access to Facebook, Twitter and newspaper website The New York Times.

"In order to welcome foreign companies to invest and to let foreigners live and work happily in the free-trade zone, we must think about how we can make them feel like at home," the report quoted a government source as saying.

"If they can't get onto Facebook or read The New York Times, they may naturally wonder how special the free-trade zone is compared with the rest of China."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
See CNN's complete coverage on China.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 0230 GMT (1030 HKT)
Some savvy individuals in China are claiming naming rights to valuable foreign brands. Here's how companies can combat them.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 0911 GMT (1711 HKT)
Is Xi Jinping a true reformist or merely a "dictator" in disguise? CNN's Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz dissects the leader's policies
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 0344 GMT (1144 HKT)
With a population of 1.3 billion, you'd think that there would be 11 people in China who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch.
July 4, 2014 -- Updated 0631 GMT (1431 HKT)
26-year-old Ji Cheng is the first rider from China to compete for competitive cycling's highest honor.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1124 GMT (1924 HKT)
China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, may not yet be a household name outside of China, but that could be about to change.
July 4, 2014 -- Updated 0414 GMT (1214 HKT)
Hong Kong's narrow streets were once a dazzling gallery of neon, where banks and even bordellos plied their trade under sizzling tubular signs.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1159 GMT (1959 HKT)
Three more officials have been given the chop as part of China's anti-corruption drive, including former aides to the retired security chief.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
As thousands of Hong Kongers prepare for an annual protest, voices in China's press warn pro-democracy activism is a bad idea.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 0437 GMT (1237 HKT)
Hong Kongers are demanding the right to directly elect their next leader, setting up a face-off with Beijing.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 0656 GMT (1456 HKT)
The push for democratic reform in Hong Kong is testing China's "one country, two systems" model.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Along a winding Chinese mountain road dotted with inns and restaurants is Jinan Orphanage, a place of refuge and site for troubled parents to dump unwanted children.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 0836 GMT (1636 HKT)
CNN's Kristie Lu Stout invites Isaac Mao, Han Dongfang, and James Miles to discuss the rise of civil society in China and social media's crucial role.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 0334 GMT (1134 HKT)
Chen Guangbiao wants rich people to give more to charity and he'll do anything to get their attention, including buying lunch for poor New Yorkers.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Architects are planning to build the future world's tallest towers in China. They're going to come in pretty colors.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Anna Coren visits Yulin's annual dog meat festival. Dogs are part of the daily diet here, with an estimated 10,000 dogs killed for the festival alone.
June 19, 2014 -- Updated 0638 GMT (1438 HKT)
People know little about sex, but are having plenty of it. We take a look at the ramifications of a lack of sex education in China.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 0812 GMT (1612 HKT)
Hong Kongers have reacted angrily to a Chinese government white paper affirming Beijing's control over the territory.
The emphasis on national glory -- rather than purely personal achievement -- is key.
June 16, 2014 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
A replica of the Effel Tower in Tianducheng, a luxury real estate development located in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang province.
What's the Eiffel Tower doing in China? Replica towns of the world's most famous monuments spring up all over China.
June 11, 2014 -- Updated 0013 GMT (0813 HKT)
Rapid development hasn't just boosted the economy -- it has opened up vast swathes of the country, says a man who has spent much of his life exploring it.
June 10, 2014 -- Updated 0654 GMT (1454 HKT)
The World Cup is apparently making a lot of people "ill" in China.
ADVERTISEMENT