China has decided that it has a new enemy: pornography on the Internet. So the Communist party has threatened to shutter 19 major websites and portals, including the dominant search engine Baidu as well as Google, unless they clean up their content. In a statement published Monday, Cai Mingzhao of the State Council Information Office, which leads Beijing’s censorship and propaganda efforts, said that some sites were publishing “low-class, crude and even vulgar contents, which severely corrupted the public mentality. The vulgar trend has deeply harmed the mental and physical health of the younger generation.”
China already exercises strict control over the Internet and regularly blocks access by its 290 million online users to any site deemed a threat to the political or social order. Still, websites and blogs containing racy content abound. Last month, the government newspaper China Daily, which regularly has risqué photos on its own website, reported that police in Shanghai detained a woman who became an online hit after posting a video of herself having sex. Yet it’s unclear what search engines could do to take pornography off the Internet. A Google spokesman pointed out that it “does not control the content of the billions of pages in our index.”
While Beijing has launched such censorship efforts at obscene sites in the past, this time Cai warns of tougher action, with lawbreakers facing “stern punishment.” Blogging pioneer Wang Junxiu thinks the clampdown is likely aimed at stifling online opinion in a year marked by the 20th anniversary of the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, the 50th anniversary of a major uprising in Tibet, as well as growing discontent as the financial crisis deepens. “This is more than pornography,” Wang told Reuters. “It’s a warning.”
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