All-day party celebrates China web filter delay

By : |June 30, 2009 0

BEIJING, CHINA: Chinese web users flooded to a trendy art zone cafe Wednesday to celebrate a last-minute halt to a rollout of government-sponsored filtering software, and make a stand for freedom of expression in the Communist-run state.

Dressed in matching t-shirts mocking the widely-derided Green Dam program, about 200 Beijing residents had arrived by mid-morning to eat a traditional Chinese breakfast, talk about censorship and plan for a day-long party.

Originally conceived as part of an Internet boycott to mark the July 1 launch of the filter — and to give a web-addicted generation something to do during the 24 hours of offline — the atmosphere was unexpectedly festive as guests celebrated an unlikely victory against the Chinese state.

"This is a very rare example for the government to suddenly push back an important decision the night before it is due to be rolled out," said outspoken artist Ai Weiwei, who had organized the boycott and the party.

Beijing made a surprising about-face late Tuesday, hours before an edict that all personal computers sold in China must be preloaded with the program was due to come into force.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said the launch would be postponed indefinitely.

Internet Porn

Officials had said the software was intended to stamp out Internet pornography. But it was assailed by activists, industry groups and foreign officials as politically intrusive, technically flawed and commercially unfair.

"We are very happy because we got what we wanted," said Liu Yaohua, a 27-year-old artist who had shaved the letter U into his hair the day before. He lined up beside three friends with their hair shaved into an F, C and K, to spell out an English obscenity. "We wanted to express our attitude to Green Dam."

There was trepidation among some party-goers about attending an event that was a direct, if light-hearted, challenge to a government wary of losing any control over its population.

"I am a little bit nervous, but I felt it was very important that I find the strength to come," said painter Zang Yi.

The plan might now drift into oblivion if Beijing decides it does not want to face a second round of pressure from overseas and at home. But a lawyer who campaigned against the software warned it was premature to declare victory.

"It has not been canceled, just put back, so it’s possible that after a certain amount of time it will be pushed back out," said Liu Xiaoyuan, who wants the government to explain why a software ostensibly designed to protect a minority of users — children and teen-agers — must be installed on all computers.

Artist Ai said battles over censorship would continue, but the government may have shot itself in the food with Green Dam, by galvanizing previously apolitical young web users.

"When young people who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s found that the computers, which are so vital to their life, might be affected, it very naturally caused a kind of politicization."

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