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Friday, November 25, 2005

Chinese surfers reject political control

Chinese surfers reject political controlChinese surfers reject political control

Porn and violence should be censored, but not political discussion
Simon Burns, 25 Nov 2005

The vast majority of China's internet users want to be free to discuss and read about politics online, but also believe that people should be protected from pornographic and violent content, according to a recent survey funded by a US foundation.

Only eight per cent of Chinese surfers believe that political content should be controlled, down from 12 per cent in 2003. However, 73 per cent want restrictions on violence, and 85 per cent on pornography.

"Based on its open technology, the internet is having a profound impact on China's relatively closed traditions, culture and political system," said the survey, which was supervised by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and funded by the Markle Foundation, a privately-funded US think-tank.

Compared to citizens in other countries, Chinese people are unusually optimistic about the political benefits of the internet, the report found.

Sixty per cent of respondents believe that "higher-level officials will better understand the common people's views through the internet", and more than half thought that the internet gave people more opportunities to criticise government policy.

Although Chinese surfers are optimistic that the internet will "have a positive effect on political transparency", the vast majority do not use government websites.

Compared with research in several other countries, the report pointed out, " only Chinese subjects responded positively about the political role of the internet".

"The number one purpose of going online is to read the news," the report stated, with domestic, international and social news all being read by roughly half of net users. The report noted that the most frequently accessed news category is entertainment, read by 65 per cent.

The 2,376 internet users questioned in the survey tend to trust domestic sources of online news more than foreign sources.

Traditionally, China's authorities have exercised tight censorship of news outlets, particularly with regard to political information, and strongly encouraged self-censorship, although this control has relaxed slightly in recent years.

The survey also showed that people still trust traditional media more than they do the internet.

"In China to date the internet has become an entertainment and communication highway, but not an information highway," said Professor Guo Liang of the Research Center for Social Development, who headed the team that carried out the survey.

Internet access in China is still limited to a small, non-representative segment of the population, although it is spreading fast.

"Internet adoption reaches only about eight per cent of the total population, " the report said, adding that the typical user is young, urban, single, well educated and well paid.

The report's findings were based on face-to-face interviews with 2,376 people at randomly selected homes in five cities, 75 per cent of them in China's three largest urban centres of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Urban residents account for around 40 per cent of China's population, and tend to be considerably better paid and better educated.

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