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
updated 4:35 AM EDT, Tue March 11, 2014
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
updated 1:18 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
A top retired general has confessed to taking bribes, becoming the highest-profile figure in China's military to be caught up in President Xi Jinping's war on corruption.
updated 1:07 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
A group in China escapes from a stuck elevator thanks to one man and his trusty hammer. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports.
updated 9:52 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Facebook's founder says he taught himself Mandarin and tested his skills with students in China.
updated 9:33 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
China launched an experimental spacecraft that is scheduled to orbit the moon before returning to Earth.
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Full marks for ingenuity: This was a truly high-tech scam.
updated 1:26 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
The rationale behind Confucius Institutes -- an international chain of academic centers run by an arm of the Chinese government -- is understandable.
updated 11:11 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Smooth jazz saxophonist Kenny G wants everyone to know that he's not a foreign agitator trying to defy the Chinese Communist Party.
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
A smuggler in Dandong, a Chinese border town near North Korea, tells CNN about the underground trade with North Korean soldiers
updated 1:11 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Yenn Wong got quite a surprise one morning earlier this month when she found out an exact copy of her Hong Kong restaurant had opened in China.
updated 11:15 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
When I first came across a "virtual lover" service on e-commerce site Taobao, China's version of Amazon, I thought it was hype.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Each year Yi Jiefeng does what she can to stop China turning into a desert.
updated 10:54 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
As its relationship with the West worsen, Russia is pivoting east in an attempt to secure business with China.
updated 10:29 PM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
Aspiring Chinese comics performing in Shanghai's underground comedy scene hope to bring stand-up to the masses.
updated 12:54 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Liu Wen is one of the world's highest-paid models and the first Chinese face to crack the top five in Forbes' annual list of top earners.
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Fri October 3, 2014
Cunning wolf? Working class hero? Or bland Beijing loyalist? C.Y. Leung was a relative unknown when he came to power in 2012.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
 A man uses his smartphone on July 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Only 53.5% of Japanese owned smartphones in March, according to a white paper released by the Ministry of Communications on July 15, 2014. The survey of a thousand participants each from Japan, the U.S., Britain, France, South Korea and Singapore, demonstrated that Japan had the fewest rate of the six; Singapore had the highest at 93.1%, followed by South Korea at 88.7%, UK at 80%, and France at 71.6%, and U.S. at 69.6% in the U.S. On the other hand, Japan had the highest percentage of regular mobile phone owners with 28.7%. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
App hopes to help those seeking a way out of China's overstrained public health system.
updated 8:20 PM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Yards from pro-democracy protests, stands the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces.
ADVERTISEMENT