China Shuts Down More than 90 Sites

BEIJING - Within the past week, China has shut down more than 90 websites containing what authorities consider "pornographic and other vulgar content."

 The official Xinhua News Agency reported 41 websites were shut down last week, and an additional 50 were shuttered over the weekend.

 Pornography remains available in China on and off the Internet, according to The Associated Press and other global news outlets. In fact, some Chinese portals still show explicit photos with links to pornographic websites.

 Among the sites and search engines targeted by the government's new attempt to sterilize the Chinese Web were Google China, Baidu and Microsoft's MSN China. Since the crackdown began, several sites have offered public apologies in China, while Google said it is "willing to be a law-abiding citizen."

 The campaign to "purify" the Internet was a launched Jan. 5 by the State Council's Information Office, Public Security and Culture ministries and four other government agencies.

 More than 250 million Chinese use the Internet, the largest number of Web-going users for any nation worldwide. And the issue clearly is not just pornography, but also dissent.

 Many observers are keeping a close watch. China and Internet expert Rebecca MacKinnon told Britain's Guardian, "While the publicly stated purpose of cracking down in the past week has been porn and Internet smut, we have also seen the shutdown of Bullog and a number of [political] websites."

MacKinnon added that Web companies and employees "feel under increased pressure to control political content as much as smut" and "are beefing up their staff to police content and the software and other mechanisms to flag content."

 Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California at Berkeley, said the numbers of bloggers, especially in the political arena, has increased and this alarms government officials.

 "The language is changing from implicit to more and more explicit, communities are swarming and their opinions and influence are getting stronger," he said.