The People's Republic of China has never particularly been known for its free speech activism. As the information age has gained momentum, so have the restrictions of the Chinese government. Most recently, China blocked any Chinese search for terms related to Zencheng – a region that saw protests and riots in recent weeks.
The Zengcheng Riots
What's been reported is that two migrant workers selling goods on the streets of Zengcheng had an altercation with security officers. The exact details are uncertain, but one of the migrants – who was pregnant – collapsed to the ground. At that point, riots began, and a large crowd gathered and fought against the police.
The Chinese Government offers a contradicting version of the story, stating that the pregnant woman is in good condition and that most of the information being spread is pure rumor. Authorities have urged citizens to remain calm and disregard any "misinformation."
Perhaps to assure that the misinformation doesn't gain a foothold, Chinese authorities are also making sure that none of its citizens ever get a chance to see the information.
China's Banhammer and Sickle
While Google doesn't function in China due to censorship concerns and the fear that Google accounts may be abused to compromise the efforts of human rights activists, Chinese users who visit the Google site are still directed to the Hong Kong Google site.
As reported by PC World, Google searches in Chinese for Zengcheng "result in the browser's connection to the server being reset, with no search results offered." Additionally, many microblogging sites have had all searches related to Zengcheng blocked.
The Chinese argument, especially on government-run mediums, is that the news we get in Western media is tainted by anti-communist bias – and that our propaganda is what's painting the portrait of Chinese issues.
Anti-communist ideology, however, is not what we're talking about here. The concern is not with the economic model, but with the lack of free speech.
In other words, it's not the hammer and sickle – it's the banhammer and sickle being used so frequently to block information on riots, protests, and anything critical of the Chinese government. Beyond the Zengcheng blocks, the Chinese authorities have:
- Prevented access to Facebook and various other social sites
- Blocked searches for terms in the past, including the "Jasmine Revolution" used by activists inside the country
- Prevented Gmail access to stop inter-activists communication
- Prevented access to the Internet – full stop – for long periods of time in areas that showed civil unrest.
If nothing else, this current debacle makes it unlikely that Google or other major search/social sites will be re-entering China in the near future.