Logo der Universität Wien

Internet

The rise if the internet since the end of the 1990s has greatly increased the possibilities of communication between former activists and contemporary witnesses of the "Beijing Spring". It has also improved access to documents, memories and academic presentations of this historical period. And most important of all, the internet has made national boundaries between the relatively free media system of the "West" and the heavily censored and controlled realm of Chinese publications a lot more open and transparent.

Hence the internet has made it - whether in China or abroad - much easier to publish and discuss the ideas and events of that time, to easily disseminate personal accounts and observations, photos or other documents, without great expenses or organisational obstacles. And more and more former activists, academics or otherwise interested people take advantage of this opportunity.

Still there remain some differences between conditions in China and websites hosted by servers in Europe, the United States or Hong Kong. There are some websites and web publications outside the PRC specialized in independent reporting on current political events and contemporary history in China, including the Democracy Movement and critical analysis of the communist rule.

The first to mention here is the web edition of "Beijing Spring" (北京之春), the main mouthpiece of the Chinese Democracy Movement in exile that originally came in a printed version. It is published from New York's Flushing suburb (now the biggest "Chinatown" of the city) by exiled activists. It has always tried to keep a relatively neutral position between the various factions of the movement in exile, and it regularly publishes memories, debates and current news, not only on the 1978-1981 Beijing Spring Movement, but also on later campaigns by political opponents in China, informing on other interesting articles and books on similar topics published elsewhere. An English version of this website was unfortunately closed in 2009. 

Another Chinese language website hosted in the United States is the Chinese laguage "Boxun News" (boxun.com, with a much less comprehensive English version) reporting independently on current political events in China and their backgrounds (especially those that are usully omitted in China's official media). It also links to several dozen relevant blogs, including some by democracy and human rights activists inside China. This website receives financial support from the European Union (and others). Inside the PRC, access is usually blocked, but interested people may succeed in accessing it by using readily available VPN software. In 2014 though, Chinese authorities have arrested a man from Beijing, supposed to have supplied thousands of items of information to "Boxun News". He was accused of having disseminated "fake news" and having "seriously harmed China's image". (The Wall Street Journal, 13.5.2014)

Other websites outside China also report - maybe less extensively - on human rights issues and citizens' movements in China. One publication widely read in the Chinese communities abroad is the website of the newspaper "Epoch Times", founded by the religious Falungong movement banned inside China. It publishes several language versions beside Chinese, including English and German.

There are also websites of big international media that publish specialized pages in Chinese language on news from China and idependent analysis of current and historical events including sometimes interviews with political figures in exile and memories of former democracy activists. Such media with a special China focus are BBC, the "Voice of America", "Radio Free Asia", RFI ("Radio France International"), "Deutsche Welle" or the "New York Times". Most of these pages though, are just partly accessible in China, often only by a special VPN software (or other ways of circumventing censorship blockades).

The situation in China remains at least ambivalent. Some foreign websites that carry reports on sensitive political or historical issues are temporarily blocked, others permanently. Websites operating from inside China are subject to permanent control and censorship, although there are many loop holes (sometimes intentional?) in this system of supervision. Therefore certain blogs, reports on contemporary history topics, even photos and documents from the time of the "Beijing Spring" can be accessed, occasionally even through state or party media portals. The website "www21.ccom.net" ("Gongshiwang" 共识网) though, that has been widely used by Chinese intellectuals interested in the recent history of the People's Republic, has been closed down by the authorities in 2016.

Quite a few other web articles touching on the "Beijing Spring" have quickly disappeared soon after going online, especially since 2014 when the censorship of academic debates on political and historical issues (including for example the Cultural Revolution) was tightened. When you try to open such pages, you often receive a message saying "your search has given no result". Fortunately many of these articles have been copied by websites outside China, and the contents is still available from sites based abroad.

On the other hand, it is still possible to connect to Chinese blogs and articles relating to the 1970s Democracy Movement through the Beijing internet provider "sohu.com" (搜狐). And China's largest search engine "Baidu" (百度) does give a number of interesting results on "sensitive" keywords, as a test (on July 1, 2017, from Vienna) has shown. The search terms used were "Xidan Democracy Wall" (西单民主), "Wei Jingsheng" (魏京生) or "Peking University Election Campaign" (北大竞选运动). Of course most of the search results support "official" views, but they often include factual information, photos and documents otherwise omitted in Chinese media and publications.

Chinese articles on literary and artistic activities of the "Beijing Spring" are rarely blocked, former members of the "Stars" group run their own website (http://www.thestarsart.com/) that includes numerous links, photos, historical accounts and press reviews.


Font:

University of Vienna

Universitätsring 1
1010 Vienna
T: +43-1-4277-43840
University of Vienna | Universitätsring 1 | 1010 Vienna | T +43-1-4277-0