Chinese Edict Against 'Rumors' Puts Popular Bloggers At Risk

A new Chinese rule targets Chinese bloggers whose posts against their government have gone viral. One blogger and editor for the Chinese Wall Street Journal, Li Yuan, talks to host Scott Simon about the increased danger of posting in China.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. In the United States, a Tweet or YouTube video that goes viral can make a career. In China, that can be dangerous. Last month, the Chinese government issued a new edict forbidding the spreading of rumors against the Chinese government. People who intentionally post what the government considers a rumor violate the law if they get 500 or more reposts or 5,000 or more views.

So hundreds of Chinese bloggers have been arrested and many of them are known as big Vs, verified bloggers who have a large online following. Li Yuan is editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal Chinese. She joins us from Beijing. Thanks so much for being with us.

LI YUAN: Thank you.

SIMON: Is what the Chinese government considers a rumor necessarily false?

YUAN: You know, I wouldn't say everything they said is false, is incorrect sometimes. There are a lot of rumors as Internet everywhere in the world. You know, the problem is when you arrest people for posting information online, that's another scene, you know. It terrorize people.

SIMON: Now, isn't the Web in China already heavily censored?

YUAN: You know, it is a very heavily censored Internet, but still, the rest of the world, in many countries, people would think China is a very tightly controlled place, but it's not that tight. People, in the past three years, over three years, Sina Weibo is what we call the micro blogging - it's a Twitter-like service - has become very popular in China and people can tweet all kinds of things and many times those postings will be deleted by the Internet police.

But a lot of times, those words will just keep being posted everywhere again and again. It's pretty difficult to control everything. I always say this is about the most exciting thing that has ever happened to the Chinese people in thousands of years because we've never had a place where we say something and then the government has to respond.

SIMON: Yeah. You just used a phrase we don't use in the United States, Internet police, for people being locked up for something they write online.

YUAN: Yeah, maybe, you know, the more accurate term is Internet censors. Some of them are employed by the government and a lot of times they are employed by the Internet companies. These companies have to hire hundreds of people to delete postings, to delete articles or videos that may anger the government.

SIMON: This seems to be happening at a time when we're getting reports in the West about a substantial number of people being locked up. A cartoonist has been locked up for what the government, I gather, calls rumor-mongering, somebody who runs an Internet consulting company has been arrested in southwestern China. Help us understand the atmosphere there right now.

YUAN: Yeah, it's the cartoonist, he was, you know, he got a knock on the door many Internet online bloggers fear every day and it was around midnight earlier this week and he was summoned by the police. So he basically retweeted a post about a baby that was reported starved to death because the area where the baby lived was very heavily flooded and they did not - some of the residents did not get enough assistance.

So he retweeted that post and then he got locked up. You know, of course it was - he was released the next day, but really people are scared. And you can see the postings, the number of postings have decreased.

SIMON: I'm told you blog.

YUAN: Yes.

SIMON: Are you afraid of that...


SIMON: ...knock on the door some day soon?

YUAN: To be honest, you know, as a journalist in China, it's something you have to deal with, especially when it gets really tens. You know, when I approach my apartment sometimes, I do have that fear in my stomach. But, you know, knock on the wood. It's still, you know, so far it's O.K.

SIMON: Li Yuan who is editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal Chinese speaking with us from Beijing. Thanks very much.

YUAN: Thank you.

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