Xin Wenming issued a statement in response to the government shut-down of the New Culture Forum website. (below) The statement denounces the Chinese government for suppressing freedom of expression on the Internet and calls for the end to the nationwide crackdown on websites that engage in political criticism.
Human Rights in China supports the demands made in by Xin Wenming. Based on the content and work of the New Culture Forum, the Chinese government’s shut-down of the site and the manhunt for Xin Wenming can be seen as typical case of the suppression of the freedom of expression and the violation of civil rights. In order to assist New Culture Forum, and for the purpose of illustrating the reality of Internet restrictions imposed by the Chinese government, HRIC has posted the index page and select content from the banned New Culture Forum site on its own website at www.hrichina.org.
On August 3, Chinese state security authorities shut down the New Culture Forum website for posting "reactionary content." The site is run by a group of veteran democray activists in Shandong Province. Authorities have begun a manhunt for Xin Wenming, who registered the site. State security police have repeatedly interrogated the general manager of Million Internet Company, which hosts the New Culture Forum website. Authorities have already blocked Internet access for users registered with the Million Internet Company, and have threatened the company's complete shut-down if Xin Wenming is not turned in.
Origins of New Culture Forum
New Culture Forum is the first China-based website established by activists of the Chinese democracy movement. Its main aim is to spread the message that Chinese politics must adopt a spirit of compromise and conciliation to push forward democratic change. The website hopes to promote a shift away from the extreme polarization between government and opposition, advocating a win-win policy of mutual coexistence.
In April 2000, New Culture Forum was first launched on 163.net, a China-based news megasite. However, as the Chinese government cracked down on politically sensitive content on the Internet, 163.net shut down New Culture Forum in July. The site is registered with web host Million Internet Company which is based in Beijing and operates a branch office in California. The name (Xin Wenming) and address used to register the New Culture Forum site were both made up for the convenience of registering and managing the site. The contact number on the registration is a public telephone number. Regulations promulgated by China’s Ministry of State Security stipulate that individuals must register websites in person, showing ID and other documents. But Xin Wenming, who registered the New Culture Forum site, told HRIC President Liu Qing, that he never planned on using his own documentation. In China, the fake ID market is currently thriving and highly accessible. Xin Wenming expressed great regret for using dishonest means, but asserts that such means were well-matched by the Chinese government’s way of operation. As another precautionary measure, the administrators of New Culture Forum maintained the site via Internet cafes in China’s major cities. It is for this reason that state security officers have not been able to locate Xin Wenming through his Internet Protocol address.
Who is New Culture Forum?
New Culture Forum is sponsored by dozens of Shandong friends who make up no formal organization. However, it is run by a core of five people. In the four months since its launch, New Culture Forum has published dozens of articles expounding on political criticism in a moderate, compromising and conciliatory spirit. On the New Culture Forum website, a total of 2,221 hits are tallied. Visitors to the site were mainly intellectuals, dissidents and students, and also included cadres, workers and rural residents. Originally, New Culture Forum had an open bulletin board, which was very popular and drew many messages from readers. However, it was discontinued because the small staff did not have the capacity to handle the high volume of mail. The messages received were all very positive and supportive, demonstrating that the political views advocated by New Culture Forum have a great base within Chinese society.
The content of the site was also saved on disk and widely distributed to intellectuals, activists and others throughout China to make the site more accessible. Thus the site's readership far exceeds the number tallied for total hits. The cost of using the Internet in China is extremely expensive. Most common people cannot afford to be on the Web for extended periods of time.
Context and the Role of the Internet Today
According to HRIC President Liu Qing, the suppression of expression on the Internet will be seen as a major component of the Chinese government’s attempt to maintain authoritarian control. For this reason, political forums on the Internet have been shut-down and banned without restraint. At present, practically all websites containing political criticism are closed down. Only People’s Forum, run by the official the People’s Daily, and a small number of other such sites remain. The People’s Forum is highly restricted by the recently published “Management Regulations for the People’s Daily On-line People’s Forum.” The Regulations include six chapters and 24 articles, such as: it is prohibited to violate the Four Basic Principles and to slander the leaders of the party and country, it is prohibited to attack the various levels of Chinese government, etc. Aside from this kind of website, which serves as a mouthpiece for the party and government, other political forums, even those that carry some official flavor, are no longer in existence. For example, authorities ordered the Beijing University Forum website to stop operation just recently. The students were outraged and even staged a protest. Liu Qing said, “ In the long run, the Chinese government’s attempt to eliminate political space and freedom on the Internet is doomed for failure. But at present, it is only through supporting websites like New Culture Forum that we can lessen the hardship of restrictions in China and allow the significance of the Internet to be fully realized.”
Following the shut-down of the New Culture Forum website
On August 3, 2000 China’s Ministry of State Security shut down New Culture Forum, China’s first democracy website established by Shandong friends based on the principle of “widening the network of friendship without forming an association.” The Ministry of State Security also brought calamity on our web host, the Beijing-based Million Internet Company, paralyzing its business. The company’s general manager was repeatedly questioned by the Ministry of State Security. We severely protest the Ministry of State Security’s suppression of the human right to the freedom of expression. We express our deep apologies to the Million Internet Company and its general manager. And we offer our sincere gratitude to the people from all walks of life who have long visited our site and shown concern for New Culture Forum.
Humanity has already entered the age of Internet information. People use the Internet to exchange ideas and to transmit messages. It is a historic trend that cannot be blocked-off or reversed. Human rights, democracy and rule of law are human values that are the convictions of most people in the world today. Respect for opposition factions, the protection of minorities and individual freedoms are political principles followed by present-day civilized society. A normal, civilized government must tolerate different voices and accept the criticisms and monitoring of society. Only then can the government remain honest and secure the will its tax-paying people. No system or government is perfect; they all must constantly alter, change and improve based upon the wishes of the people. All rulers need the constructive criticism and monitoring of an opposition faction. It is based on this very belief that established the New Culture Forum website
However, on the one hand, the Chinese government claims to represent advanced productive forces. But on the other hand, it wantonly restricts the Internet, shutting down sites. In the age of Internet information, the Chinese government continues in the mindset of clamping down and violating the freedom of expression, in the hope of holding on to autocratic, totalitarian rule. This not only has an adverse affect on China, it may also cause disaster in the future. Anyone who foresees this kind of danger and feels a sense of social responsibility cannot remain silent.
For this reason, New Culture Forum issues the following demands to the Chinese government: