China Earthquake Brings Uncensored Communication en Masse

By May 20, 2008

The recent earthquake in China is exposing the country’s tight control over information flow from the country, as massive amounts of people are spreading information through the Internet and text messages. Last Monday’s 7.9

earthquake utterly devastated the country, and with China being home to the fastest-growing number of Internet users, information has been flowing from the country faster than ever before.

Blogging and text messaging have been almost uncensored in the country which usually keeps a tight lid on the information that leaves its borders.

People describe the disaster firsthand, criticize the government about its plan to bring aid to the victims, and how many of the victims were children, calling into question the structural codes of school buildings.

"I don't want to use the word transparent, but it's less censored, an almost free flow of discussion," said Xiao Qiang, a journalism professor at the University of California, Berkeley and director of the China Internet Project, which monitors and translates Chinese Web sites, in an interview with

Nonetheless, the government is finding ways to monitor the information flow.

So far, 17 people have been detained for writing messages online that "spread false information, made sensational statements and sapped public confidence," the state-run news agency, Xinhua, reported last week.

The number is low considering the many critical sentiments emanating from the country, and China is notorious for controlling data concerning similar disasters.

"We didn't know that hundreds of thousands of lives passed away during the Tangshan earthquake in 1976 until many years after the disaster took place," sociologist Zheng Yefu said in a commentary last week in the Southern Metropolis News.

The mass amounts of information flowing from China concerning the devastating earthquake are bypassing the government’s traditional controls over information, and maybe it is a sign of more lax policies to come.

By Danny Scuderi
For comments on this article,
email us at

Legal mentions © L’Atelier BNP Paribas