One of the many pictures unwittingly censored by the Green Dam software
It was also an unintentionally funny bit of software. Its image processing software fails to account for darker skin, meaning that Chinese negrophiliacs got off scot-free. In other cases, the software censors out otherwise innocuous photographs of pigs, and its algorithms treat posters of the 'Garfield: A Tail Of Two Kitties' movie as hardcore pornography. US company Solid Oak Software filed a lawsuit claiming that the Green Dam plagiarized more than 5000 lines of code from their Cybersitter software. Marred by bugs, lawsuits and pronounced outcries from the Chinese public, the Green Dam would eventually earn the fate it deserved, and a lack of funding from the government lead many to believe that it had been taken out to the back of the bureaucratic barn and shot.
It's easy to see this as a victory for opponents of Internet censorship, except other systems remain in place. Small armies of paid government censors monitor forums and blogs, deleting errant comments and threatening bloggers with repercussions. The
Golden Shield Project
, otherwise known as The Great Firewall of China, is still operational, blocking Chinese netizens from accessing websites on its constantly updated blacklist, and preventing searches of words such as "Tibet" and "democracy". It is, however, easily circumvented by use of a virtual private network (VPN), or a proxy server.
But as James Fallows notes, the Golden Shield Project doesn't need to be effective;
it merely needs to be enough of a deterrent to the average Chinese netizen
. In a report on the Golden Shield Project, a team of computer scientists stressed an important factor
: "The presence of censorship, even if easy to evade, promotes self-censorship." In law, this is known as the Chilling Effect
. The Great Firewall of China's primary purpose isn't to keep foreign influence from coming in; it's to keep the Chinese netizen from getting to that information in the first place.
When Google pulled out of China earlier this year
, it was in response to a cyber attack originating from China, attempting to procure information on human rights activists within the country. The rest of the world saw it as a step forward for the cause of the open Internet and net neutrality,only for Google to partner with Verizon and take two steps backward
China, in the meantime, shrugged. Google is far from being the dominant search engine within China - that trophy belongs to Baidu, with nearly
63 percent of the market share within the country
, a number that only grew with Google's departure. China's relationship with Baidu and Google is representative of its citizen's attitudes towards the outside world - so much of its information and entertainment is readily available within the Great Firewall of China, that there isn't any demand for anything beyond its walls. It isn't that China dislikes the outside world, it's simply a matter of convenience.
So long as the Golden Shield Project exists, China's netizens are sufficiently discouraged from looking for information that the government doesn't want them to access, using the tools of punishment (effective) and inconvenience (even more so). It encourages silence. The protagonist Kan Ni Mei addresses Chinese WoW players towards the end of the film, littered across the virtual world of Azeroth, and calls upon their latent powers with a mixture of
in an attempt to defeat Yang Yongxin once and for all. If you believe, raise your hands; don't let WoW die.
Raise Our Hands For Azeroth, by Athena-Erocith
It almost doesn't work. Yang Yongxin taunts Kan Ni Mei as he is rebuffed by silence, then attempts to finish him off. A bell interrupts him. Slowly, Azeroth raises its hands, sending orbs of light soaring towards the sky and racing towards Kan Ni Mei. We are used to silence, the voiceless players mouth, but silence does not mean obedience. The light forms into a great ball, which Kan Ni Mei launches at Yang Yongxin, obliterating him. Yet Uncle Yang continues his taunting; even in death, he claims that the forces of the Green Dam and the forces of harmony are undefeatable, invincible, and as he passes into the hereafter, his laughter echoes across the world.
To date, his words have not been proven wrong.
In late August of this year, an announcement rippled across the Internet, heralding what feels like a small miracle to Chinese WoW players. It's been a long wait. Nearly 22 months after its release in the USA, Europe, and Taiwan, China will finally land on Northrend's shores in WoW's most recent expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. While players swarm NetEase's servers in the millions, it's important to note that there was a time when Wrath was seen as nearly impossible to bring to China. The MoC and the GAPP had a problem with it.
Wrath's approval required skeletons to be changed to corpses
For one, there are a lot of those skeletons lying around. Skeletal imagery is a major taboo in Chinese society, in which ancestors are worshipped and a single missing bone is cause for major alarm. Zhang Yunfan, CEO of China's 178 Games, disclosed in an interview that
the censoring of skeletons was actually demanded by the9
instead of the government as was originally thought - perhaps one of many reasons that annoyed Blizzard enough to have switched to NetEase as an operator. There's the raid on the Undercity, home of the sentient undead known as the Forsaken. Then there's the death knight, a new class introduced in Wrath that is dependent on (what else) death, and capable of raising the dead to do their bidding.
Details remain scarce on how much has been changed in the upcoming expansion, but that it was approved at all points to good things. It's obviously good news for NetEase, having made it out of the maze of politics that had mired WoW for so long. It suggests that the MoC and the GAPP have finally settled their disputes over their respective responsibilities in MMOG approval. And naturally, players finally have their chance to play the expansion that the rest of the world has experienced for the better part of two years, albeit with several changes - amongst them,
several graphical modifications
. As for Cataclysm, the upcoming WoW expansion due later this year, the GAPP has stated that they have not received an application for its publication
, and given Wrath's recent release, it may be a while before anyone in China gets their hands on it.
For now, the dust has settled. Millions of Chinese players are currently wandering across Northrend, gaining levels and seeing all there is to see. The woes that have plagued them over the course of the past two years seem distant, even as China's Internet addiction treatment industry continues to thrive, and their government remains as steadfast as ever in their efforts to silence dissent and unfavorable controversy. Those things belong in a different place, one far removed from Blizzard's fantasy world, with troubles of its own - troubles China's players can actually do something about.
And right now, they have a war to win.
War Of Internet Addiction was recently selected as an exhibit in the Machinima section at Sao Paolo's FILE Festival
Yang Yongxin's electroshock devices have been removed as per government regulations. He still operates his Internet addiction prevention clinics today.
the9 recently reported
a smaller second quarter loss, but a massive drop in revenue
as a result of losing the WoW operator rights. Their self-developed 2D MMOG Joyful Journey West has been set to cease operations this October
NetEase released Wrath of the Lich King as planned on August 31st. Players found out upon logging in that several words could not be used as character names, such as "freedom" and "sexy". Corndog, whose Chinese moniker is literally translated as 'sexy corn', has since said that
he will not log in until the game allows him to use his Internet handle as a character name
Watch all of War Of Internet Addiction on YouTube