Netizens in China are becoming more and more innovative in their ways of protesting against censorship authorities’ arbitrary abuses of power in curtailing freedom of expression. Their tenacity is best demonstrated in the support they have given to Bullog International since its relaunch on 31 January 2009, despite continuous attempts of authorities to block the site. Conflicts between censorship authorities and netizens have taken a new turn in the past few days. Some netizens were so outraged by a decision to censor the content of their online photo albums that they staged an online protest. The protest is known as an anti-anti-vulgarity campaign. This is the first time the government’s anti-vulgarity Internet censorship campaign has met with such widespread opposition among Internet users in China. It is also the first time that authorities have given in to netizens’ demands.
It all happened when a blogger at a popular blog portal Douban.com received an email from the administrator. The following is my translation of the email:
The photographs posted under the title “Renaissance” in your photo album have been deleted because they do not comply with Douban’s policies for the posting of photo images.
Douban does not welcome the posting of unauthorised photo images. You are solely responsible for copyrights of photo images that you have posted. The posting of pornographic images and of images that will endanger the operations of this portal are strictly forbidden. (Donban reserves the right to handle at its own discretion the content, action and registration of all its membership accounts.)
Images of such Renaissance paintings that have been censored on the grounds of indecent display of nudity include:
- The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden by Masaccio
- Sleeping Venus by Giorgione
- Venus of Urbino by Titian
- Susanna and the Elders by Tintoretto
- Adam and Eve by Durer
News travelled fast. Many Douban members left comments to condemn what they described as the return of the Dark Age. Inspired by his supporters, Malingcat called for other bloggers to join him in a very unconventional campaign to highlight the absurdity of the censorship decision. He invited other bloggers to digitally add clothes to nude figures from famous Renaissance paintings and to post their Photoshop enhanced images on their blogs. Less than 36 hours after the invitation was posted, over two thousand Douban bloggers had joined the campaign, resulting in the creation of more than three hundred satirical masterpieces. The followings are just some of my favourites.
Even the new CCTV tower (nickname “the Big Underpants”) has become a target of mockery.
We did not know exactly why Douban’s management finally succumbed to pressure from its member bloggers. One thing for sure was that the management did not want the protest to escalate. Throughout the campaign, the organisers had been very cautious. They continuously warned participants not to use this opportunity to make fun of Chinese political leaders. Douban’s management are smart enough to realise that once its members have over-stepped the line, the censor will not hesitate to impose a sanction on Douban.com, as it has already done to Bullog.cn almost a month ago. By the time I started writing this blog post, the ban on Malingcat’s photo images had been lifted. Malingcat responded by deleting all his blog posts in relation to this anti-anti-vulgarity campaign. However, you can still find some of the Photoshop enhanced images from this website.
Netizens in China may have won this censorship battle. But it is not likely that they will win the war, unless and until there is a fundamental reform in the legal system. In the meantime, the best netizens can do is to use their wits and collective powers to bargain for more space, a little bit at a time.