Rand "Political Use Of The Internet In China" About CDJP

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We next examine the use of the Internet by mainland and exile dissidents, Falungong practitioners, members of the Tibetan diaspora, and other activists for both two-way and one-way communication.

Two-Way Communication

For dissidents, students, and members of groups such as Falungong, the Internet permits the global dissemination of information, especially through two-way communication such as e-mail and BBS, for communication, coordination, and organization with greater ease and rapidity than ever before. Importantly, it allows the activists to pursue their activities in some instances without attracting the attention of the authorities, as exemplified by the unexpected Falungong demonstration outside the central leadership compound in April 1999. Dissidents, Falungong adherents, Tibetan exiles, and Chinese university students use a variety of means of two-way Internet communication, including e-mail, web-based petitions, BBS, and chat rooms to coordinate, organize, motivate, and transmit information regarded by Beijing as politically sensitive or "subversive."

Two-Way E-mail Communication and Coordination. E-mail is an especially important tool for two-way communication and coordination among dissidents, Falungong practitioners, and Tibetan exiles. A variety of evidence indicates that mainland dissidents regularly use e-mail, as well as Internet chat rooms and bulletin boards, to communicate and coordinate with each other and with members of the exile dissident community.[24] Soon after Internet service became available to the public in China, several prominent dissidents began to use e-mail to organize political discussion salons and seminars.[25]

More recently, two-way communication via e-mail played an important role in the organization and development of the CDP. Several CDP members assert that use of e-mail and the Internet was critical to the formation of the party and allowed its membership to expand from about 12 activists in one region to more than 200 in provinces and municipalities throughout China in only four months.[26] The Zhejiang branch of the CDP reportedly became a particularly important and influential component of the party, in part because many dissidents in the region owned computers and had e-mail access.[27] Over the past several years, mainland dissidents have also almost certainly used e-mail to coordinate open letters and petitions, many of which were signed by 100 or more dissidents.[28] In addition, in early 1999, mainland and overseas activists used e-mail to coordinate and publicize an abortive attempt to form the China Labor Party.[29]

The use of e-mail is equally important to exile dissident groups such s the Chinese Democracy and Justice Party (CDJP). According to Shi Lei, director of the CDJP's Internet division, "The use of the Internet and e-mail to transmit information about the democracy movement has been the most effective method of communication for the CDJP since its founding."[30] Shi says that overcoming the countermeasures employed by the Chinese authorities is a constant struggle. "The CCP continuously tries to blockade us," he says, "and we never stop looking for new ways to break the blockade."[31]

[24] See for example, "Internet Allows Chinese Dissidents to Network," www.nando.net, June 2, 1998. Ren Wanding says that he uses e-mail on an almost daily basis to get information that is not available in the official media, to keep track of news regarding other mainland dissidents, and to contact members of the overseas democracy movement.

[25] Interview, U.S. government executive branch official, May 2000.

[26] Maggie Farley, "Hactivists Besiege China," Los Angeles Times, January 4, 1999. See also Jasper Becker, "Review of Dissidents, Human Rights Issues," South China Morning Post, January 12, 1999. Beijing CDP member and longtime dissident Gao Hongming told Becker, "It is the first time we attracted so many people from all over the country; it shows what can be done."

[27] "Police Arrest Dissidents to Prevent Seminar Opening," Hong Kong Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China, March 14, 1999, in FBIS, March 14, 1999.

[28] In late December 1998, for example, 274 dissidents from 20 provinces signed an open letter demanding that authorities release Hunan dissident Zhang Shanguang, who was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for discussing rural unrest on Radio Free Asia. It seems very likely that the signatories relied to a great extent on e-mail to distribute and coordinate the appeal.

[29] "New Party for Workers to Seek Registry," Hong Kong Agence France Presse, January 2, 1999, in FBIS, January 2, 1999. A Beijing dissident using the alias "Li Yongming" and a U.S.-based exile announced the attempted formation of the party to the Hong Kong media organization via e-mail. They announced that the party's goals included combating official corruption and said it would draw its supporters in part from the ranks of laid-off workers, a prospect Beijing must have found particularly worrisome given widespread discontent among the growing numbers of unemployed workers and the
increasing frequency of demonstrations.

[30] Shi Lei, "Xinxi bailinqiang: tupo zhonggong wangluo dianzi youjian fengsuo (zhiyi)"The Information Berlin Wall: Breaking the Chinese Communist Party's Net and Email Blockade (part one)], available in Chinese only on the website of the Home for Global Internet Freedom.

[31] Ibid.

author:   Rand:      source:  rand.org:    last updated:  10/12/07