China orders clampdown on 8,000 net cafés

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The Independent Online

The worldwide web has been a boon for young people in China, where the enormous popularity of internet cafés testifies to a growing thirst for unfiltered information and contact with foreign peers.

The worldwide web has been a boon for young people in China, where the enormous popularity of internet cafés testifies to a growing thirst for unfiltered information and contact with foreign peers.

Until now. After a three- month inspection of the country's internet cafés, Beijing has ordered 2,000 to close down and suspended another 6,000.

The thousands which have been allowed to continue operating have been ordered to use "information purifiers" – devices which will allow the police to monitor which websites are being accessed from the cafés' computers.

Ostensibly, the anti-net drive is a response to a wave of parental complaints that their children are accessing too much pornography. But there are suspicions that the government has found an excuse to limit people's access to material it considers politically subversive.

Communist officials have been complaining of an onslaught of "online poison", which they say is sapping the younger generation's moral fibre.

Young Chinese may be hitting porn sites as they surf the net. But the cafés have also become a vital source of uncensored information in a country where only a minority have home computers.

The authorities may have been rattled by the growth in the net's popularity in China, where cafés have been springing up in bookshops, hairdressers and even butchers.

Recent figures showed the number of internet users grew by four million in the first half of this year alone, to more than 26 million. Ironically, the Chinese authorities have stimulated interest by teaching schoolchildren internet skills.

The drive against the cafés was signalled by President Jiang Zemin earlier this month, when he called for new laws against what he called superstition, pornography, violence and pernicious information on the net.

Under laws that forbid "socially destabilising content" on the net and "divulging state secrets", the authorities already closely monitor website content in search for buzzwords such as "Taiwan" and "Tibet".

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