China: The World of Guarantee

2010-12-14 - LEE Chi-Leung

Editor note: This is an excerpt translation of an investigative report in CBN Weekly on the monitoring of online service providers through the Guarantee system. The article tells the story behind the suspension of DNS of Wangju ( and Shiguang ( websites as a result of their failure in complying to the requirement of web-censors. The article was removed from CBN Weekly's website soon after it was published. You can find the full the Chinese version here.

[Excerpt:] CBN Weekly: The World of Guarantee

22nd November, 2010. CBN Reporter: Zhu Xiaogun(朱小坤); Trainee Reporter: Wang Hailun (王海倫), Huo Ran (霍然)

Guarantees are to be made so often because there is always something wrong in the world of internet.

Zheng Yun (鄭昀) signed his name and pressed his fingerprint again on a “Notice of Administrative Law Enforcement” ( 《行政执法通知书》). Upon leaving the interview room, he thought he would never come back again. The premises is Information Office of Beijing Municipal Government, one of the few core departments for websites supervision, which located at 22, Inner Baiqiao Street, Guangqumen, Beijing City.

That was some time towards the end of 2009; before that Zheng had been intermittently invited to attend such “talks” for 5 times. On every occasion, the other party would prepare print-outs of website snapshots, criticizing Zheng's wrong-doings and asked how he would retribute his faults. Zheng would have to give his words that “the supervision will be better enforced.” Then he would be requested to press his fingerprint on a “Notice of Administrative Law Enforcement” - the fingerprint is mandatory, whereas his signature might not be always necessarily so. To finish with the procedure, Zheng would have to write a report on the correctional measures his company will take upon returning to his office and deliver it to the related departments.

Zheng Yun is the CEO and one of the founders of Wanju Wang (玩聚网,, which was established in 2006. Wanju Wang primarily traces and syndicates all sorts of social media tools such as micro blogs, news readers' shared items and net digest entries, etc to make aggregated recommendations along various parameters such as number of recommendations, users' access level and types of info sources, etc. The website launched its own SR (SNS search engine) in 2008 and gained a considerable amount of followers in the IT circle. According to Zheng, the website is purported to be China's number 1 in “automatic discoveries of hot-spots”


And yet, troubles soon found Zheng while he was immersing in the joy of technical explorations. Over time, he had been notified to delete certain content items for a few times. For that matter Zheng's cell phone is turned on 24 hours a day so that the data center can make immediate contact with him. While deleting the questionable articles at the prompt of data center would usually close the cases, there was a time Wanju Wang was pulled completely offline with the server's mains being unplugged at the hoster. “Usually it is someone from the data center to call me, and it will be fine if I delete the post in question within an hour. On that occasion, however, I was out dining without bringing along my cell phone and they said they couldn't reach me.” The website resumed normal for visits once Zheng had deleted the post.

“Accident” like this was not the last one. Zheng senses that supervision of the site, both in terms of frequency and might, has become intensified since 2008: there were times when over 100 urls were deleted each day. As there were only 10 people working for the site and they were all technical staffs, Zheng had to confirm with each deletion himself.

After a few more “unplugging” of Wanju Wang, Zheng was called for another talk at the department concerned, where he received “thoughts education” and promised to discipline himself not to create further problems. “This is more or less like administrative law enforcement (行政执法), in other words I am held an offender.”

Returning form the talk, Zheng added a host of screening keywords for Wanju Wang so that the urls of websites which often come up with problematic results will not show up on the hot-spots. The question remains, that Wanju Wang is to aggregate hot-spots of social media by a technical module and to create new hot-spots by arithmetic parameters, these hot-spots are often prone to sensitive materials.

Zheng was then called for administrative law enforcement a few more times, and he would have to guarantee that he will discipline himself not to distribute any “inharmonious” news items on his website. Indeed, he wanted to realize what he promised and cooperate with the supervision departments.

For the guarantee he had made, Zheng was obliged to have a closer watch of national and foreign news websites in order to avoid recommendations of unsuitable materials. However, such a careful measure resulted with nearly 80% of the articles on the site being “killed by itself.”

Tossed by occasions like this, Zheng has become disheartened, “I am a technical person, what I am interested in and most inclined to do is to offer technical solution, that is, to help users to screen for useful information by perfecting the semantic aggregation module.”

In March 2010 Zheng received another call for a talk, which he neglected and failed to present himself. He says, “[I am]very much fed up with the torment, and realized that it was getting more and more difficult to keep up with my guarantee to rectify.” As a result syndication for the domain name of the website were suspended 网站域名就被停止解析the very next day. Wanju Wang was then migrated to another domain and continued to run for a few months until its DNS was suspended again. By October 2010, the main server at the server room was confiscated.

Wanju Wang thus disappeared. While there are still users on Douban (豆瓣網, ) requesting the “site master not to give up,” Zheng tells CBN Weekly, “It's not about giving up or not for me, our techniques and modules were proven and the experiences accumulated are good ones.” As a technical enthusiast, What Zheng deems as more important is to archieve content editing by technical means.”

Perhaps some might say Zheng has got “what he deserved for,” that from the perspective of public administration, he failed to observe internet supervisory regulations strictly; and on moral grounds, he failed to keep his promises.

According to Article 13 of “Administration of Internet Information Services Procedures,” promulgated by the State Council in 2000: “Internet information service providers shall provide good service to online subscribers and ensure that the information that they provide is lawful.” The Procedures, however, do not lay down the measures concerning guaranties clearly. Prior to the promulgation of The Procedures, launching a website required no such guarantee - one needed only to submit his ID and mobile number on file via the website of Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. The normalization of guarantee practices came with a CCTV reportage on 10th December 2009, which exposed CNNIC's (China Internet Network Information Center) neglect of duty in combating illegal websites. CNNIC subsequently issued documents for a shakedown, which ultimately evolved into a compulsory real-name registration system that swept across the internet (whereas in previous years the registration of websites are more for a filing purpose and its execution had not been strict).

From July 2010 onwards, the registry work has become a responsibility of Internet Data Centers (IDCs), that all website owners are required to submit a real name authentication form (ID card, domain information, picture of the owner) and a security agreement (guarantee). As all websites within the country have to be put on record and therefore, almost all of them needs to submit a written guarantee to IDCs.

Besides, certain interactive websites are required not only to register at Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, but also at the Public Security Bureau - and to summit yet another “Guarantee of Information Security”(《信息安全保证书》). There are so many things that need a guarantee in the world of internet, for instance to merely unlock a domain name.


One has to sign all sort of guarantees even before the website start running. The implicit logic is that launching a website is prone to wrongdoings – even if it is not the case now, it might well be sooner or later. It could be said that there is some sort of “original sin” inherited in just launching a website.

All major IDCs have their own recommendations for such guarantees in terms of their scope, format and usage, and there are prepared templates for download. Public Security Bureau, Press and Publication Bureau and branches of various Tele-communication service providers would also require website owners to provide guarantees with their signatures. A guarantee has to be submitted to IDC upon establishing a website, and guarantees of rectification are to be submitted to departments concerned and service providers in case of “wrong-doings”

An IDC personnel in Guangdong Province told CBN Weekly that he has not seen any clear written regulations or documents that obliged submission of such guarantees, but it has been a common practise of few exceptions in the industry. The guarantee template he uses is forwarded to him by a friend from an industry QQ community. Moreover, the IDC also needs to submit a guarantee of similar kind to the tele-communication proprietor.

The main content of various guarantees are similar: I/ Our Company willingly accept supervision and will accept sanctions by the supervisory department concerned in case of violations/ repeated violations.


Shiguang Wang (時光網, ) is no exception in such a world of guarantee. Its founder Hou Kaiwen (侯凱文) might have never imagined the sheer difficulties in fulfilling what he promised in the beginning.

For Shiguang Wang has nothing to do with news or politics, rather, it is more of a movie buff community with a professional film archive that provides search utilities for film information and reviews, and users can inquire screening schedules of major cinema lines. With a global ALEX rank of 861, Shiguang Wang was regarded as the most notable professional film review site of China.

On 14th October, web users found that they can no longer visit Shiguang Wang. Apart from a system maintenance notice on the main page there was not a word of explanation. Web users, however, start speculating on the actual reason for the close-down. Scarcely anyone would believe the site was put down for technical maintenance and rumors about the real cause of Shiguang Wang's close-down started circulating immediately.

The most widely accepted account for Shiguang Wang's close-down is coined by an article in Shenyang Evening News (瀋陽晚報): The film critics on Shiguang Wang had been harsh in their reviews of domestic films that related departments striving to protect the domestic cinema deemed unacceptable. Web users elaborated the account by filling in all the background details – for instance the time being the prime season of domestic films run, or that users at Shiguang Wang had rated The Founding of A Republic (建国大业) and Under the Hawthorn Tree (山楂树之恋) too lowly.

There were also speculations that the close-down was due to a conspired sabotage of national-level competitors, or that certain radical statement in one of the users' dairy was the culprit. All of these seems convincing - for any of such things could have eclipsed Shiguang Wang.


After numerous pornography combat actions, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology began to enforce a real name registration for owners of all domain names and servers hosted within the country at the end of 2009. Numerous websites were suspended within the year, as their owners failed to submit authentication materials for the registration timely, and they were not allowed to re-launch without completion of the procedures. The domain name “.cn” was simply no longer available for any individual, resulting with a huge migration of personal blogs out of the country.

As of 30th September 2010, there were 462,000 temporarily suspended “.cn” domain names whose owners refused to submit their real-name authentication materials; 636,000 suspended domain names whose owners have not yet put their identity information on file. Among these, only 5200 could be clearly categorized as “pornographic.”

[…] The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a notice 2 months ago that all [owners of] domain names and websites without a real-name authentication were required to complete the authentication procedures within 2 months, and that the corresponding access service providers are to complete the necessary authentications. China Unicom (中國聯通) has to authenticate information entries of 89,000 domain names and the staffs have to overtime in weekend so as to finish all the notification works for websites pending authentication by the specific deadline. Wan Wang (萬網, ) had launched a similar real-name authentication system 2 months ago, with 40,000 domain names to be authenticated.

[…] Founded in May 2007, Fanfou Wang (飯否网網, had been one of the earliest micro-blog platforms in China. On 8th July 2009, the website with over a million users was closed down all of a sudden with all of its domain names no longer resolvable.

[…] In November 2010 there were web users who exclaimed successful visits of Fanfou pages (restricted to certain regions). In a CBN Weekly interview dated 13th November, founder Wangxing (黃興) confirmed that Fanfou is returning. It is also confirmed that the rumor of China Economic Net (中國經濟網, ,which is founded by China Economy 《經濟日報》) becoming a shareholder of Fanfou is now a fact.

Finally, Wangxing will no longer have to enticed with “censorship,” “self-censorship,” “post deletion,” or “voluntary post deletion” anymore. With its national capital background, the new shareholder will guarantee the website's prospects.

There was a letter to web users posted on Shiguang Wang's front page when it resumed. Without explaining the reasons for the site's suspension, it stated, “We are back, and it is more important than why we have disappeared.”

Coming back is the most important thing and coming back is good. One wonder what sort of guarantee it has made this time?

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