As the internet becomes an increasingly potent force in China, the government has responded both by restricting access to specific web-spaces, strong-arming internet sites such as Google and Yahoo to both censor themselves and also, allegedly, hand over to the government information on potential dissidents, as well as by imprisoning numerous prominent cyber-dissidents. Examples include Huang Qi (arrested in 2001 and sentenced to five years imprisonment for posting human rights material on his web-site), Luo Yongzhong and Huang Qunwei in 2003 (arrested in 2003 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for posting “rumors” about SARS on the web); New York Times researchers Zhao Yan and Zhao Jing; and blogger and documentary filmmaker Hao Wu (who was released this past July 11, after spending 5 months in prison). Just last week, furthermore, reporter Li Yuanlong was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for disseminating controversial essays via e-mail.
This past July 4 (Independence Day in the US), meanwhile, another Chinese dissident was imprisoned on charges of inappropriate internet-related political expression and unlawful association. What makes this Independence Day prisoner somewhat unusual, however, is that not only was he imprisoned for instigating an on-line protest attended by more than 10,000, but furthermore his own identity is entirely an on-line creation. This is because the prisoner, is actually the on-line avatar of a long-time player on the Chinese massively-multiplayer on-line role-playing game (MMORPG), 梦幻西游 (The Fantasy of the Journey West) operated by Netease. The un-named player was being punished for refusing to change his alias, 干死4小日本 ["Kill the little Japs"], and also on account of the name, 抗日同盟会 [The Alliance to Resist Japan], of the 700 person guild he had formed (one of the game’s largest). As a result of these transgressions, he was locked in the game’s “Great Tang Permanent Incarceration Prison” (大唐永禁监 ) (see screen capture above).
As Roland Soong reports in a widely-cited post from a couple of weeks ago, it turns out that around the same time that Mr. “Kill the little Japs” was imprisoned, “someone” noticed that a government office within the on-line game was decorated with a painting of a rising sun that resembled the Japanese Imperial Navy flag adopted in 1889. Word quickly spread, and within a day or two more than 10,000 avatars had allegedly gathered to protest the painting (see screen capture below).