China blocks NYTimes.com and related news coverage of prime minister’s massive wealth

New York Times | Washington Post
The Chinese government blocked all access to The New York Times website from computers in the country Friday after the Times reported on the prime minister’s family accumulating massive wealth.

The Times reported that Wen Jiabao’s relatives have assets worth at least $2.7 billion, much of it hidden from public knowledge:

In many cases, the names of the relatives have been hidden behind layers of partnerships and investment vehicles involving friends, work colleagues and business partners. Untangling their financial holdings provides an unusually detailed look at how politically connected people have profited from being at the intersection of government and business as state influence and private wealth converge in China’s fast-growing economy.

The New York Times translated its story into Chinese and made a downloadable PDF version that can be shared privately where the website is censored.

China maintains an enormous censorship firewall around the nation’s Internet access, with thousands employed to remove any content the government does not condone.

But thoroughly filtering facts from the Web is increasingly difficult in the era of digital networks that spread information across many websites and social networks. Quartz, for example, has published a summary of the report written in Mandarin and dozens of other news sites are covering the controversy.

In this case, the Times report was published at 5 a.m. in China and censors jumped on it with unusual speed, The Washington Post reports:

Within a couple of hours, both the New York Times’ English and Mandarin sites were blocked in China. When someone on the BBC mentioned the story, the station’s broadcast immediately went black in China. Discussion on China’s vibrant and fast-moving Twitter-like service, Weibo, seems to have been ground to a halt almost as quickly as it started.

The online censorship has been “as fast I’ve seen it,” said Liz Carter, an experienced China-watcher and a contributor to the site Tea Leaf Nation, which analyzes Chinese social media and Chinese web trends. The phrase “New York Times” is blocked as a search term. Wen’s name, as with other top Chinese officials, is typically blocked, including now.

Earlier: James Fallows in 2008: “Depending on how you look at it, the Chinese government’s attempt to rein in the Internet is crude and slapdash or ingenious and well crafted.” (The Atlantic) | NYT published a Chinese translation of story about workers who make Apple products.

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