Net cafes forced to tighten rules after crackdown
Staff Reporter in Beijing
Officials have closed 8,000 Internet cafes during a three-month crackdown - and many others have been forced to install software to filter sensitive Web sites and messages.
Owners of the cafes, popular with students, travellers and those who lack computers at home or work, have now been asked to re-apply for their licences following the end of the three-month inspection period.
The manager of one established Beijing Internet cafe said the inspections had sorted out the businesses, helping to transform them from entertainment venues into work-study halls.
Chen Zhong, manager at Sparkice.com in the city's university district, said: 'China needs the rules as long as 90 per cent of cafe customers regard computers as entertainment tools.
'We need the rules to keep society stable. It's not just the responsibility of the Government, or of each Internet bar, but also of the industry.'
On March 3, the State Information Modernisation office ordered the Government's China Internet Network Information Centre to inspect every Internet cafe in the country. Reports in state media last month confirmed that as a result, cafes in Tianjin, Shenzhen and other cities were installing police-approved software to filter out Web sites the Government did not approve of.
Public Internet centres in Shanghai and Wuhan are making customers register their names and ID numbers before using computers. And staff in Wuhan cafes have also been told they can look over a user's shoulder.
Beijing's cafes were required to re-licence with four government agencies by June 20 and the city stopped issuing new licences.
Cafes everywhere are supposed to keep minors out before 8am and after 9pm, encouraging them to go home and study. They are also supposed to stop customers playing games, looking at pornographic sites and posting anti-China comments in chat rooms.
The inspection team visited Sparkice.com, which has 200 computers at its four Beijing sites, in early June. Mr Chen said most of his customers used computers to chat and he enforced the hours' restrictions on minors.
He also put up the government rules for customers to read. Some were worried, others appreciated a measure of control, he said.
But despite the crackdown, many of China's 22.5 million Net users say they have seen few changes.
Sue Huang, a university student and Internet cafe user from Guangdong province, said: 'When you go to a cafe you sometimes see a lot of users. And there are some sites that you can't open.' But, she added, otherwise there had been no change.
Beijing student Liu Yang said: 'Too much checking will make it no more than a tool for the Government to control people's minds. Actually, I am not the kind of person who trusts the Net. Some people like to play jokes on others. Censorship is necessary, I know.'
An information centre official said the three agencies responsible for the inspections were still compiling their findings and would give details this month.