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Cablegate: Religious Discourse On the Chinese Web

VZCZCXRO5163
OO RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHBJ #2383/01 2301205
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 181205Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY BEIJING
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5693
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIJING 002383

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KIRF PGOV PHUM PREL SCUL CH
SUBJECT: RELIGIOUS DISCOURSE ON THE CHINESE WEB

REF: A. BEIJING 01770
B. BEIJING 1928
C. BEIJING 02005

Summary
-------

1. (SBU) Searches for online discussion of religion on the
Chinese Internet from June to August revealed a robust
discourse on religious doctrine and practice on Christian,
Muslim, and Buddhist websites, discussion forums, and blogs
as well as on mainstream commercial portals. Chinese
religious sites varied in appearance, willingness to include
discussion of political topics and links to other sites.
Chinese Christian portals and websites had large numbers of
hits and postings and were observed to be used for networking
and proselytizing, but political content was noticeably
absent. Chinese-language Islamic sites mostly focused on
cultural and religious discussions among Hui Muslims and
often featured scholarly discussions of scriptural or
cultural topics. Islamic sites also were observed to include
limited discussion of select political issues, including the
influence of the July riots in Xinjiang on the perception of
Muslims in China. However, many websites that had hosted
material on Islam had been censored after the riots.
Buddhist websites we observed included a variety of Buddhist
sects. They did not appear to be as interconnected as
Christian or Muslim sites. Some had clear ties to foreign
organizations. Buddhist websites concentrated on Buddhist
doctrine, religious practices and scriptures. These sites
made little mention of the Dalai Lama, except for political
or personal criticism that often echoed Chinese government
propaganda. The pedigree of "pro-government" postings and
comments is difficult to determine, because the Communist
Party is known to compensate web users who write such
content. End Summary.

Christian Websites: Social Networking and Proselytizing
--------------------------------------------- ----------

2. (SBU) Christian portals and websites on the Chinese
Internet claimed a large readership and provided social
networking functions. Based on website content and blog/blog
comment postings, it appears that Chinese Christian netizens
use the Internet to network and proselytize. Searches for
"Christian Websites" in Chinese on Baidu.cn, China's most
popular search engine, and Google.cn, returned over 1.6 and
4.9 million results respectively (Note: Search engine results
are a notoriously inexact measure of Internet usage, however
we provide the data here to give a general idea of the amount
of religious content online. End Note). PolOff was able to
access hundreds of relevant links and portals through normal
filtered Chinese Internet providers. The majority of sites
visited by PolOff were registered in the Shanghai region,
including 52jidunet.com and ccctspm.org. Christianity was
discussed on mainstream commercial Chinese sites as well.
Baidu Q&A (zhidao.baidu.cn) services noted at least 52,000
questions related to the word "Christianity" from 2003 to
August 2009, and Tieba.Baidu.cn listed over a million similar
postings over the same period. The government-approved
"Three Self Movement" Protestant Church was represented in a
portion of sites, but most sites did not refer to the "Three
Self" congregations. (Note: The "Three Self Movement"
Protestant Church is one of the five officially recognized
religions in China. End Note.) Some Christian sites claimed
to have a high volume of page views, with one site
(ccctspm.org) claiming over 4.9 million views from 2001 to
July 2009, another (zhsw.org) recorded over 6.24 million
views from 2005 to August 2009. Many individual blogs linked
from portals like 172god.cn recorded tens of thousands of
hits, and some chatrooms and forums received hundreds of
postings on a daily basis throughout July.

3. (SBU) Chat room discussions ranged from testimonies and
stories of personal religious experience to advice on
parenting and marriage. Portals such as God123.cn and
Jidunet.cn were replete with links to individual church
websites, blogs, chat rooms, and RSS feeds. Similarly,
religious resources, sermons, online Bibles of various
translations (Good News Translation, New Revised Standard
Version), Christian bookstores, news sources, and seminaries
in China were openly available. PolOff observed Christian
music downloads available on the majority of sites. Portal
sites like God123.cn also contained links to foreign
Chinese-language Christian networks in Hong Kong
(gnci.org.hk), Taiwan, the United States, Canada, Australia,
and elsewhere which PolOff was able to access directly from a
Chinese Internet cafe. On these sites, PolOff observed
Chinese netizens using social networking functions and chat

BEIJING 00002383 002 OF 003


rooms to arrange social functions, basketball tournaments and
bible study sessions.

4. (SBU) Netizens on the majority of Christian websites
visited by PolOff openly encouraged others to proselytize,
bring friends to church, and discuss religion. One blog,
manboli.ccblog.net, reposted a letter that his house church
had distributed to the neighborhood inviting them to church.
One supportive netizen commented, "if we do not proselytize,
it will bring us misfortune." Jidujiao.cn, a portal site
registered in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, contained
encouragements to "share this with friends" on their main
page. This website also appeared to have overt support from
non-Chinese sources based on the names listed on its donation
page.

5. (SBU) Political discourse was noticeably absent from the
Christian sites. One forum overtly encouraged self
censorship and cautioned users not to post political or
pornographic material. The site included a 24-hour phone
number to call to report such posts. Reached by email, the
webmaster for this site told PolOff the warning was put on
the website by the webhost. The forum was "unwilling to have
contact with people touching on politics," he said.
Chinafuyin.cn posted a similar note urging self censorship.
Various forums did make note of government efforts to shut
down Christian sites, in one case suggesting that a censored
site should "find another location" to avoid censorship.
Some posts speculated that one reason for the censorship of
Christian sites was that the government had "gone overboard"
in its efforts to restrain Muslim sites, and Christian sites
had been caught up in those efforts.

Focus on Hui Muslims, Theological and Political Issues
--------------------------------------------- ---------

6. (SBU) Searches for websites on Islam resulted in a large
number of websites aimed at Chinese Hui Muslims. Of the
sites PolOff visited, approximately half of the formerly
active links to additional Muslim sites were blocked,
suggesting recent efforts to censor sites with Muslim
content. (Note: Searches for Falun Gong revealed the same
pattern. The few sites that were accessible were critical of
Falun Gong. End Note.) Searches on Baidu.cn for
Islam-related postings (tieba.baidu.cn) were completely
blocked when searched on August 11, but Baidu's Q&A section
(zhidao.baidu.cn) about Islam returned over 13,000 posts.
Portals like islamcn.net, 2muslim.com, and yich.org (over 3.1
million hits from 2004 to August 2009) contained links and
connections to other domestic Islamic sites. Most Islamic
sites we visited were registered in Beijing or in western
provinces.

7. (SBU) In contrast to many of the Christian websites, many
Hui websites we observed, including China774.cn, appeared,
based on their design, to have been designed by
professionals. China774.cn was owned and run partly by an
internet design company (Johaa.com) that produced sites in
Chinese and Arabic. Advertisements on many of the sites
offered Halal food, travel packages, study abroad packages,
wedding photography, and Arabic lessons. Almost all portals
contained a simple explanation and introduction to Islam.

8. (SBU) Articles from scholarly journals on Islam, such as
Arab World Studies, were broadly posted and linked. On
several Muslim forums PolOff found discussions of political
issues such as the impact of the early July unrest in
Xinjiang on perceptions of Islam by non-Muslim Chinese, in
addition to many discussions on scripture and culture.
However, PolOff searches during the period of the unrest
found little mention of Uighurs on these forums. (Ref A)
Additionally, a popular Uighur forum, uighurbiz.net has been
blocked in China since the Urumqi riots (Refs A, B, C).
Bulletin Board Services (BBS) such as Islamcn.net claimed
high viewership with some popular posts recording tens of
thousands of views in July.

Diverse Buddhist Sects, Links to Taiwan and Outside
--------------------------------------------- ------

9. (SBU) PolOff was able to access Chinese websites belonging
to a variety of Buddhist sects through searches on Baidu.cn
and Google.cn, which turned up over 5.9 million and 53
million results respectively. Similar to the Christian
websites that PolOff visited, doctrinal issues were discussed
openly on mainstream commercial Chinese sites. Sites
dedicated to discussion of Buddhist beliefs were registered
in many regions throughout the country. Regardless of
affiliation, many sites (fjnet.com, fjlt.net, bbs.zgft.cn)

BEIJING 00002383 003 OF 003


made reference to the World Buddhist Forum, an international
forum held every few years in China and attended by over 1000
monks from 50 participating countries, held most recently in
Jiangsu Province in March 2009. Many websites, including
fjnet.com and fjdh.com linked openly to sites hosted outside
of mainland China including some hosted in Taiwan. These
sites were accessible through Chinese Internet providers.
Most sites we visited focused primarily on doctrine, Buddhist
practices and study of Buddhist scriptures.

10. (SBU) Searches for Buddhist sites revealed a large number
of websites featuring prominent inclusion of familiar Chinese
government propaganda on Chinese culture, economy, and
environmental issues. Buddhist sites such as zcfj.fjnet.com
and Tibet.cn, both registered in Beijing, included pictures
of monks smiling as they met local officials. Christian and
Islamic sites were not observed to include similar material.

11. (SBU) Chinese sites related to Tibetan Buddhism made
little mention of the Dalai Lama. Many included government
and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) accounts of Tibetan culture
and religious beliefs. Baidu.cn and Google.cn searches for
Tibetan Buddhism or Dalai Lama were dominated by
republication of articles from official media expounding
official policy on Tibet and the Dalai Lama. The content of
one site, Tibet328.cn, the "Tibet Human Rights Website,"
launched in March 2009 on the "50th anniversary of democratic
reforms in Tibet and the liberation of the serfs," was
particularly noteworthy as thinly disguised government
propaganda, including discussion of the role of the CCP in
protecting human rights in Tibet.

12. (SBU) An August 11 discussion on Tibet328.cn included
commentary critical of the Dalai Lama's recent comments in
support of Xinjiang activist Rebiya Kadeer; the site also
contained many reposted Xinhua news articles condemning the
Dalai Lama. Essays critical of the Dalai Lama were reposted
on several Buddhist sites including tibetbuddhism.org, and
individual blogs such as blog163.com/jujunjun. One such
article was a critique of the Dalai Lama's statement that his
successor would be determined by popular election. An
article by the Deputy Director of the Tibet Autonomous Region
Standing Committee added, "Dalai caters to western
sentiments, he wears the robes and appearance of religion,
but to be blunt he has political motives." Another article
from blog163.com/jujunjun was entitled "Dalai from an early
stage was never fit to be a real Buddhist." Note: the
Chinese Communist Party compensates some bloggers and
comment-posters for pro-government, pro-Party comments and
posts. The existence of these paid content generators,
dubbed in Chinese the "fifty cent party" for the price they
are paid per pro-government post, makes it difficult to
assess the authenticity of pro-government opinions expressed
on the Chinese Internet.
GOLDBERG

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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