Feb 20, 2006 9:35 pm


If you wish to know what kind of Great Firewall of China US technology giants are helping to construct, read the following:

With their big blue blinking eyes and their quirky personal websites, there is no denying the cuteness of the cartoon cops at the front line of China's battle for control of the internet.

But the role played by Jingjing and Chacha, the animated online icons recently introduced by police in the southern Chinese boomtown of Shenzhen, is entirely serious.

The cartoon couple patrol the city's news and discussion websites to scare off anyone who might be tempted to use online anonymity to break China's laws, says Chen Minli, director of the Shenzhen City Public Security Bureau's Internet Surveillance Centre.

Thus begins a chilling article about a novel and most effective method deployed by Chinese censors in the service of their sterner Eastern values:

"In my family, if my child does not lay her chopsticks down properly, then I will smack her, but maybe in your family you are too relaxed about such things," Ms Chen says."Each family has its own rules and countries are the same."

On the internet an ever watchful virtual policemen plays the role of the disciplinarian parent.

"He is just like a policeman, interactively moving along with you. Wherever you go, he is watching you," Mr Xu says.

It is a parent that encourages tattle telling.

By clicking on the icons, users can report crimes or learn about the rules on online conduct. Jingjing and Chacha also have their own websites with a selection of music including the"Song of the People's Police".

Usually, this is enough to keep the children in line.

Ms Chen says the mere appearance of the icons makes users think twice before posting sensitive messages. When Jingjing and Chacha arrived on local websites, the number of postings that had to be filtered out because of suspect content fell more than 60 per cent.

But if not, the smacking is ever ready.

When the pair send warning messages to websites under investigation for alleged fraud, the sites' operators often immediately shut them down, she says.

And you wonder why China has to steal technology?

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