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Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 02:18 GMT
China fights online onslaught
Chen lei
Chen Lei has built a web site in his isolated village
By Adam Brookes in Beijing

The task of drawing water from the well, this chilly north China morning, has fallen to Chen Lei.

Chen Lei is 18 and still in high school. His family grows dates and walnuts in an isolated mountain village.

But Chen Lei has bridged the gulf between home and the rest of vast China.

He has gone online and built a village website.

Even his village is now a station on the information superhighway.

"I can write and publish my own work and get all the news that I want. The internet connects me to the outside world," Chen Lei says.

Ten million surfers

The net is enveloping China at astonishing speed.

Nearly 10 million people are surfing, gaming, even trading stocks online.

In a country which still bans the imports of almost all foreign books, news and information are crashing in from cyberspace.

People are paid to check for political content
For dissenters, the internet is a gift.

Based safely abroad, pro-democracy activists run websites calling for an end to Communist Party rule.

Falun Gong, the mystical sect that is banned in China, has even used the internet to help organise demonstrations on the streets of Beijing.

The internet has already weakened the Communist Party's ability to control political debate inside China.

The party has responded by issuing tough rules which govern what you can and cannot say when you go online here and those rules are designed to stifle dissent in cyberspace.

China's internet entrepreneurs, people like Joseph Chen now walk a political tightrope.

Joseph Chen: No politics
Chen's hip young company,, offers online clubs and homepages, places for people to meet, talk and exchange ideas.

State regulations

But, in a quiet corner of the office, someone's watching and, if anything breaks state regulations, he says he will delete it. will not be dabbling in politics.

"That would never happen on a website because we have a group of six people doing nothing but looking at those contents," he says.

So a website about Chinese politics could not make it on to

"Probably not, no," Mr Chen says.

The internet already reaches far into China. The state is struggling to prevent free expression from following in its wake.

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See also:

19 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Online boom for China
12 Feb 99 | Asia-Pacific
China plays Net nanny
16 Sep 99 | The Economy
China bans Internet investment
11 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese e-commerce site attacked
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