The phone rang at 3 am.
Rudely aroused from his slumber, Wang Jipeng's first thought was that something terrible had happened. He picked up the receiver with a tentative "Hello?"
There was silence at first, but then Wang heard someone breathing at the other end of the line. The breathing persisted and Wang became tense. Then a man with an unfamiliar deep voice spoke: "Stop writing articles against Internet porn immediately. We already have someone waiting to finish you off. If you don't believe me, just continue the way you are!"
Wang collapsed on the sofa, his hands trembling with fear.
Threatening calls and e-mails have become a daily occurrence in his life over the past year.
"I am really scared that some catastrophe might strike me or my family someday," Wang says. "But I refuse to give in."
Wang became one of the leading non-governmental campaigners against online porn in China after being shocked by a story his friend told him last May. His friend related how he had found erotic short messages downloaded from the Internet on his 13-year-old daughter's mobile phone. What was worse, the little girl calmly claimed that all her classmates downloaded the short messages for fun.
Wang, father of a 17-month-old baby, began to pay attention to Internet pornography. He was shocked by the fact that "apart from the professional erotic websites, most other sites use sex to attract attention to some extent."
Seductive slogans such as 'one-night stands' often suddenly appear on the computer screens of Internet surfers.
"Many domestic websites engage in 'marginal pornography,' which has a significant negative impact on young people," says Wang.
He decided to do something about it. To date, he has written more than 50 articles to condemn the rampant online pornography and published them online. The articles have struck a chord with Internet surfers, and many have pledged their support.
Blogchina.com, a private website supporting Wang, soon initiated a campaign on its site against online pornography. Several official Chinese websites such as People.com ( The People's Daily newspaper) published Wang's articles, escalating the campaign.
Under pressure, some websites engaged in pornography began deleting or concealing pornographic information and links.
Yet, Wang Jipeng is far from happy with the achievements. On the contrary, he is deeply disturbed by the threatening calls and e-mails.
"I am insignificant as an individual fighting online porn. When things start looking dangerous, I sometimes wonder if I should give in."
Over six days last July, Blogchina.com was overwhelmed by a flood of denial of service attacks, and paralyzed for long periods.
"It was an unforgettable experience," sighs Fang Xingdong, founder of Blogchina.com. "The campaign impairs the interests of online porn distributors and they retaliate from the shadows. All we can do is condemn online porn from the ethical point of view. It's very limited. When ethics come up against profit, they are very weak."
Fang, who is also a columnist in the IT industry, blames China's vague laws for the campaign being so ineffectual.
"Internet pornography, which is virtually a licence to print illicit money, has grown into a highly profitable industry, whereas the formulation of related laws lags behind," says Fang.
In fact, China was one of the first countries to promulgate Internet-related laws. In 1997 when the Internet was still a new concept for most Chinese, the Ministry of Public Security enacted the China Regulations on Internet Security Protection, which prohibits dissemination of pornographic information online. Subsequent regulations prohibit Internet service providers from making, copying or publicizing pornography.
However, there are few detailed clauses to specify definitions, standards, categories and restrictions among the existing laws and regulations.
However, "the unclear and inaccurate nature" of those laws and regulations has made it difficult to define online pornography, so it's hard to discipline and punish those responsible, according to the existing laws and administrative regulations.
Guo Yuan, a police officer in Beijing who monitors the Internet to track down such illegal information as superstition, terrorism, and pornography, admits the difficulties in fighting online porn.
"The Internet and pornography share the common characteristic of anonymity, and Internet techniques are updated very frequently and spread pornographic content secretly, quickly and extensively," says Guo. "The formulation of new laws and regulations coping with such problems usually lags far behind."
But Chen Xingliang, deputy director with the School of Law under Peking University and an expert on criminal law, disagrees. He believes new legislation targeting online porn in particular is unnecessary because certain pornography-related clauses of China's Criminal Law are also applicable to the Internet.
"Clause 363 of the Criminal Law has stipulations against making, selling, publishing and disseminating pornographic materials and Clause 367 includes the definition of pornography. The difference between online pornography and traditional pornography is the transmission method rather the content," he said.
However, he admits the transmission methods of online pornography are advanced, making it difficult for law-enforcement officials to collect evidence.
Guo, however, does not think all suspected pornographic behaviour should be subjected to police scrutiny and prosecution.
"Sex is one of the basic human instincts, and those marginal pornographic websites are only taking advantage of the loopholes in China's legal system," she says. "We cannot stop them if they have not violated the existing laws."
Wang Jipeng and Blogchina.com have not relented. Wang keeps writing articles, while Blogchina.com has enhanced security against the hackers in order to continue the campaign.
Wang is currently taking advanced courses in press history and journalism in Beijing. He claims that since October 2003 he has devoted all his energy to researching laws and legal systems in the hope of writing more persuasive articles to facilitate the legislation of cyber and media laws in China, thus better protecting minors from online porn.
"The fundamental solution to online porn lies in legislation," he says.
(China Daily March 25, 2004)