The New Internet Censorship

China has tightened the web with new censorship laws. To avoid letting your webspace fall into the void, we recommend you learn all the necessary regulations.

0716_businessChina’s new Online Publishing Service Administrative Rules became effective on March 10, 2016. The law, which aims to “regulate the criteria of and promote the healthy development of internet publishing services”, has already curbed the online activity of several Western MNCs – including Apple’s iTunes and Disney’s DisneyLife, but what wider implications do the rules have for internet censorship in China?

The new online publishing rules form part of President Xi Jinping’s broader efforts to utilize China’s so called ‘Great Firewall’ to control the flow of online information. In a meeting held in April, China’s State news agency Xinhua quoted Xi as saying:

“China must improve management of cyberspace and work to ensure high-quality content with positive voices creating a healthy, positive culture that is a force for good”. With 25 percent of internet sites currently blocked in China, compared to the 14 percent before Xi came into power, it is evident that the country’s new approach is effective.

Definition and Scope of China’s Online Publications Law

The law defines internet publications as edited, produced or processed digital works that are provided to the public through information networks, primarily those including digital works containing text, pictures, maps, games, animation and audio etc., contents identical with books, newspapers and any other such audiovisual products that have already been published, and any other type of content recognized by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT).

Its definition of internet publications and services is left open to be interpreted as any variety of content posted online. Therefore, in practice, any entity posting content online without a license is at risk of having its website taken down.

With 25 percent of internet sites currently blocked in China, compared to the 14 percent before Xi came into power, it is evident that the country’s new approach is effective.

Requirements and Application
There are many requirements to satisfy, which the law stipulates must be obtained in order to engage in internet publishing services:

  • Have a defined domain name, smart device app or other publication platform in which to host internet publishing services
    Have a defined scope of internet publishing services
    Possess the technology and equipment necessary for internet publishing services with relevant servers and storage devices located within the territory of the People’s Republic of China (Not including Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan)
    Have a unique name and articles of association different from other publication entities to engage in internet publishing services
    Have a legal representative and a person chiefly in charge of compliance with national regulations. The legal representative must be a Chinese citizen with full legal capacity. At least either the legal representative or the person chiefly in charge must have a middle or higher level professional qualification relevant to publishing
    Have at least eight full-time editing and publishing staff who hold publishing and relevant professional qualification certificates recognized by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, of whom at least three must hold intermediate or higher level qualification certificates
    Have a content review system necessary for providing internet publishing services
    Have a fixed business premises

An entity can apply for the license at a local provincial level publishing authority. The application will be forwarded to the SAPPRFT, who will then make a decision of approval within 60 days.

The Internet Publishing Service License is valid for a period of five years. If an entity plans to continue internet publishing services after expiration, it can apply again within 60 days before expiration.

The law stipulates that an internet publication cannot include any content that opposes the principles of the constitution, threatens national unity, sovereignty or territorial integrity or security, divulges state secrets, damages the reputation or interests of the state, incites ethnic hostility or discrimination, endangers social morals or ethnic cultural traditions, advocates heresy or feudal superstition, disseminates rumors, disturbs social order and stability, disseminates obscenity, pornography, gambling, violence, or incites crime or insults others or infringes on their legal rights and interests.

To publish material involving potentially sensitive topics, record-filing has to be undertaken in accordance with the major topic registration provisions of the SAPPRFT. Topics that have not been filed for record or approved may not be published. In addition, Sino-foreign equity joint ventures, Sino-foreign cooperative joint ventures and foreign entities are not permitted to engage in internet publishing services.

Key takeaways
China’s new online publications law reinforces the previous exclusion of foreign investment into the country’s online publication industry. Investors looking to engage in the industry need to be aware of the correct procedure for application and the risks involved in violating the strict provisions.


This article was first published by Dezan Shira & Associates. Since its establishment in 1992, Dezan Shira & Associates has been guiding foreign clients through Asia’s complex regulatory environment and assisting them with all aspects of legal, accounting, tax, internal control, HR, payroll and audit matters. As a full-service consultancy with operational offices across China, Hong Kong, India and emerging ASEAN, we are your reliable partner for business expansion in this region and beyond. 

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