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Chinese Man Sentenced to Prison for Selling VPN Software

A Chinese man running a small-scale website on which he sold VPN software has been sentenced to 9 months in prison. Weibo netizens take the man’s prosecution as another sign that authorities are stepping up their fight against software that allows people to browse websites that are blocked in China.

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A Chinese man running a small-scale website on which he sold VPN software has been sentenced to 9 months in prison. Weibo netizens take the man’s prosecution as another sign that authorities are stepping up their fight against software that allows people to browse websites that are blocked in China.

A 26-year-old man from the city of Dongguan, Guangdong province, has been sentenced to 9 months in prison for selling VPN software through his own website.

According to China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) database (China Judgments Online) Deng Jiewei was found guilty for the crime of “illegal control of a computer system”, contained in Article 285 of China’s Criminal Law.

The criminal law Article states:

“Whoever violates state regulations and intrudes into computer systems with information concerning state affairs, construction of defense facilities, and sophisticated science and technology is be sentenced to not more than three years of fixed-term imprisonment or criminal detention.”

The prosecution notice, issued online on an information disclosure platform of the People’s Procuratorate (人民检察院案件信息公开网), states that the man was arrested in October of 2016 for setting up a .com website earlier last year through which he offered two types of VPN software, making a total profit of approximately 2125 US$ (14000 RMB).

The notice clarifies that the .exe software sold by Deng allowed users to circumvent China’s web censorship and visit foreign websites.

 

“I am scared we could all be arrested now.”

 

Although the sentencing took place in January of this year, the news only surfaced on Chinese social media on September 3rd, soon gaining over 6000 shares on one Weibo post about the issue, and over 4000 shares of another post that reported the sentencing.

Many netizens questioned the severity of the punishment for selling a program to browse the Internet. “The crime of wanting to know the truth and selling a ladder,” one person said, referring to VPNs as a way to ‘climb over’ the Great Firewall of China. Another Weibo user posted an image of George Orwell’s 1984 in response to the news.

One commenter sarcastically wrote: “I suggest we now also bring back the crime of counter-revolution (反革命).”

Some netizens wondered how the man could have been prosecuted under Article 285: “How can using a VPN be defined as ‘intruding into computer systems’?”, one Weibo user asked.

Another person also noted that the law concerns the intrusion of computer systems relating to ‘state affairs’, but that the prosecuted man was only running a small-scale website selling VPN software. “According to this sentencing, I am also guilty for using a VPN,” he said. Another commenter shared similar worries: “I am scared we could all be arrested now.”

Chinese authorities have introduced numerous restrictions on virtual private networks (VPNs) this year. In January, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a notice that it will strictly contain the unapproved use of VPNs by Chinese firms.

In July, Bloomberg News reported that the Chinese government had instructed telecommunications carriers to block VPN access by all individuals in China by February 2018. Shortly thereafter, Apple removed all major VPN apps from the App Store in China.

On Weibo, some see the prison sentence for the VPN-seller in Guangdong as another sign that authorities are stepping up their fight against software that allows users to browse blocked websites. “The dark days are coming,” one man writes.

By Miranda Barnes & Manya Koetse

Featured image by paper.wenweipo.com

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Miranda Barnes is a Chinese blogger and part-time translator with a strong interest in Chinese media and culture. Born in Shenyang, she used to work and live in Beijing and is now based in London. On www.abearandapig.com she shares news of her travels around Europe and Asia with her husband.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    evolighting

    September 5, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    Well, there is only things that they want you know and what really happen could never be found.

    Too many details are missing.

    • Avatar

      xidada

      September 5, 2017 at 4:13 pm

      It’s China.. I think you can be safe to assume the only thing he did was offer a VPN service considering he ‘only’ received a 9-month prison sentence..

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China Digital

Must-Read: SCMP’s China Internet Report 2020

The China Internet Report brings order to the chaos of China’s ever-changing digital environment. There’s a special What’s on Weibo discount for the Pro-edition.

Manya Koetse

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SCMP Research’s China Internet Report 2020 is here, covering the country’s biggest tech trends, breaking down the major players and key markets, and bringing some order to the chaos of China’s rapidly changing digital environment.

Today, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) has launched its third edition of the China Internet Report – a super-comprehensive resource on China’s technology landscape offering insights into the most important trends and players shaping the world’s biggest internet community.

This year, China’s online population has reached the staggering number of 904 million users, with the average daily time spent on the internet rising to 7.2 hours in March.

COVID-19 has significantly increased online media consumption across China.

China’s rapid digitization has not just radically altered Chinese society – it is also increasingly impacting the global internet ecosystem at large.

With yesterday’s local startups becoming tomorrow’s international tech leaders, and today’s trends soon becoming worldwide shifts, understanding China’s latest digital developments has never been more important.

The new coronavirus outbreak in China has not just temporarily affected people’s online behavior, the report finds, suggesting that COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on China’s tech sectors.

Besides social media platforms and other apps becoming a crucial tool of mass communication and information for Chinese netizens in times of COVID-19, the pandemic also changed how people in China started using technology in their everyday lives, from online learning to digital healthcare seeking. These trends have brought about permanent changes.

The accelerated digitization and the innovative tech use in times of the coronavirus crisis are listed as one of the major trends of 2020, among other vital digital shifts changing China’s online landscape, from the mass adoption of 5G to live streaming in China reaching its third phase.

To check out the main trends for 2020, China’s latest internet statistics, its top tech competitors, internet companies, and more, here’s a link to the report.

This year, in addition to the free report, SCMP Research also introduces its Pro Edition (US$400) that features more than a hundred pages of deep-dive per sector – from e-commerce to healthtech, 5G and more – providing additional analysis, data, as well as access to six closed-door webinars with leading C-level executives of internet and technology companies in China.

The folks at SCMP have been kind enough to reach out and offer a special 30% discount on the Pro Edition report for What’s on Weibo readers.

You’ll get the discount by using the discount code: “WHATSONWEIBO“, or by clicking this link that will automatically include your discount code.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Digital

From Tea Farmer to Online Influencer: Uncle Huang and China’s Rural Live Streamers

‘Cunbo’ aka ‘rural livestreaming’ is all the rage. A win-win situation for farmers, viewers, and Alibaba.

Manya Koetse

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This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, originally published in German by Goethe Institut China on Goethe.de: “VOM TEEBAUERN ZUM INFLUENCER: ONKEL HUANG UND CHINAS LÄNDLICHE LIVESTREAMER.” 

The past year has been super tumultuous when it comes to the topics that have been dominating Chinese social media. The Coronavirus crisis was preceded by other big issues that were all the talk online, from the US-China trade war to the protests in Hong-Kong, the swine flu, and heightened censorship and surveillance.

Despite the darker side to China’s online environment, however, there were also positive developments. One of the online trends that became popular this year comes with a term of its own, namely cūnbō (村播): rural livestreaming.  Chinese farmers using livestreaming as a way to sell their products and promote their business have become a more common occurrence on China’s e-commerce and social media platforms. 

mage via Phoenix News (iFeng Finance).

The social media + e-commerce mix, also called ‘social shopping,’ is booming in the PRC. Online platforms where the lines between social media and e-commerce have disappeared are now more popular than ever. There’s the thriving Xiaohongshu (小红书Little Red Book) platform, for example, but apps such as TikTok (known as Douyin in China) also integrate shopping in the social media experience.

Over recent years, China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba has contributed to the rising popularity of ‘social shopping.’ Its Taobao Live unit (also a separate app), which falls under the umbrella of China’s biggest online marketplace Taobao, is solely dedicated to shopping + social media, mainly mobile-centered. It’s a recipe for success: Chinese mobile users spend over six hours online per day, approximately 72% of them shop online, and nearly 65% of mobile internet users watch livestreaming.

Every minute of every day, thousands of online shoppers tune in to dozens of different channels where sellers promote anything from food products to makeup or pet accessories. The sellers, also called ‘hosts’ or ‘presenters,’ make their channels attractive by incorporating makeup tutorials, cooking classes, giving tips and tricks, chatting away and joking, and promising their buyers the best deal or extra presents when purchasing their products.                

Livestreaming on Taobao goes on 24/7 (screenshots from Taobao app by author).

Sometimes thousands of viewers tune in to one channel at the same. They can ‘follow’ their favorite hosts and can interact with them directly by leaving comments on the livestreams. They can compliment the hosts (“You’re so funny!”), ask questions about products (“Does this also come in red?”), or leave practical advice (“You should zoom in when demonstrating this product!”). The product promoted in the livestreams can be directly purchased through the Taobao system.

Over the past year, Alibaba has increased its focus on rural sellers within the livestreaming e-commerce business. Countryside sellers even have their own category highlighted on the Taobao Live app. Chinese tech giant Alibaba launched its ‘cūnbō project’ in the spring of 2019 to promote the use of its Taobao Live app amongst farmers. The most influential livestreaming farmers get signed by Alibaba to elevate Taobao Live’s rural business to a higher level.

One of these influential Chinese farmers who has made a name for himself through livestreaming is Huang Wensheng, a tea farmer from the mountainous Lichuan area in Hunan Province.

Uncle Huang livestreaming from the tea fields (image via Sohu.com)

Huang, who is nicknamed ‘Uncle Farmer,’ sells tea through his channel, where he shows viewers his work and shares stories and songs from his village. He is also known to talk about what he learned throughout his life and will say things such as: “It is important to work hard; not necessarily so much to change the world , but to make sure the world does not change you.”

With just three to five livestreaming sessions per week, ‘Uncle’ Huang reaches up to twenty million viewers per month, and, according to Chinese media reports, has seen a significant increase in his income, earning some 10,000 yuan (€1300) per week.

Huang is not the only farmer from his hometown using Taobao Live to increase their income; there are some hundred rural livestreamers in Lichuan doing the same.

Some random screenshots by author from rural livestreaming channels, where online shoppers get a glimpse of countryside life

The rural livestreaming category is significantly different from the urban fashionistas selling brand makeup and the latest must-haves: these hosts do not have the polished look, glamorous clothes, or stylish backgrounds. They usually film outside while doing their work or offer a glimpse into their often humble rooms or kitchens.

Viewers get to see the source of the products sold by these rural sellers; they often literally go to the fields to show where their agricultural products grow, or film themselves getting the eggs from their chickens or the oranges from the trees. From fruits to potatoes and flowers, and from fresh tea to home-made chili sauce – a wide range of products is promoted and sold through Taobao Live these days.

Some rural livestreamers are trying to stay ahead of their competition by coming up with novel concepts. A young farmer from Sichuan, for example, recently offered viewers the opportunity to “adopt” a rooster from his farm, allowing them to interact with ‘their’ rooster through social media and even throwing the occasional birthday party for some lucky roosters.

Image via sina.com.

Examples such as these show that although the countryside livestreamers usually lack glitter and glam, they can be just as entertaining – or perhaps even more so – than their urban counterparts.

Who benefits from the recent ‘cūnbōboom? One could argue that the rising popularity of livestreaming farmers is a win-win situation from which all participants can profit in some way. The commercial interests are big for Alibaba. The company has been targeting China’s countryside for years, as it’s where China’s biggest consumption growth will happen while mobile internet penetration is still on the rise. Alibaba earns profits from an increasing number of rural e-commerce buyers, as well as e-commerce sellers.

Alibaba’s early focus on the countryside as a new home for e-commerce has previously also led to the phenomenon of so-called ‘Taobao Villages,’ where a certain percentage of rural residents are selling local specialties, farm products or other things via the Taobao platform with relatively little transaction costs.

Many Chinese villages and farmers are profiting from the further spread of Taobao in the countryside. Not only does Alibaba invest in logistics and e-commerce trainings in rural areas, these e-commerce channels are also a way to directly boost sales and income for struggling farmers.

Chinese media predict that the rural livestreaming trend will only become more popular in the years to come, bringing forth many more influential farmers like Huang.

But besides the commercial and financial gains that come from the rising popularity of rural livestreamers, there is also a significant and noteworthy social impact.  At  a time in which China’s rapidly changing society sees a widening gap between urban and rural areas, these rural channels serve as a digital bridge between countryside sellers and urban consumers, offering netizens a real and unpolished look into the lives of farmers in others parts of the country, and gives online buyers more insight and understanding of where their online products came from.

Taobao Live is actually like a traditional “farmers’ market,” but now it is digital, open 24/7, and accessible to anyone with a mobile phone. It’s the Chinese farmers’ market of the 21st century.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

This text was first published by Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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