Kim Jong-il death: Phoenix exposes intense Chinese censorship…accidentally?Posted: December 20, 2011
The Chinese media is currently flooded with reports emphasising the grief of the North Korean people at the death of their “dear leader”.
Comments are turned off on all the big five news websites except Phoenix and Sina, where the Chinese online news-reading community are purportedly also grief-stricken for the loss of North Korea’s great anti-American friend.
However, an apparent technical oversight on Phoenix seems to be revealing the staggering rate at which censors are deleting comments that don’t fit with whatever instructions Beijing has issued regarding how discussion should be “guided”.
On the Phoenix discussion of attached to its special coverage page “The death of Kim Jong-il”, the number of participants is listed at an incredible 15,652,462, and that figure is going up by around 150 every minute at the time of writing. It’s now up to 15,656,193. Yet this enormously popular discussion involving more than 15 million participants has somehow only produced 728 comments.
Normally on Phoenix News and other websites’ discussions the ratio of participants to posts ranges from about 20:1 to 80:1 (see previous posts on this site). On the death of Kim Jong-il story the number of “participants” is more than 20,000:1. This suggests that the censors are deleting almost every post that is submitted on the topic, but have forgotten to also fiddle the website’s automatic counting system that registers an extra “participant” every time someone submits or recommends a comment. I guess they’ve got a lot on their plate at this time, which probably also explains why the Sohu, NetEase and Tencent portals have simply switched their comments systems off.
On Sina’s topic discussion page “The death of Kim Jong-il”, pro-Kim comments are flowing in at a rate of about 1 per minute. Anti-Kim stories are nonexistent. I’m imagining perhaps a full-vetting process is in place at Sina whereby every comment is by default not published unless specifically approved. One would think the wumao (commenters paid by government agencies), to whatever extent that they exist, would be out in force given the attention that the central authorities in Beijing are giving to the story.
All this grieving and well-wishing is probably not just the work of wumao, though unsurprisingly many Chinese readers are drawing that conclusion. The Chairman Mao gravatar attached to one top comment on the Phoenix story “CCP center sends condolences over death of Kim Jong-il” reminds us that plenty of genuine communists do exist in China – it’s just that they’re not very well represented at the top of the Chinese Communist Party.
In fact on the same discussion the second-top comment in this discussion of 394 comments and 23,057 participants says:
The comments are so fake, even if i didn’t say so everyone would know. [2420 recommends]
This comment has actually moved up from third position to second since i’ve been writing this post, overtaking what’s now the third-most popular comment:
The Chinese people stand forever with the North Korean people. [2131 recommends]
The fourth-most popular is also remarkable for its mere presence:
If you’re not wishing Kim Jong-Il well the editors delete your post, what sort of principle is that? 
The most likely explanation would be that Phoenix’s censors have decided to leave the two critical comments there in an attempt to disprove the very allegations that they are making, and possibly also give an air of diversity to a very austere discussion without violating the apparent instruction from Beijing that Kim Jong-il is not to be criticized on mainstream news discussions.
But couldn’t one also speculate that the Phoenix editors may, just maybe, have taken the liberty of allowing this couple of comments through to tell readers we’re on your side really? Could the continued existence of the very obvious but as yet un-revised figure of 15,656,193, wait, 15,660,394, be another subtle sign that the censors aren’t entirely supportive of the job they have to do?