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China Digital Times (CDT; Chinese: 中国数字时代) is a California-based bilingual news website covering China.[2] It aggregates news and analysis from around the Web, while also providing its own original analysis, commentary, translations and multimedia content. According to, visitors to the site are coming from more than one hundred countries.

China Digital Times
China Digital Times logo.png
Available inEnglish, Chinese
Created byCounter-Power Lab, University of California, Berkeley
Alexa rankIncrease 63,272 (May 2016)[1]
Current statusActive
Content license
CC-by 2.0


Key FocusEdit

The site focuses especially on news items which are blocked, deleted or suppressed by China's state censors.[3] In 2009, it published a set of documents leaked by a Baidu employee which revealed events, people and places that were deemed politically sensitive.[4]

The types of words, phrases and web addresses being censored by the government include names of Chinese high level leadership; protest and dissident movements; politically sensitive events, places and people; and foreign websites and organisations blocked at network level, along with pornography etc.[4] According to Freedom House, a US-based NGO, researchers at China Digital Times have reportedly identified over 800 filtered terms, including “Cultural Revolution” and “propaganda department”.[5]

The site also publishes the Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, a wiki-based directory of subversive Chinese Internet language.[6] The project is named after the Grass Mud Horse, whose name sounds similar to “fuck your mother” in Chinese (cǎonímǎ 草泥马), and which is one of the Baidu 10 Mythical Creatures.[7]

China Digital Times has maintained ongoing coverage of the government clampdown on Chinese internet users – which includes imposing penalties of up to three years in prison for posting 'rumours' shared more than 500 times, or viewed by more than 5,000 people.[8] The publication has also covered the backlash against increased censorship from China's independent media, and employees of state media.[9]

Samuel Wade at China Digital Times observes that, among American internet companies, Wikipedia is almost alone in defying Chinese self-censorship demands.[10]

Response by ChinaEdit

The China Digital Times website has been blocked in mainland China since 2006[11] and in response, Xiao launched a Chinese-language site in 2011. That site has since also been blocked, but numerous methods are used to ensure the site remains accessible in China – including email lists, social media and mirror sites.

A popular section on the site is ‘Minitrue’, which is short for ‘Ministry of Truth’. It makes a point of highlighting official government directives to media organisations, requiring them to censor or remove postings on sensitive matters.[12] Conversely, if a particular news event is favourable to the government, a directive will sometimes be issued that insists that this be "prominently displayed" on the home pages of online news sites.[13]

In response to calls for a “Jasmine Revolution”, China has tracked and detained online activists; and routinely blocked services including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn. At times, Virtual Private Networks, which are used to circumvent controls, have experienced blockages. Google has also accused China of blocking its Gmail service.[14]


The website was started by Xiao Qiang at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley in the fall of 2003. Xiao has asserted that Chinese internet users are using digital tools to create new autonomous forms of political expression and dissent, “changing the rules of the game between state and society”.[15]

An astrophysicist by training, Xiao has been affiliated with the university since 2003, as an adjunct professor both in the Graduate School of Journalism (2003–2011) and the School of Information (2012–present).[16] He became a human rights activist in response to the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 and was executive director of the organization Human Rights in China from 1991 to 2002. [17]

Xiao says that “the role of the Internet as a communications tool is especially meaningful in China, where citizens previously had little to no opportunity for unconstrained public self-expression or access to free and uncensored information…”[18]


Sophie Beach is the Executive Editor of its English site, and her writing about China has been published in a number of publications including the Los Angeles Times, the Asian Wall Street Journal, the South China Morning Post and The Nation magazine.[19] The Translations Editor is Anne Henochowicz, an alumna of the Penn Kemble Democracy Forum Fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy. She has written for other publications including Foreign Policy, The China Beat, and the Cairo Review of Global Affairs.[20]

China Digital Times also provides content about China for The World Post, a partnership between The Huffington Post and the Berggruen Institute.[21] The China Digital Times website is run by students of the university, with help from contributors from around the world.


  1. ^ " Site Info". Alexa Internet.
  2. ^ Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) (4 February 2013). Attacks on the Press: Journalism on the World's Front Lines. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 52–. ISBN 978-1-118-61129-6.
  3. ^ Congressional-Executive Commission on China (U.S.) (27 October 2016). Congressional-Executive Commission on China Annual Report 2016. Government Printing Office. pp. 71–. ISBN 978-0-16-093479-7.
  4. ^ a b MacKinnon, Rebecca; Hickok, Elonnai; Bar, Allon; Lim, Hae-in (29 January 2015). Fostering freedom online: the role of Internet intermediaries. UNESCO Publishing. pp. 110–. ISBN 978-92-3-100039-3.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Decoding the Chinese Internet updated edition". MCLC Resource Center.
  7. ^ Joyce C.H. Liu; Nick Vaughan-Williams (21 August 2014). European-East Asian Borders in Translation. Routledge. pp. 171–. ISBN 978-1-135-01153-6.
  8. ^ Iana; Domain Names; Icann; Net Neutrality; Fcc; officials, Maybe China's on to something: Clickbait articles now need to be 'verified' by; center, $15m renames Harvard; deal, Rightside: No domain. "Maybe China's on to something: Clickbait articles now need to be 'verified' by officials".
  9. ^ "Why Xi Jinping's Media Controls Are 'Absolutely Unyielding'". Foreign Policy. 2016-03-17. Retrieved 2016-07-26.
  10. ^ Dewey, Caitlin (2013-08-12). "Wikipedia largely alone in defying Chinese self-censorship demands". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-02-14.
  11. ^ See "China Digital Times blocked" from
  12. ^ "Website chronicles China's massive effort to control Internet content". mcclatchydc.
  13. ^ Shannon Tiezzi; The Diplomat. "Details Emerge on China's Anti-Terror Crackdown". The Diplomat.
  14. ^ R Ragaini (29 June 2012). International Seminar on Nuclear War and Planetary Emergencies — 44th Session: The Role of Science in the Third Millennium. World Scientific. pp. 440–. ISBN 978-981-4415-02-6.
  15. ^ Larry Diamond; Marc F. Plattner (26 June 2012). Liberation Technology: Social Media and the Struggle for Democracy. JHU Press. pp. 77–. ISBN 978-1-4214-0568-1.
  16. ^ "Xiao Qiang".
  17. ^ FRONTLINE. "Interviews - Xiao Qiang - The Tank Man - FRONTLINE - PBS".
  18. ^ Susan L. Shirk (27 January 2011). Changing Media, Changing China. Oxford University Press. pp. 224–. ISBN 978-0-19-975197-6.
  19. ^ "Sophie Beach".
  20. ^ "Anne Henochowicz". ChinaFile.
  21. ^ "TV Biopic On Deng Xiaoping Stirs Controversy In China". The Huffington Post.

External linksEdit