New Chinese Free Speech Law Limits Chinese Citizens Ability To Participate In Free Software Development

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New Chinese "Provisions on the Governance of the Online Information Content Ecosystem" that came in effect on March 1st makes several aspects of what one could consider to be normal participation in free software projects illegal. Publicly discussing security holes in hardware or software, which could be seen as endangering national security, is no longer allowed. Submitting very badly written patches using a Chinese name has also become illegal since it could damage the middle kingdom's honor. The new provisions do not outlaw free software in general and they do encourage developers to spread "socialist values".

written by 林慧 (Wai Lin) 2020-03-03 - last edited 2020-03-07. © CC BY

Western readers won't get why this picture is highly relevant to this story. Chinese readers will but they risk imprisonment if they explain it to our western readers.

China passed new "Provisions on the Governance of the Online Information Content Ecosystem" on December 15th 2019 which came into effect on March 1st, 2020. The law puts many limits on what Linux developers, security researchers and others can say and do online. Article 6 point two makes it illegal to discuss kernel security issues on the Linux Kernel Mailing List:

"Article 6: Online information content producers must not make, reproduce, or publish illegal information that contains the following content:

(1) Content opposing the basic principles set forth in the Constitution;

(2) Content endangering national security, divulging state secrets, subverting the national regime, and destroying national unity;

(3) Content harming the nation's honor and interests;

(4) Content distorting, vilifying, defiling, or denying the deeds and spirit of heroes and martyrs; or harming the names, images, reputations, and honor of heroes and martyrs through insult, defamation, or other such means;

(5) Content advocating terrorism or extremism, or inciting the commission of terrorist or extremist activities;

(6) Content inciting ethnic hatred or ethnic discrimination, or undermining ethnic unity;

(7) Content undermining the nation's policy on religions, or promoting cults[1] and superstitions;

(8) Dissemination of rumors, disrupting economic or social order;

(9) Disseminating obscenity, sex, gambling, violence, murder, terror, or instigating crime;

(10) Content insulting or defaming others, or infringing other persons’ honor, privacy, or other lawful rights and interests;

(11) Other content prohibited by laws or administrative regulations."

国家互联网信息办公室令第5号, Article 6

What Chinese free software developers write in their personal blogs, the Linux Kernel Mailing List and community forums is also highly regulated by the new provisions:

"Article 7: Online Information Content Producers shall employ measures to prevent and resist the making, reproduction, or publication of negative information containing the following content:

(1) Use of exaggerated titles, or titles that seriously do not fit the content;

(2) Sensationalizing gossip, scandals, misdeeds, etc.;

(3) Improper comments on natural disasters, major accidents, or other disasters;

(4) Content that has sexual innuendo, is sexually suggestive, or is readily associated with sex;

(5) Content such as gore or horror that causes physical or psychological discomfort;

(6) Content inciting discrimination against groups or regions;

(7) Content promoting coarse, crass, or vulgar content;

(8) Content that might lead minors to imitate unsafe behaviors or behavior that violates social mores, or that induces bad habits for minors, etc.;

(9) Other content with a negative impact on the online ecosystem."

国家互联网信息办公室令第5号, Article 7

The new provisions are not all bad. Article 5 is all about encouraging Chinese citizens to make happy cheerful articles about their loving government:

"Article 5: Online information content producers are encouraged to make, reproduce, and publish information containing the following content:

(1) Content publicizing Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era; and complete, correct, and vivid exposition of the path, theory, system, and culture of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.

(2) Content publicizing the Party's theoretical path, directives and policies, and major decisions and deployments of the Party Central Committee;

(3) Content presenting highlights in economic and social development, reflecting the people's great struggle and fervent lives;

(4) Content promoting the Core Socialist Values, publicizing exceptional moral culture and zeitgeist, fully presenting the uplifting spirit of the Chinese people;

(5) Effective responses to social concerns, resolving doubts and clearly analyzing, helping to guide the public in forming agreement;

(6) Content that helps increase the international influence of Chinese culture, presenting the world with the true, three-dimensional, and complete China;

(7) Other content that teaches taste, style, and responsibility; that praises truth, goodness, and beauty; and that promotes unity and stability."

国家互联网信息办公室令第5号, Article 5

The full text of the new provisions from the State Internet Information Office can be read here: 《网络信息内容生态治理规定》全文. A mostly accurate English translation is available at

How much of an affect the new provisions will have on China-based free software developers is yet to be seen. Chinese technologies like the EROFS file system could be negatively affected. Many Chinese developers post on the Linux Kernel Mailing List on a regular basis and many submit useful patches for existing as well as new technologies. It is sad that these new provisions could discourage them from future participation in free software projects.


  1. Islam and Christianity are cults as far as the middle kingdom is concerned.
(0 votes)

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