Wong’s article was about, of all things, infant formula. Specifically, it was about how Chinese parents with connections and money scramble to buy formula abroad, even though there is plenty available in China. They hire people who will go into stores in Britain and elsewhere and buy formula for them. Or they buy formula that has been smuggled in from Hong Kong — where smuggling infant formula is now a serious crime. Mainly, Chinese parents want to ensure that the formula they are feeding their babies has never been touched by a Chinese company.
.. Chinese consumers don’t trust a lot of Chinese-made goods. In recent years, there have been food scandals surrounding cooking oil, eggs and meat, for starters. A few months ago, according to Time magazine, three people were caught processing pigs that had died of infectious diseases. A few years ago, contamination of Chinese-produced heparin, the blood-thinner, was linked to 81 deaths. Chinese consumers don’t even favor Chinese cars — foreign models dominate the market — because they fear that someone may have taken a shortcut (or worse) that will cause the car to die.
Are all criticisms of the government then prohibited? Not exactly. Despite Beijing’s willingness to devote considerable resources to controlling internet content, the government simply cannot ensure that all objectionable content is removed all the time. So they prioritize. Researchers at Harvard found, in a study published earlier this year, that Beijing tolerates some criticism but not calls for collective action. Complain about government corruption? No problem. Attempt to organize a protest on Sina Weibo? No way.
.. In effect, China has two parallel levels of censorship. The first is the relatively free-wheeling atmosphere of sites like Sina Weibo, where the government uses paid advocates — prisoners, for example, can get their sentences reduced by writing pro-Beijing content online — and selective censorship to prevent objectionable content from gathering momentum.