China’s Slashdot-like political forum closed by authorities

Yitahutu (一塌糊涂), a familiar domain name for hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and alumni in Chinese universities, has disappeared from Chinese cyberspace. On September 13, The Beijing Communications Administration issued a notification that Yitahutu (YTHT) is permanently closed. In the meantime, many Chinese BBS sites announced that it is forbidden to discuss YTHT on their systems. And the YTHT domain name itself has been entered into the filtered keywords list, including on the Chinese search engine, baidu.

Founded by a graduate student from the physics department of Peking University five years ago, Yitahutu has grown into one of the largest online communities in Chinese universities. According to Chinese Wikipedia, it currently has over 700 discussion forums and over 300,000 registered users. The discussion forum topics include Taiwan , international relations, anti-corruption, legal reform, rural China, human rights, etc. It is certainly the most politically provocative online community in Chinese cyberspace. Its influence has grown beyond its own Peking University campus to become a national information network.

Notably, YTHT's attraction is its unique management structure. Usually a BBS has a group of monitors/editors (ban zhu), who are held accountable for the site's contents. They have editorial rights to control and delete the posts and kick participants out of the forum. But YTHT has a particular "democratic structure", which allows every participant to freely open a discussion forum on any topic they want to, and also to "vote" to decide which post should come up on the front page. It is a self-organizing, bottom-up editorial control structure, similar to Slashdot. Because of this technological feature, the editors cannot be held responsible for what appears on the front page. Therefore, the Internet police found their only solution was to close the whole site down.

On September 16, a prominent law professor at Peking University, He Weifang, wrote an open letter to the president of the university, urging him to defend the YTHT on the basis of freedom of expression. You can read Professor He's letter (in Chinese) on the New Century Net website here or read his article collection at TYFW.Net.


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