Real name requirement for Chinese online authors

As Amy Qin on the NYT’s Sinosphere Blog reported, China is taking new measures to force writers publishing online to register their real name. The document announcing the tightened requirements was  published on January 5, 2015 and covers a whole range of measures to “promote the healthy development of online literature” (推动网络文学健康发展).

It’s a pretty typical document, divided into three parts:  1. ideological underpinnings, principles and goals of the initiative, 2. core measures and 3. supporting measures. Here is what it has to say about the real name requirement, listed under “core measures”. Note that this is my own preliminary and rough translation, but the gist and basic structure of the section should be good enough to get an idea:

(Seven) Improve editing management mechanisms. Perfect the management system for editors of online literature, implement a licensing system, as well as build and improve management systems for the real name registration of authors of works published online, for responsible editors, and publishing units. Strengthen the ability of online literature editors to judge the direction of content and the serve as gatekeepers regarding artistic standards, reinforce the professional ethics education and professional training for online literature editors and guide enterprises in establishing evaluation measures and incentives that encourage the implementation of a system to hold editors accountable. [This latter part should be done] with a focus on clarifying the scope, standardizing procedures, strengthening supervision and tracing responsibility.

(七)健全编辑管理机制。完 善网络文学编辑人员管理机制,落实持证上岗制度,建立健全网络文学发表作品的作者实名注册、责任编辑及出版单位署名等管理制度;以明确范围、规范程序、强 化监督和责任追溯为重点,加强网络文学编辑人员内容导向判断和艺术水准把关的发稿能力建设,加强网络文学编辑人员的职业道德教育和业务培训,引导企业建立 有利于落实编辑责任制的考评办法和激励机制。

This is the seventh out of a total of eleven “core measures” listed. I might translate some of the others later and also comment some more on this particular excerpt, but in the mean time, here is a point that helps to put this section into the context of existing measures:

While the document states that the real name registration of authors must be improved, the real focus appears to be on their editors, i.e. the people responsible for the content on whatever platform online authors publish. That’s not to say that online authors themselves won’t be held accountable, but it goes far beyond that.

What we have here appears to be an extension of the responsibility system that also exists in the “regular” press and publishing sector in China. The principle behind this is to ensure that people in charge are held accountable for the mistakes of their subordinates, in a broad sense, in this case simply the authors that they chose to publish. The idea is pretty simple: By punishing people in a position of power, the CCP and Chinese government hope to drastically improve “gatekeeping” in accordance with their own standards.

For instance, in the Chinese press, if a “mistake” of some sort appears in an article, it is not only the person who wrote that article, but also the editor responsible for the page it was published on, anybody else who had the responsibility to check the content, and potentially their bosses. Note that all these people are personally held responsible, although collective fines on the medium as a whole may also be meted out. The worse the offense, the more people will get drawn into the “investigation” and be personally fined or worse. This ensures that people pay attention to the stuff that they are formally responsible for.

Similarly, each publishing unit (anyone publishing papers, magazines, books, audiovisual material etc.) has two superordinate units under the current licensing system established in 1993: The sponsoring unit 主办单位 and the supervising unit 主管单位, who have a clearly defined leadership position over the medium, i.e. they can give binding orders. These units are also responsible for the medium they sponsor or supervise; they will have to conduct investigations if anything goes wrong and may also be held accountable if things really go south to ensure that they put enough pressure on their subordinate media to stick to the rules and pay attention, that people they trust are appointed to positions of responsibility, etc. etc.

So my first impression, at least of this particular section of the document, is that the authorities want to make sure that online publishing is firmly and formally tied into this system of personal accountability where people can be traced and held accountable both downwards and upwards in the hierarchy.

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