Connect to share and comment

In China, this photo may be porn

A ham-handed directive illustrates the depths of Beijing's digital dilemma.

Two piglets at a zoo in Nanning, capital of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous region in southern China, Feb. 9, 2007. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

(Warning: This column may contain images and ideas not suitable for children or citizens of China.)

Examine, if you dare, the photograph at the top of this story.

It's right there for any man, woman or child to see: a naked couple cavorts, bare limbs draped seductively across the frame, their fleshy faces pressed together like a couple of animals. Clearly, this image is pornographic.

Or so says the Chinese government's latest attempt to regulate the internet.

If that sounds stupid, it's because it is. But by potentially treating these porcine pixels as "harmful material for the public," Beijing is straining under a self-imposed digital dilemma: how to promote the internet to boost economic growth and efficiency, while allowing the central government to maintain some degree of control over Chinese society.

If pigs are porn, then clearly the strategy still has some kinks. (More on that in a moment.)

This past week, the Chinese government issued a sweeping directive: Beginning July 1 every personal computer sold in the country must include new software that filters pornography and other content from the view of China's 300 million internet users.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Beijing aims to "construct a green, healthy and harmonious internet environment, and prevent harmful information on the internet from influencing and poisoning young people."

The software, called Green Dam/Youth Escort, is designed to keep web surfers from sites the government deems dangerous, adding one more brick to the Great Firewall of China.

Beijing already employs 30,000 people to police the web, who try to shape opinion by flooding popular sites with  positive comments about the Chinese Communist Party. It also routinely blocks sites that mention the spiritual movement Falun Gong, the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, the Dalai Lama and other sensitive topics. On the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen protests earlier this month, the government shut down Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and other popular social media sites.

But the coming imposition of Green Dam/Youth Escort has reportedly unnerved personal computer makers operating in China, such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Lenovo.