China Beat Mailbag: Are You Having Problems Searching the Renmin ribao?

The following message was sent to us earlier today by a reader who requests to remain anonymous; it has also been posted to the MCLC listserv. If you have experienced similar problems accessing the Renmin ribao database, or if you have any information about why the database is problematic, please contact us by writing to thechinabeat[at]gmail[dot]com.

On Friday (Feb. 24, 2012), I attempted a search of my university’s library-subscribed, full-text-searchable database of Renmin ribao (People’s Daily), provided to us by OriProbe Information Services. The term I was searching for was “xinao” (洗脑, brainwashing). Although the search produced a list of results, each time I clicked on an article title or attempted to navigate to another page of results, I lost my connection. At first I thought that the OriProbe site was simply experiencing technical difficulties. However, subsequent searches using other terms proceeded smoothly. Suspicious, I began testing the database with a variety of searches, some politically sensitive and some not. Searches for “Falungong” and “June 4” (六四) consistently resulted in terminated connections; searches for other terms (e.g., “very good,” “labor,” “class struggle,” and “newspaper”) were fine. I have been checking repeatedly all weekend, and as of this morning (Tue., Feb. 28) the problem remains.

I have alerted the East Asia librarian at my university and have begun spreading the word to others in the field. China scholars may not have much power to change the PRC state’s practice of Internet censorship within China, but we should have some influence over the policies governing the very expensive databases to which our libraries subscribe.

If your library subscribes to this or other databases (Duxiu, for example, seems to have the same problem), would you please run some test searches and then inform your librarian of any restrictions you face?

Please note that the search may produce a list of results; make sure to follow through by clicking on an article title—that will probably be the point at which the connection drops. Of course, it’s possible to copy the titles of the articles in the search results and then start a new session in the database and search for individual titles in order to access the articles. It’s usually possible to get around this kind of thing one way or another. But there is a larger principle at stake here, and it would be good if we could make a collective fuss about this.

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