Pic: AP.

If some of those who were looking for adult entertainment in Dongguan – where a massive crackdown on prostitution took place in February – thought they could escape the government by fleeing to the virtual world, they were mistaken. After closing bars and arresting sex workers in the southern town, authorities are now turning an unforgiving eye to sex on the Internet.

On April 13, a circular released by the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications said that the government will renew efforts to clean the Internet of pornographic material. The campaign is called ‘Cleaning the Web 2014’ and will last until November, the national news agency Xinhua reported. The agency said that authorities “will conduct thorough checkups on websites, search engines and mobile application stores, Internet TV USB sticks, and set-top boxes.”

According to Xinhua, the circular stated that “all online texts, pictures, videos and advertisements with pornographic content will be deleted,” while “websites, web channels and columns will be shut down or have their administrative license revoked if they are found to produce or spread pornographic information.”

Opinions on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, are mixed. Some look favorably on the initiative. “I support this! My biggest fear is that my kid may clicks on the wrong website and watch stuff he’s not supposed to see,” wrote one user. Others are less enthusiastic, going as far as talking about a digital Cultural Revolution looming on the horizon. One user points to Japan as an example worth emulating: “Why are they controlling this! We should learn from Japan! How can we know where babies come from if we don’t watch (porn)?”

Following the Japanese example, however, does not seem a good strategy in the eyes of Beijing. In March, China’s Ministry of Culture fined Shanghai Wanke Internet Technology corporation for developing an online game which was publicized by a video of Kato Taka, a Japanese adult movie actor. The game was banned.

The recent show of toughness strikes a familiar note: ‘strike hard’ campaigns are a common tool used by Beijing to fight crime and in recent years there have been used in various initiatives against obscene websites. However, success has been limited. Online pornography – much like its real-life cousin, the so called “oldest profession in the world” – has proven resistant to Beijing’s methods.

In 2007, China launched a six-month campaign targeting  pretty much the same content that the government is now trying to eliminate. The results looked impressive. According to a 2008 piece by Xinhua, “China’s authorities shut down 44,000 domestic websites and homepages and arrested 868 people while investigating 524 criminal cases in a campaign against Internet pornography.” Besides, “another 1,911 people involved in 1,609 Internet pornography activities were penalized, while the authorities canceled more than 440,000 pornographic messages online”.

But porn sprung up again, like grass after winter, and in 2009 another initiative had to be launched. On that occasion, the People’s Daily reported that “more than 15,000 pornographic websites in the country, including some 11,000 mobile WAP sites, were shut down or blocked.” Reuters wrote that 5,394 people fell into police hands, with 4,186 criminal case investigations [..] being carried out. As the agency observed, that was “a fourfold increase in the number of such cases compared with 2008.” But that, again, was too little, and in 2010 yet another push was underway, with authorities hissing that “companies and individuals [..] found guilty of distributing pornography would be punished and details would be made public.”