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How Blockchain Technology Is Used to Get Past Chinese Censors


In this Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, photo, people use the Bitcoin ATM in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
How Blockchain Technology Is Used to Get Past Chinese Censors
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Chinese internet users have found a way to get around government suppression of news by using blockchain technology.

Blockchain is the name for an official list of transactions carried out between users belonging to the same network. Blockchain permits transaction records to be checked and stored securely.

Blockchain technology has received a lot of publicity in recent years because of its relation to cryptocurrencies.

A cryptocurrency is a kind of money that does not exist in the form of bills or coins. It is not overseen by banks or supported by governments. It is exchanged digitally between buyers and sellers using secret codes for security. Two of the most popular cryptocurrencies are bitcoin and ethereum.

Cryptocurrency amounts are created by developers through a method called mining. This is when users lend computing power to record the exact same transactions to form a blockchain.

Chinese internet users turned to blockchain

Some internet users recently turned to blockchain to publicize a Chinese vaccine scandal. A Chinese drug maker was found to have produced poor quality vaccines meant for young babies.

A clinic staff shows boxes of Infanrix and Pentaxim vaccines for infants at a children's clinic in Hong Kong, Tuesday, July 24, 2018, as they see a rise in the number of mainland parents bringing their children to Hong Kong for vaccinations following the
A clinic staff shows boxes of Infanrix and Pentaxim vaccines for infants at a children's clinic in Hong Kong, Tuesday, July 24, 2018, as they see a rise in the number of mainland parents bringing their children to Hong Kong for vaccinations following the

The company was identified as Changchun Changsheng, one of China’s largest vaccine manufacturers. Last year, the same company was ordered to stop production of several kinds of vaccines due to poor manufacturing methods.

The information was uncovered during an investigation by an unidentified reporter, who published a story on the internet. The story said Chinese officials had discovered production problems as early as November, but did not admit their findings or announce any action against the company until July.

The news spread across social media in China. But the story was quickly censored by the Chinese government. Other attempts to republish the story were not successful.

Several technology publications have written about how members of China’s blockchain community got involved to keep the story alive.

U.S.-based technology publication The Verge reported a user of the ethereum system moved a small amount of ether into the user’s own address. The owner of the address then added the censored vaccine article to the blockchain transaction’s metadata, The Verge said.

The metadata information is public. Since the ethereum system is decentralized, it can only be controlled by the people who are part of it. This publishing method prevented Chinese government censors from blocking the story.

A visitor to a hospital looks at a poster with information on rabies vaccine in Beijing, China, Monday, July 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A visitor to a hospital looks at a poster with information on rabies vaccine in Beijing, China, Monday, July 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

​Once the story was out, it did not take long for Chinese officials to start officially commenting on the investigation into the company’s activities. At least 15 individuals connected to the company have been detained as part of the investigation.

Chinese state media reported the country’s Food and Drug Administration had discovered the drug maker had been falsifying production and inspection records.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said in a statement the company had “violated a moral bottom line.” He promised the government would strongly “crack down” on any violations that could endanger public safety.

The latest vaccine case was not the only major incident involving blockchain publishing. In April, the method was used by student activists to publish an open letter written by a student who said she had been sexually assaulted. The student accused officials at her college of threatening her and taking steps to prevent her from going public about the case. The letter was quickly censored when released, but the blockchain version still remains public.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

transaction n. an occurrence in which goods, services, or money are passed from one person or account to another

network n. system of computers connected together for the purpose of sharing information

digitally adj. showing information in electronic form

scandal n. an occurrence in which people are shocked and upset because of behavior that is morally or legally wrong

censor v. examine books, movies, etc. in order to remove things considered to be offensive, immoral or harmful to society

metadata n. information given to describe or help people use other information

decentralized adj. used to describe organizations or activities not controlled from one central place, but happening in many locations

crack down v. take strong action to stop something

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