Internet controls in China are now handled primarily through the powerful Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), created in 2014 as the umbrella organization concentrating and overseeing cybersecurity and internet policy under the Central Leading Group for Cybersecurity and Informatization, directly under the leadership of CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping. In 2018, the leading group was formally upgraded to a commission, called the Central Commission for Cybersecurity and Informatization.
Before the Xi era, internet controls involved a dizzying array of party and government bodies, notably the Information Office of the State Council (SCIO), the office established in January 1991 as China faced international sanctions in the wake of the June 4, 1989, crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations. The role of the office was to “explain China to foreign countries,” and the centering of internet policy there in the late 1990s demonstrates how the internet was seen as something foreign and external. By the 2000s, the Information Office was the most active agent of controls for the internet, its Internet Affairs Office regularly sending out directives to online news sites about sensitive content. It was sometime in the late 2000s that the term “Ministry of Truth” emerged among Chinese internet users as Chinese neologism to describe the system of controls on internet content. The term is a reference to the department described in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, where speech is subjected to all-encompassing control by Big Brother, the totalitarian leader of the fictional Oceania. The term has often been trucked out by Chinese journalists and internet writers since the late 2000s to refer collectively to the various agencies involved in propaganda controls.