China isn’t censoring Shakespeare: Blogger factchecks NYT lede

Shanghai-based American writer Adam Minter, writing for his blog Shanghai Scrap, did a bit of factchecking into a New York Times lede that claimed China was censoring Shakespeare quotes said on cell phones.

The lede in question, from a March 21 NYT story titled “China tightens censorship of electronic communications“:

“BEIJING — If anyone wonders whether the Chinese government has tightened its grip on electronic communications since protests began engulfing the Arab world, Shakespeare may prove instructive.

“A Beijing entrepreneur, discussing restaurant choices with his fiancée over their cellphones last week, quoted Queen Gertrude’s response to Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The second time he said the word “protest,” her phone cut off.

“He spoke English, but another caller, repeating the same phrase on Monday in Chinese over a different phone, was also cut off in midsentence.”

Minter was suspicious, and performed his own test: he call fived individuals in China and twice repeated each of the following: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks;” “I like Bob Dylan’s protest songs, the most;” and “PROTEST PROTEST PROTEST!”

He wrote “In all five cases, the connection was sustained and the staff was subjected to varying degrees of bewildered responses”, including:

a) Foreign Shanghai entrepreneur: “Is this about the  upcoming Bob Dylan show?”

b) Shanghai school teacher: “Are you drunk?”

c) Beijing-based foreign correspondent: “I thought that story was bulls*** too.”