In mainland China, neither the CL nor the LAPPOS addresses the issue of child pornography. It was only in the 2004 Judicial Interpretation that acts of producing, duplicating, disseminating, or displaying online obscene information graphically depicting sexual conduct of minors under 18 years of age were clearly stipulated as unlawful (NPCSC 2004, Article 6). This was highly significant, because never before had the dissemination of child pornography been specifically dealt with and punished, whether online or offline. One could argue, however, that the prohibitions imposed by the CL and the LAPPOS on the dissemination of obscene articles also cover child pornography.
The prohibition of online child pornography by the 2004 Judicial Interpretation, however, appears to be of limited scale. Acts involving publishing, selling, or disseminating child pornography will only be punished if they reach the relatively large quantities stipulated in the 2004 Judicial Interpretation. In the case of electronic obscene publications, photos, written articles or short messages, for example, the stipulated quantity is 200 or above (NPCSC 2004, Article 6(2)). Acts of downloading and storage by individual Internet users of online child pornography are not specifically prohibited, implying that the mere possession of online child pornography is not a crime. This is not in line with international practices.
The 2010 Judicial Interpretation, issued six years later, came up with more severe punishments against child pornography. It specifically dealt with acts involving the production and
dissemination of online child pornography depicting minors under 14 years of age (NPCSC 2010, Articles 1 and 2). To attract criminal liabilities, the amount disseminated is only half of that stipulated in the 2004 Judicial Interpretation for dissemination of child pornography depicting minors under 18 years of age. In the case of electronic obscene publications, photos, written articles, or short messages, for example, the stipulated quantity is 100 or above (NPCSC 2010, Article 1(3)). Again, the 2010 Judicial Interpretation did not ban the mere possession of online child pornography. Moreover, both the 2004 and 2010 judicial interpretations only mentioned ‘online obscene information graphically depicting sexual conduct of minors’ without specifying in clear terms whether such information or images are taken from real minors or are only computer-generated.
In mid-2011, US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents in New York arrested a man who had originally come from mainland China for operating websites involving the purchase of child pornography (US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York 2011). This received huge publicity in mainland China for two major reasons. It involved a crackdown on the world’s largest network of Chinese-language pornographic websites at the time (Chen 2011), and the arrest was the outcome of a joint investigation between law enforcement agencies of mainland China and the United States. However, no other joint operation has been reported since.