In recent months, Chinese authorities have launched another round in its campaign to hunt down and smash "the woks"—the satellite dishes that households have installed to watch TV programs that are unavailable from official TV stations.
Publicly, the campaign is billed as "cleaning out pornography" and "removing unstable elements," and it is carried out by local governments, the police, industry and commerce bureaus, radio and TV broadcasting authorities, and cultural departments.
Behind the campaign, the authorities may have other real concerns. As Huang Qiuju, the deputy mayor of Guangsui City in Hubei Province put it in the working meeting about implementing the campaign on April 19, 2007: To remove these dishes is "an urgent response to overseas hostile forces that attempt to infiltrate and divide us. It is a necessary measure to enhance the control of the ideological field."  The campaign is to carry out the No.79 decree by State Council to "prohibit satellite woks from entering the market place," according to a news report by the Guangsui local TV station. 
In a news report about removing the satellite dishes in Shaya County of Xinjiang Autonomous Region, it stated that Shaya County (authorities) come down hard on the illegal installation of commercial satellite dishes by way of monitoring oversea programs and individual satellite receiving instruments, in order to …prevent Falun Gong members and Christian groups to spread their religious activities. 
Many "Woks" Were Smashed
Across the country, the authorities have been seeking out those who sell or use satellite dishes to receive overseas TV programs.
Mr. Zheng from Qiaotou Village, Guangfeng County, Jiangxi Province, stated that local authorities recently visited and destroyed a number of woks in several neighboring villages.
Ms. Dou from Nanjing City, Jiangsu Province, indicated that between February and April, several local government departments held a joint action to "smash woks."
In mid February 2007 local authorities including police in Xiangfan City, Hubei Province, made unannounced visits to electronics wholesale markets to confiscate satellite dishes.
According sources in Ji County, Hebei Province, the county government recently issued a public notice banning satellite dishes.
The Industry and Commerce Bureau in Luchuan County, Guangxi, confiscated satellite dishes and other accessories between April and May in a dedicated campaign.
Guangzhou City in Guangdong Province has installed advanced equipment to monitor satellite receivers in the city: "No personal shall install satellite dishes without permission."
What Do the People Say?
"The government does not want us to watch satellite channels because they are afraid that we, the people, would like a democratic system. I bet those who are banning satellite dishes all have the dishes installed at their homes. They just want to fool us, the common people," said Mr. Jin in Shenyang City, Liaoning Province.
A Mr. Wang from Ji County, Hebei Province, finds too much Party education in the domestic TV programs. "I really want to see what overseas TV programs look like."
Mr. Shen in Guoan City, Hebei Province, said "I have not watched (Chinese official) CCTV programs for a long time. With a wok, I can watch whatever I want. (Overseas) news reports are more real (than CCTV). The excuse for the ‘wok-cleaning’ campaign is ‘cleaning up pornography.’ Does it mean that satellite channels like Discovery and CNN are porn?"
In spite of the authorities’ efforts to ban satellite dishes, the retailers of satellite dishes are as busy as ever. Promotions are all over the place in cell phone text messages, Internet deals, flyers, door-to-door direct marketing, and underground trades. From households to businesses, from the remote countryside to inner-city communities, satellite dishes of different sizes and models are spreading like a prairie fire.
The upward trend, as China analysts put it, points to an increasing demand from Chinese citizens for information outside Chinese-controlled media. The authorities’ repressive censorship has driven the satellite dish market underground.
To evade confiscation by their local governments, the users install their dishes either under the window of a balcony, beside the air-conditioner, or even inside the house. Some install a reflecting plate in the house to face the window and then have the dish opposite the plate to receive the satellite signals. As a dish user puts it, "Many departments are sharing the responsibility for monitoring satellite dish use. But once there are too many parties involved, it’s very hard to control. You have your policy; I have my way (to cope with it)."
For Consumers, the Wok Saves Money
In some rural areas like Guizhou, Southwest China, TV programs are the only entertainment available. The cost for cable installation is prohibitive, and local TV signals are weak. That leaves satellite dishes as the only meaningful alternative.
In Chongqing City, Sichuan Province, the cost for digital TV is high while the cable programs are swamped with ads. With the one-time purchase of a dish, one can watch TV programs for free.
Economics drives consumption. According to local vendors, the best selling pitch is "free channels." The cost of a dish is about one or two years’ in cable fees. The lowest priced dish costs only 300 yuan, for example, in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, and over 100 TV programs are available, including almost all the Chinese domestic channels and many foreign channels. All free after the one-time initial cost of the dish. To sweeten the deal, vendors offer free delivery and free installation.
Xiao Tian is a correspondent for Chinascope.