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What are the rules today, and how do you go about securing your favourite .cn domain name?
Insofar as I am aware it's a free-for-all just like com/net/org.
I have had a couple of dozen trade widget .cn domains for the past 3 years with no problems. I even host them in the UK however I am going to move them to my new Asian server alongside my .in and .asia sites.
In 2003, CNNIC opened 2nd level .CN domain names for registration [webmasterworld.com]. At that time most of the restrictions listed in Woz's post you referenced were removed/revised.
The current state of Chinese domains is much more open. The CNNIC site now contains an extensive FAQ in English [cnnic.net.cn] along with other info in English [cnnic.net.cn] as well. Essentially anyone can register a .CN name regardless of your citizenship/nationality/country of residence, as long as you adhere to the guidelines stipulated on the CNNIC site.
You can either register from the ICAAN (international registrars, but more expensive),or from a local Chinese one (much cheaper but usually less flexibility in terms of control)
What do you call cheaper?
I register through my regular company and at the moment buy for 1 year at USD $3.00 with renewals at USD $28.00 less my reseller discount which brings them in at about USD 19.00 and I have total control ovr what I can do with them.
Some (more established) registrars will add a small mark up (10yuans to 50 yuans usually), some keep the same price as the .com/.net/.org, but many smaller companies will still offer the domains at 1 yuan as this is a way for them to attract new clients and hopefully sell them additional services (such as web hosting, which is usually much higher in China than overseas).
For details please check the news release from the CNNIC [cnnic.net.cn...]
From another point, if most of Chinese spammers are using .cn websites, it's because it is almost free for them and they can register new ones as soon as the first one get banned/blacklisted etc.
I hadn't realised so many .cn names had been registered now, that's been some growth this past year or two!