Archive for Internet

Google blocked in China

Perhaps it’s the approaching 17th anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square (Sunday, June 4th) or the 40th anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution (Tuesday, June 6th), or maybe it’s just another attempt by the world’s rising second superpower to put the internet’s undisputed premiere force in its place, but at some point yesterday morning Google ceased to work in China–or at least here in Beijing.

For over 24 hours, Google, in all its manifestations and permutations, was absent from my life, limiting my ability to email, search, map, and track blogs. Blogspot has been blocked since August, Wikipedia joined the blacklist back in the fall, and Technorati has been offline here since April, but the first two sites were still reachable with an online anonymizer (I used, and I had Google Blogsearch to compensate for Technorati. The sidelining of the big G, however, was too much to handle–and I began to worry how I was ever going to make it in China until December. By now, and for me, Google is basically synonymous with the internet, and therefore with a great portion of my personal and working lives.

I’ve gotten around the censors by now with a hard-core proxy-server (I’m running FoxyProxy in Firefox alongside Tor.), but even I probably couldn’t have managed to figure that out without help from the awesome Brazilian super-tech guy, Lalo, from my office. Imagine the computing skills of the average Chinese person (for city residents, about the same as the typical American of the same age, with unsurprisingly less expertise in rural areas) and it’s easy to see what a huge demonstration of strength this was on the part of the Chinese government. If even I, a foreigner who could leave the country at any time she chose, who could still watch satellite TV, make international phone calls, and subvent the restrictions to reach most websites, felt besieged and cut off from the outside world, how must Chinese citizens feel?

One of the most surprising aspects of this whole censorship experience has been that I haven’t been able to find any information about it online. Part of that might be the inaccesibility of the best search engine available, but I searched all the usual alternatives (Yahoo, MSN, A9, even Whonu for “Google blocked China” and came up blank, or just about. I did find old articles and blog posts about prior instances of the government putting on a show of power for Google (for example in October 2002–part of a long history of the power struggle between these giants), but nothing relevant to what was actually happening here right now. It made me wonder if people here are afraid that the guardians of the Great Firewall of China might brand their blog with the mark of the barbarian hordes as well, and block their sites in China. I’m not too worried about what could happen to my site….I just really want to know what’s going on!

Update (6:16pm CST June 1st): I’ve found at least one other post about the block, at Matthew Stinson’s blog, which I read from time to time.

Update (12:29am CST June 4th): Looks like Richard over at The Peking Duck has caught up with the news as well, though from the comments it seems it might not be an issue everywhere in China.

Posted by on June 1st, 2006

Goodbye and thanks for all the weird food

Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’ve been really busy–not just finishing up my research in Hangzhou, but also designing this new site. The most exciting part (besides my impending flights back to Beijing tomorrow and to New York on Thursday) is that I’ve finally gotten this photo album plugin to work. This site now has an awesome (if I do say so myself) photo page. To check it out, click on “Photos” at the top of this page…then check out any of the albums I’ve uploaded so far. More are on their way as I upload old photos over the next couple of weeks. Even cooler is that the albums each have a great built-in slideshow feature. Just click “View as slideshow” on the album’s page to watch one.

I have a number of posts lined up about how I’ve spent the past two weeks here in Hangzhou, and I promise I’ll have them all up before I leave Beijing. Some might even follow tonight.

Posted by on December 11th, 2005

Fun with Google

I came across this cool idea about how to personalize Google while browsing the blog of Ken Dyck, the guy who created xBlogThis, the tool I use to generate Technorati tags. This is definitely a concept to ponder.

Posted by on November 11th, 2005

Wikipedia falls victim to the Great Firewall

I was suitably upset when I tried to look something up on Wikipedia earlier and encountered the “site not found” message that here in China signifies not an error in the internet but rather the mark of the government’s web censors, laying the stones of what has been cutely (if not unexpectedly) termed “The Great Firewall of China.” Apparently, according to this post on ArsTechnica, the Chinese-language version of the site has been blocked since June 14, 2004, a day before the fifteenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests (and ensuing massacre). Still, until a couple of days ago, the English edition of one of the internet’s most useful sources of unfiltered information was 100% accessible from here in Beijing and throughout China.

One theory, posted on Fons Tuinstra’s blog, China Herald, suggests that the ban might be temporary (pray with me here!), related to a desire to limit access to information about assisted suicide in the wake of the death at age 101 of famed author Ba Jin, who spoke of his desire to die with dignity shortly before he passed away on October 17th.

Let’s hope that theory has more weight than I think it does. I need my Wikipedia!

An even more recent post on the China Herald page reminds me of something more immediately relevant to this blog: for some reason, since I’ve been here, blogspot sites have been given free access through the checkpoints of the Great Firewall. I didn’t take the time to theorize, instead preferring just to count myself lucky that I no longer had to access my own blog through a proxy server and happy in the knowledge that other readers in China could now find it more easily. The post in question, however, points to this blog, which suggests that Google might have conducted some under-the-table transaction with the Chinese goverment in order to enact this change, since Microsoft’s bloghosting site was not restricted here, and Google owns the Blogger service. The great site Danwei has this to say.

Posted by on October 24th, 2005

Dirty little secrets

I fell in love with the blog PostSecret from the moment I discovered it–I think it was last year. Each Sunday, Frank, the guy who runs the site, posts about ten 4’x6′ postcards he’s received from readers, postcards with secrets they’re too afraid to confess in real life and can only express in public anonymity. Some of the submissions are self-consciously hip, some are scarily strange, some mundane, some ugly, and others jarringly beautiful. Here’s one from this past week, since the blog patently refuses to archive (something that bothers me a bit, as a compulsive collector and recordkeeper). I also don’t know how I feel about the forthcoming book of secrets. This kind of thing was born on the web, and I think it should probably stay there.

Posted by on September 25th, 2005

China, this is the internet

So, this article may not be the most recent news, but I certainly didn’t know about its contents until recently, and I live here:

A year-long campaign by the Hu Jintao government to silence unofficial voices in China and to assert control over independent expression continues with an order…for all Chinese websites and bloggers to register their real names with authorities, or be closed by June 30.

Tens of thousands of Chinese use cyberspace to publish views on subjects ranging from politics to relationships, and have been able to avoid official censure by writing anonymously. But now Internet activity will be monitored in real time by Information Ministry computers. Sites and users not registered may be arrested.

From what I’ve seen and heard, no one has been arrested yet, and sites and blogs without the requisite registration information at the bottom of each page have not yet been taken offline, but the fact that this policy even exists is emblematic of the political climate here. The Chinese government tends to fall at least one step behind on regulating most things, but when it comes to the tools of oppression, they throw massive regulation at those who would have their individual freedoms long before most people have even said anything.

Posted by on September 17th, 2005