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 anonymouse.org.), 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!