on Mar 6, 2007
In the comments of yesterday’s post on the China Firewall, dishuiguanyin left a detailed comment here that gives some perspective from how thins work from within China. I thought this was so interesting that I’m quoting it here:
1. The two main ISP providers in China use slightly different blocking software/techniques. Thus, it is frequently possible for a site to be blocked for those using China Telecom but visible when using China Unicom. Leads to much fun and confusion.
2. The Great Firewall is constantly evolving. Sites appear, disappear and re-appear all the time.
3. It’s not like there are thousands of censors sitting around scanning the internet for any mention of banned or dangerous topics. If your site mentions politics, democracy, or even economic theories (including the economic validity of communism) they don’t care, especially if you post on multiple topics. The Chinese government is well aware that there are huge range of perspectives in world, and they aren’t stupid enough to try to protect their citizens from this fact. They are secure in the knowledge that any Chinese citizen who can read and debate politics, religion or economics in English must be highly-educated, and thus belong to the most indoctrinated segment of society (political theory plays an important role in education at all levels from kindergarten to post-graduate studies).
4. However, if you happen to hit on a particularly sensitive topic, for example the suppression of peasant riots in Dongzhou, Guangdong while that suppression is still going on, then you will find yourself blocked. At least while the post remains on the front page. The government is worried about specific contradictions to their official reports being offered up by bloggers and internet pundits.
Highly specific challenges are considered dangerous, not general ones.
5. That said, some topics will get a blanket ban. Temporary if your website covers a variety of topics, permanent if your website is focused. Permanent bans are in place on: Free Tib*t, F*lun G*ng, and Hum*n Rights W*tch amongst others. (You’ll notice that I’m even nervous about typing those words into the comments here.)
6. Mainstream foreign news sources are barely censored at all. Ok, so we can’t access the bbc.co.uk/news/ page (I think that’s a grudge ban, as the CCP has never forgiven the BBC for their ‘The Dying Rooms’ documentary in 1996), but we can download and listen to all BBC radio broadcasts. I can read a huge variety of news, analysis and comment about China online through The Guardian, The Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post and many others. I could even view that video of Tibetan refugees being shot trying to cross the border a few months ago – suppressed in the Chinese media – by going to a Canadian news site (CBC.com maybe?)
7. Traditionally, the CCP has seen blogs as dangerous. Nobody is regulating them, anyone could write about anything, they don’t have time to read them all, etc. They’ve tended to deal with this by banning blogging platforms. However, that strategy appears to be being refined nowadays. Geocities was banned for years, but has recently reappeared. The same goes for blogspot and typepad. Blog-city was originally visible, then it was banned for about a year, then it reappeared. Blogware was visible, but was banned about six months ago. The same goes for wordpress. Livejournal disappeared behind the firewall four days ago – on Saturday.
I used to blog on blog-city, when that was banned I moved to blogware, when that was banned I moved to livejournal. Now LJ’s banned and I’m starting to get a bit annoyed.
The best rule of thumb is: if you have your own domain name (as Shamus does) then you’re pretty safe from the firewall. If you blog on a url provided by one of the platforms you could easily find yourself disappearing.
8. Right now the National People’s Congress is meeting in Beijing. This is traditionally the time of year when internet controls are at their tightest. Thus, I’m hoping that the current LJ block will prove to be a temporary one and disappear once the meeting is over, because I really don’t want to have to migrate my blog again.
(For the incredulous, I checked the IP of this comment and it does indeed come from China, for what that’s worth.)
Thanks so much to dishuiguanyin for the interesting perspective.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.