Walking the Great Firewall

So having access to a VPN, I can surf the web and have full access to all of the websites I normally enjoy in America – Facebook, Youtube, Wikipedia and a few select others blocked here. I had to pay a few bucks, and the internet speed is slower, as I’m connecting to a remote server in Washington, but it’s been reliable thus far. Interestingly, Wikipedia is NOT blocked here and is in full form, as far as I can tell, however IMAGES are blocked from viewing through regular Chinese internet providers. No maps, no pictures, just blocks of text. At first, it was baffling to me – if you want the site blocked, then block it. Don’t block just part of it. But the answer only just occurred to me – most Chinese don’t have internet and of those tha do, the vast majority can’t read English….And of THOSE, only a scant few have any proficiency. So…A site chock-full of information Beijing might not want people to know about that they can’t READ and can’t skim for interesting tidbits thanks to no pictures just isn’t going to generate interest and so is pointless to block. It’d be like the serpent handing Adam the Urdu version of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He’d use it for toilet paper and go back to naming stuff. And what’s more, the idly curious Chinese citizen who might catch a whiff of "internet lockdown" can see for themselves that "the government has done no such thing! Why here’s this great tome of information here if I want it – Western propaganda is right! Now back to browsing QQ…" Good move, China.

That said, there does exist a Chinese version of Wikipedia, with all of 3,800 articles, compared with nearly 190,000 in the English version. Which raised the question in my mind – since Wikipedia can be written on and edited by anyone, who writes the Chinese version? Well shoot; who would care to put forth a tome of information in the Chinese script, associated with the world reknowned Wikipedia label to give it a degree of legitimacy, and in a format perfectly convenient for the average Chinese citizen to read?

I do believe there are both passive internet filters here – the Great Firewall of China, as is noted, and active filters of some sort or another. As has made the news recently – China’s interior police spending outstrips its military defense budget. I shouldn’t be surprised but I sort of am, as well, being used to full net access with no concerns whatsoever. But when a page I load using my VPN works fine and loading it simultaneously using filtered net service shows "Problem loading page – the connection was reset" in the Firefox browser…Clearly I’ve hit something a filter deemed inappropriate. That said, it’s not a consistent filter – as I’ve been typing I’m using Yahoo! Babelfish to translate the Chinese Wikipedia page on Tibet – if there’s propaganda to be found it’s going to be here – and while at first I met with success, suddenly the "page cannot be displayed."  Lolcats.

I wonder if I’m actually worth monitoring or the filtering systems here are just far more complex than passive firewalls in America. Considering I still have net access and guys in suits haven’t come knocking on my door or calling the school telling me to desist (which apparently does happen), I’d say it’s b.). I’m not enough of a techie to really try and figure out how they work, but it’s interesting business, that’s for damn sure. One of the reasons I came was because I wanted to see what life was like behind a curtain and really, the Chinese get by fine, if a bit insulated because they hear what the government wants them to hear. For instance, regarding the Middle East protests, the CCTV broadcasts have always made it clear that the unrest has done nothing but promote social disorder and has focused on the riots, lack of food and water and loss of life, rather than the promotion of democracy. Not surprising, given alleged calls for a "Jasmine Revolution" here. Something I’ve heard zero evidence of in Jinan and doubt would ever take wing, given that internal police budget.

I don’t think option a.) is all that paranoid either, however. By the law, I have to inform the government if I’m leaving the city for more than 24 hours and if traveling have to keep them abreast of every stop I make. Not like in most places where once you’re in with a good Visa, you can pretty much go where you want. That said, I’ve yet to be stopped by police and asked to produce my visa – thankfully, considering my job has had it for most of my stay doing various paperwork type things and if I HAD been stopped I could go to jail.

My, my, my…The internet here is just so cranky…I really should do what Firefox says and check with my service provider >_> NOT. Or just run two windows with VPN and see why I can’t get this next sentence translated…

Riots occurred in Lhasa March (officially known as the People’s Republic of riots in Lhasa), the Chinese government’s Tibet policy initiated by an aggrieved party demonstrations and riots, police eventually turned into a bloody conflict, the Government of the People’s Republic 3 7 May declared martial law in Lhasa, and the PLA forces deployed Wuzhuangjingcha implementation of martial law. The incident 387 people were killed and 721 injured. According to Lin Heli in

Well…This suggests to me that the Chinese Wikipedia is NOT government-edited. This is not something Beijing would want a curious reader navigating the page on Tibet to read. At first, I was a bit baffled (in case you can’t tell, I’m writing as I’m doing my research), however upon attempting to load the page using filtered internet, it first loaded only the history of Tibet until 1949 and then the page cut out (also, the imagery was blocked, as per normal Wikipedia pages). And when I tried loading it a second time – grey screen of death. I’m waiting a few seconds…And now reloading…It’s attempting to load but it’s incredibly slow – clearly the active firewall agent has caught on as only the title page has loaded this time and now nothing at all about Tibet is displayed.

Incredible. I better stop if I want internet access at all! That said, I’m a Westerner, not a citizen – they’re not keeping my from learning anything about Tibet I don’t already know or suspect. From what I understand, they only have a problem when foreigners start sharing "ideas" on "sensitive issues" like Tibet, Xinjiang and religion…which I have yet to do. Still. Incredible.

I wonder if I will be able to post this page, or will I get CONNECTION RESET – CHECK INTERNET SERVICE. Grey screen of ignorance. Better Copy this page in case I need to save it as a .doc file!

Categories: china, musings, UncategorizedTags:

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