The banning of blogs in China

It was only about 15 months ago — back when this blog was hosted by blogspot — that I had my first personal experience with the CCP’s censors. It was a rude shock to wake up one morning to find I could not access my own blog or any others on blogspot.

From that day on until I uprooted to Singapore, I could never again see my own blog except via proxy servers, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. (There were some odd days when, inexplicably, I would be able to access blogspot sites. But within a few hours, without fail, they’d be inaccessible again. I called it Chinese water torture.)

Four days into the ban, I still wanted to believe there was hope, and that maybe enough coordinated outrage would impel the man behind the curtain to end the ban.

Yes, it appears the Chinese government has imposed a permanent nationwide ban on all Blogspot.com sites. At least, after four days, the story has spread. Maybe the blogger outcry will convince our leathery leaders that a staple for a robust and thriving society is the free exchange of information. Are they really afraid that some “subversive” blogs (anything interesting seems to be subversive here) can cause their system to come toppling down? C’mon guys, lighten up!

Evidently my pleas went unheeded. Not only does blogspot remain blocked to this day, but as we all know, the censor’s tentacles have recently reached out to embrace local blogging services like blogcn and another of the big blogspot-like services, typepad. This means some of my favorite sites, like danwei.org, cannot be viewed in China, at least not by those who don’t know how to get around the Great Firewall.

I’ve seen all sorts of theories. I’ve read posts urging greater understanding of the CCP as well as posts advocating “violence” against the wicked system. Coming to the conversation weeks after the fact, there’s not really much I can offer that’s new, aside from my own sympathy and anger.

To me, this outrage drives home once again that freedom of speech is something the government of China is not ready to deal with. No big shock there, except we’ve all been hoping that freedoms were being expanded, not contracted. That they feel so threatened by blogs, of all things, speaks volumes to their paranoia and insecurity. And I have no patience for such nonsense, only contempt.

Just imagine being a blogger in China and suddenly having the fruits of your labors erased, seeing it all taken away from you. As Adam wrote recently:

If I were a blog owner that’s been blocked, I would be livid that all my effort is now not available to the very audience that I wish to reach. Hell, I haven’t been blocked and I’m livid as it is.

Well, I was blocked, and I can assure you that you are absolutely right: I was livid as hell. This was the first blow that caused me to question the notion that China was reforming and becoming freer. It was so nice to take it on faith and believe, but when I could no longer read my own blog, I knew the world had become intoxicated on a myth: China was still hell-bent on controlling the minds of its people by whatever means possible.

Some are posting that they expect the ban to last only a short while, that it will be lifted and things will soon be back to normal. Speaking from experience, I have no choice but to see this as hopeless naivete. I thought the same about the blogspot ban, now in its 15th month. If the censors are so convinced that these sites are worth their blocking, what on earth is going to suddeny enlighten them and convince them they were wrong? Nothing, I suspect (although I’d love to be proven wrong).

A lot of bloggers are shrouding their sites in black, a sort of cyber-armband indicating solidarity and outrage. Fair enough; I think we should be protesting, and this is as good a way as any. But again, based on experience, I suggest you not keep your hopes up too high, and get used to the fact that black may be a key color of your site design for a long time to come, if not forever.

Isn’t it terrible?

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 4 Comments

The Nanny does not care about blocked blogs. If Typepad can’t find a way to sort it out, then affected websites in China will have to find different ways to stay online.

In the meantime, here are some notes about how to get around the Nanny if you are in China.

The easiest way to get around an Internet block is to use a proxy server. Two popular proxies that are really easy to use are:

http://www.unipeak.com
http://anonymouse.ws/anonwww.html

Just go to either of those pages and enter the URL of the blocked site into the box. Hey presto, up yours Nannny!

The other way to get around the Nanny is by using an RSS feed reader instead of a web browser. Not all websites have RSS feeds, but many blogs do, and an increasing number of websites for newspapers and other traditional media.

If you see XML, Atom, or RSS on a website, it means that there is a feed from that site that you can read with a special piece of software, usually called an RSS Reader.

A recommended reader for Macs is http://www.fondantfancies.com/shrook/

For PC readers, do a Google search.

Some sites do not make complete posts or articles available on their feeds, some sites don’t have feeds at all. But feeds are becoming more common, and so far the Nanny has not yet found a way to block them.

March 28, 2004 @ 2:26 pm | Comment

Sorry, but I’m certain getting around the Great Firewall by reading blogs via rss feeds won’t last. They don’t “know how to do it” because they don’t know that there is anything there to block. All it would take would be to modify the filters (mostly by Cisco) to block any file on sites on the blacklist, but with the .rss, .xml, .rdf or .opml extentions. Dead easy with the gear they’re using. So don’t hold your breath!

I wouldn’t see the blogspot ban going away as things ‘returning to normal’, rather from the other side of the world them blocking blogs looks like business as usual for the CCP.

Oh and check if bloglines.com is blocked or not yet, if not it is the best (IMHO) web based rss aggregator I’ve found. For windows I used to use SharpReader, but switched to bloglines.com (similar interface, but better, and web based).

But then can block the web based aggregators in one swoop too if they haven’t, and adding a pattern to the Great Firewall to knock down rss feeds from banned sites is probably only a matter of time :-(

March 28, 2004 @ 4:23 pm | Comment

Bloglines isn’t blocked yet, and I use it to read all my blogs, blocked or not :)

I’m also a pessimist about the block being reverted …

March 28, 2004 @ 11:53 pm | Comment

It is terrible, Richard, but also inevitable. All the blogging community can do is keep one step ahead, which isn’t too hard.

March 29, 2004 @ 10:46 am | Comment

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