The harmless, soft-spoken Peking Duck is being banned by this filtering system, apparently being employed by a US company in China to filter the Web sites its employees can visit:


The writer in China who brought this to my attention, whose identity I will leave anonymous, sent me the following email:

I recently changed the server that in the US to connect to the internet, and suddenly I couldn’t get in to Peking Duck at all

I’ve had trouble reading your site before from one or two different servers that I’ve been using in the US but this is the first time that I have actually had a message saying that your site has been blocked. Usually I’ve just not been able to get through and have presumed that it was just a busy time or something. This would explain why I’ve had such trouble reading your site before.

I’ve had similar problems with Seelai because of the pornography on that site when I was using a server that I knew had a net nanny installed, but I’ve never seen an ISP block an advocacy groups site before, at least not an nAmerican ISP.

This company isn’t my ISP and I’d never heard of them before, but whoever they are they wouldn’t let me see Peking Duck from the computer in my apartment. If they are a blacklist provider, then they could potentially have supplied your website’s name to hundreds of ISPs by now.

It is certainly not good news if liberal sites are being blocked by US companies, who knows how many other liberal blogs are blocked.

This is really creepy. I’m okay with the CCP trying to block my site (though they wouldn’t bother, since it’s in English), but US companies in China? I just don’t get it….

UPDATE: The emailer who informed me of this wrote to correct a misimpression I had. This censorship occurred in the US, not in China, which makes it even creepier.

Mark hypothesizes that it might have been cause by my “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Kerry” banner, but I’ve had anti-Bush, pro-Kerry stuff on here for ages. I’m not convinced…

The Discussion: 23 Comments

Yes Richard, this is very interesting. If you go to peacefire.org, you can read some criticisms of WebSENSE.

It may be due to computer error that Peking Duck as been blocked, or it may reflect a political bias by the American companies in China that are responsible for the blocking.

According to the peacefire.org site:

“WebSENSE shows evidence of applying a double standard in deciding whether to block a site as “hate speech”. Their category descriptions page gives the following definition for the “Racism/Hate” category:

Sites that promote the identification of racial groups, the denigration or subjection of groups (racially identified or otherwise), or the superiority of any group.

In May 2000, Peacefire anonymously created several “anti-gay” Web pages on free sites such as GeoCities, each site consisting entirely of quotes taken from the Web site of a prominent conservative group such as Focus on the Family. Using anonymous HotMail accounts, we submitted each of these pages to WebSENSE for review. WebSENSE agreed to block three of the four nominated pages as “hate speech” (we did not receive a reply regarding the fourth page).

We then told WebSENSE that four prominent right-wing Web sites were the sources of all the anti-gay quotes on the four Web sites that we created, and asked whether those sites would be blocked as well. WebSENSE did not respond, and did not block the four conservative groups’ home pages.

The archives of our correspondence with WebSENSE during this experiment, and the records of where we found the quotes used to create the anti-gay “bait” pages, are online at http://www.peacefire.org/BaitAndSwitch/.”

If you are being blocked under the category of Advocacy Groups, then it is thus quite possible that what we have here is a deliberate attempt by US companies of a Republican bent to minimise the number of readers who are exposed to Peking Duck – which is, by and large, very critical of the current US administration and its policies.

I am not one who is prone to embrace wild conspiracy theories, so let us hope that the blocking of Peking Duck is merely the result of computer error – otherwsie, what we have here is something quite insideous, something far more Orwellian in its nature.

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

January 26, 2005 @ 8:05 pm | Comment

Very interesting, Mark. Thanks for the great research.

January 26, 2005 @ 8:17 pm | Comment

That’s really abhorent, for a company to make money off of oppressing people through censorship.

January 26, 2005 @ 10:43 pm | Comment

The explanation wasn’t too clear, but if I interpreted it correctly, this person is using some sort of VNC to access the internet through a US-based server, probably on a company machine.

American workplace harassment laws are so broadly written that employees can successfully sue companies for hostile workplace policies for political statements.
For example, Pakizegi v. First Nat’l Bank (D. Mass. 1993) found that an employee’s picture of the Ayatollah Khomeni in her cubicle was “national-origin harassment” of an Iranian employee who happened to walk by the cubicle.

Now combine that with precedents that can get employees fired if their webcaches or logs indicate that they have viewed websites that can contribute to a “hostile work environment.”

So the logical thing to do is to ban advocacy sites (note that Pekingduck isn’t classified as a hate site, and for the vast majority of its work, Websense uses spiders and data mining software to try to categorize every site in existence).

So the solution is to use your own computer to view non-work-related sites, on your own internet connections, on your own time.

January 26, 2005 @ 11:42 pm | Comment

Yes, well, look, it may be censorship. We really don’t know at this stage. We have to remember that approximately 25% of all those sites that are blocked by WebSENSE are done so without any direct human input. So the fact that Peking Duck has been blocked could very well be the result of a computer error. The fact that Richard has included a Democratic advertisment of sorts – the “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kerry” sticker at the end of these January threads, could in iteslf have resulted in this site being blocked as an “Advocacy Group”. If so, it nevertheless refelects a political bias, but still – this is what also could have triggered a computer block.

Otherwise, it is possible that the American company in question – the company operating here in China – could have blocked it. Maybe the management of this company is very pro-Republican, and doesn’t want its employees to read this site? Who knows? If thisd is the case, then it really is unacceptable, on moral and philosophical grounds.

It has to be one of these two possibilities though, I would think. As I said earlier, let’s hope it is merely the result of a computer error.

Mark Anthony Jones

January 26, 2005 @ 11:43 pm | Comment

Yes, I just read your comments here Boo. I guess you are right, though Peking Duck is hardly an advocacy group as such. However, as I said, the inclusion of Democratic Party stickers like the “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kerry” sticker might in itself warrant the classification.

Who knows?

Regards (again),
Mark Anthony Jones

January 26, 2005 @ 11:49 pm | Comment

Anyone to bring that up on slashdot? ACLU won’t do anything since it happens in private sector.

January 27, 2005 @ 2:00 am | Comment

This is hardly the first or even 100th case of Corporate America conspires together to make money out of censorship. For example, CISCO Systems (Nasdaq:CSCO) ripped huge profit for its role in lucrative China contract to build the notorious Great FireWall and censor the Chinese cyberspace. Other companies also have a share in the China scandal.

If my fellow progressives can forgive me quoting William Kristol’s brain child, then it’s here.

January 27, 2005 @ 2:09 am | Comment

Yes, this a good point Bellevue. I will follow up on this lead of yours. Thanks.

Interesting observation of yours too: that even censorship itself has become a commodity. Very insightful indeed.

Mark Anthony Jones

January 27, 2005 @ 2:38 am | Comment

I was extremely tired last night when I commented — everything blurred together and I came under the impression that Websense was helping China block advocacy sites from their own people. My bad.

January 27, 2005 @ 8:41 am | Comment

I checked out the peacefire.org site and was so disgusted by what I read, I wrote websense an email at info@websense.com. It won’t do anything (as my students always tell me when I castigate them for not getting involved in any cause) but I feel better.
“How can you possibly claim to “provide filtering solutions to help companies productively use the Internet” by deliberately blocking sites and information as a prostitution service for some of the most appalling regimes on earth? Productive perhaps for those ruling Saudi Arabia and China. I am currently working in the latter, and it is groups like you that help the regime maintain its oppressive grip on power. Perhaps it is not simply irony to see that you offer links to porn sites while betraying the principles of freedom of speech that you no doubt cherish yourself. But then, money overrides such quaint ideas nowadays, doesn’t it?”
As some of you know, I do go over the top sometimes, but it gets me so angry when people in the West (not just Yanks) go on about how civilised they are and all the various principles of justice and democracy and freedom they enjoy while undermining such principles everywhere else. OK, we did teach the natives the value of anglobalisation in places like Bongo-Bongoland, but it wasn’t all tea and crumpets.

January 27, 2005 @ 4:13 pm | Comment

Laird, for all the hot air expended by Bush about “freedom,” the truth is that it’s all about money (and maybe power, too). All our morals go out the window when dollar signs enter the equation. Sad but true. Thanks for the great comment.

January 27, 2005 @ 4:40 pm | Comment


“This is hardly the first or even 100th case of Corporate America conspires together to make money out of censorship. For example, CISCO Systems (Nasdaq:CSCO) ripped huge profit for its role in lucrative China contract to build the notorious Great FireWall and censor the Chinese cyberspace. Other companies also have a share in the China scandal.”

Wow, CSCO making a huge profit now? I have owned CSCO stocks long before them reached $75, right now its still lingering at $18. Just when and what huge profit were you talking about? I am curious to know.

January 28, 2005 @ 8:35 am | Comment

JR, Cisco is a highly profitable and cash-rich company. Their stock, like every other high-tech company’s, got taken down to a more realistic level when the IT bubble burst in 2000. They remain one of the most profitable IT companies in the world.

January 28, 2005 @ 8:49 am | Comment

I know Richard, I sold most stocks after Bush became the president in 2000, and bought back extra CSCO stocks right after 9/11. Its been doing RELATIVELY well from that point, it was like $11? Now its $18.

January 28, 2005 @ 8:55 am | Comment

The problem, JR, is that you are pointingt to Cisco’s stock price as a measure of profitability when in reality that is a false measure. Priceline’s stock kept soaring and went over 100, when they were losing money each and every day. Same with most Internet stocks back then. A stock price reflects public confidence, not the financial realitites.

January 28, 2005 @ 9:02 am | Comment


That is a major fallacy of investing. Specualtion is one thing, many people knew the Tech stocks were bubbling before the big bubble was finally bursted. It is one’s fault to buy stocks with no regards to their real profitablity, for example the priceline.com. The concept of speculation is the very same “wrong” concept to think the stock prices are not related to their performances. Stock prices rises and falls according to the predictions of investors and their actual profit or loss. Don’t buy stocks because of speculations, buy stocks because they are undervalued in relate to their actual performance, i.e. profitablity.

January 28, 2005 @ 9:27 am | Comment

Profit can and certainly does influence the stock price. But you can never say, “This company is profitable, just look at its stock price!” Well, you can say it, but it would be dumb. Remember how this started: You faulted Bellevue for describing Cisco as profitable. As proof, you pointed to one thing, Cisco’s stock price. And that is an incorrect measure of whether a company is profitable. Stock prices are often cyclical, rising in a bull market and falling in a bear market — often irrespective of how profitable they are.

January 28, 2005 @ 9:32 am | Comment

A smart investors seek realism, know the subjects well and find what is their profitability, their current values and real values, and the future potentials.

January 28, 2005 @ 9:35 am | Comment

“Just when and what huge profit were you talking about? I am curious to know.”

I didn’t say Cisco wasn’t profitable at all, I just want him to explain the specifics of the hooge profit he was talking about.

January 28, 2005 @ 9:37 am | Comment

JR, there is no question that Cisco is a hugely profitable company. End of argument. The way you phrased your question, it sounded like you were criticizing Bellvue for saying Cisco enjoys huge profits. It does enjoy huge profits. It may be less profitable than in 1998, but they are still a big moneymaker. Enough.

January 28, 2005 @ 10:11 am | Comment

Huge profit is a relative term, one can debate CSCO had made “huge profit” before. However, there is no way CSCO should be considered a HUGELY profitable company, in both relative or absolute sense.

January 28, 2005 @ 10:23 am | Comment

Cumulatively, it is an accurate thing to say Cisco is a hugely profitable company. Maybe less profitable the past five years than the previous five years, but all in all it is hugely profitable. End of story. I’m not saying this to defend Bellevue, just to instill a little clarity.

January 28, 2005 @ 11:38 am | Comment

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