You know you’re back in China

This is cross-posted at my other site:

I’m having serious Internet issues, and to those of you who’ve been sending me messages on both Twitter and Facebook I need to apologize for the silence (and I hope you’re reading this): despite my using industrial-strength VPN Witopia I cannot get onto either FB or Twitter. I can get on all the other blocked sites I tried, including my personal blog, with no problem. Friends tell me they’re not having the same problem with Witopia so I’m guessing it’s an issue with my hotel, if that’s possible.

Whenever I visit China after a few months in the States the pattern is the same: Things here are so shiny and new and up-to-the-minute, I forget state control permeates much (or at least some) of what you can and cannot do, like freely surf the Internet. So minutes after I arrived last night I set up my computer, jumped to Facebook, and zam, the great Net Nanny reminded me I’m not in Arizona anymore.

So to repeat, if you tried to contact me by Twitter or FB messages, please understand I can’t access either right now. Please try email. Thanks.

Aside from this nuisance it is absolutely wonderful to be back in Beijing at the most beautiful time of the year. Maybe this year God will let the Autumn last a little longer than the usual five weeks…?

The Discussion: 33 Comments

Howdy! Glad you arrived safely and hope you have an awesome trip! Say “hi” to Beijing for me. I miss it, weird as that is…

September 10, 2010 @ 10:19 am | Comment

Richard, I’ve noticed Wi-Fi spots around Beijing that seem to be Witopia friendly and some that are not. There may be some configuration issue that does this, but really have no idea. Just try other locations, you should have better luck.

September 10, 2010 @ 12:01 pm | Comment

Yes, I was able to log on at a coffee shop earlier today. But at my hotel, there’s no way I can get on FB or Twitter – just those two sites. So irritating.

September 10, 2010 @ 5:53 pm | Comment

Do you know what is planned for National Day? I know there won’t be one of the huge rallies as its not a 5/10 year anniversary…

September 10, 2010 @ 6:32 pm | Comment

Witopia is an awful VPN. I used it for a year before getting fed up with its inability to access FB, Twitter, and Youtube. There are better out there.

September 10, 2010 @ 10:44 pm | Comment

I can’t remember which one I used…it was an older version because I was using an old laptop and it wouldn’t take the current. Freedur or Witopia, but the version I used was called Tunnelblik or something like that. Worked pretty well.

September 11, 2010 @ 4:59 am | Comment

Don’t be fooled by Commie Shanghai and Commie Beijing ™

September 11, 2010 @ 5:00 am | Comment

you traveled 8000 miles just to verify so called censorship? LOL

September 11, 2010 @ 9:05 am | Comment

Yes, that’s exactly why I did the 14-hour trip, to verify “so-called censorship.” Well, not exactly. I came to meet old friends and generate some business leads, too, but that’s secondary to verifying censorship.

First of all, this is about Twitter and Facebook and the relatively new, successful efforts to hard-block them. Second, it’s about Witopia and the fact that for all its benefits it’s not a panacea for getting out from under the Net Nanny’s skirt.

September 11, 2010 @ 9:38 am | Comment

Pingyao is 12 hours by train from Beijing, and 16 hours to Shanghai? Maybe I won’t go after all.

September 11, 2010 @ 1:30 pm | Comment

Shiny, new and up-to-the-minute? Who are you kidding, Richard? I’ve just returned to China after spending three weeks abroad (one week each in San Francisco, Italy and France) and Beijing is a massive let-down. Beijing in autumn? You can have it. I’d much rather spend the fall (winter, spring and summer too) in Paris, Rome or California. I took a long walk this evening along Chang’anjie and through the hutong in my neighborhood and couldn’t get over the awful stink and ugly architecture. Then a guy standing next to me on the subway platform at Hepingmen simultaneously rips a loud fart while blowing a wad of snot from his nose that lands less than two centimeters from my shoe. Unlike you, Richard, I find that to be content in China, I must dramatically lower my expectations.

On a more positive note, the weather is now much cooler here than when I left.

Alas, it’s now the beginning of yet another academic year at “China’s Harvard.” I miss the real one.

Note 1: At a very well-stocked English language bookstore in Paris last week, I purchased a copy of Jonathan Watt’s new book on China’s environment entitled “When a Billion Chinese Jump.” It’s pretty good but so very, very grim. Want to ruin your China high, Richard? Read that one. It offers no solutions.

Note 2: My subscription to Witopia expired while I was abroad and I feared the worst. Even so, their website is apparently not blocked here in the wonderful People’s Republic, and I reintalled the latest version of their software without incident. Unlike some, I’ve had no trouble accessing Facebook. (I don’t Twitter.) Indeed, both the Personal VPN and PPTP work like a charm. Those having trouble might try downloading the newest version or consulting Witopia’s very helpful Help page.

September 11, 2010 @ 2:48 pm | Comment

“Then a guy standing next to me on the subway platform at Hepingmen simultaneously rips a loud fart while blowing a wad of snot from his nose that lands less than two centimeters from my shoe.”

Merp’s in Beijing as well?

September 11, 2010 @ 3:31 pm | Comment

Modernity is in the eye of the beholder, Richard. When people describe London to me as a ‘modern city’, I think of the ancient Underground stations, the soot-stained terraces of the east-end, the Wren churches etc.. For all that, though, London is a modern city, if by modernity you mean art, fashion, politics, architecture, science etc. – but it’s modernity exists far more in the minds of the people who live, work, and play there than in the buildings and streets of the city. It is people like this that make a city ‘modern’.

Beijing I have only ever visited once, for a few days back in 2005, but ‘modern’ is not a word I would apply, and I would also hesitate to use the word ‘ancient’, despite Beijing’s undeniable historical provenance. Beijing, for all that people like to trumpet its value as a historical, cultural, or educational centre (which it is, but only to a small extent more so than Nanjing or Xi’an), is first and foremost a political centre in a country where politics is still driven by the rhymes of the mid-20th century, and its people are far more political animals than those in the rest of China. The Beijing of 2005 seemed much the same mix of grey concrete buildings as can be found in most other Chinese cities, if the last five years has seen the construction of shiny new glass-and-steel edifices, it may not have seen the emergence of similarly modern ideas in people’s heads. Beijing reminded me far more of 1959 than it did either of 2005 or of 1605.

Then you think of Shanghai, a city which is modern in every sense of the word. Yes, you find the same kind of nationalism and occasional xenophobia there as elsewhere, but in the city you meet all kinds of people from all over China. Whilst in Beijing the expats one meets overwhelmingly seem to be those who are invested to an incredible extent in China’s cultural past – a past which one suspects is part-fictional or at least unknowable – those of Shanghai are far more interested in China’s modern present. The same is true of the locals in both cities, although not to the extreme degree one finds amongst the expats.

September 11, 2010 @ 4:44 pm | Comment

Gan Lu, I like China. It’s got its positives and negatives. Some of it is shiny and up to the minutes, some of it less so.

September 11, 2010 @ 7:24 pm | Comment

I miss the real one.

Then go back there.

September 11, 2010 @ 7:35 pm | Comment

“another academic year at “China’s Harvard.””

Nothing makes me more sick than hearing people say that something in China is “China’s _____”. They are almost always emphatically not a meaningful equivalent of the thing that they are being compared to, being almost always so superior in some areas and inferior in others as to render the comparison irrelevant. It’s the kind of easy mental short-cut that the kind of idiot who still describes all Chinese prices in ‘dollars’, however many years he or she (and it’s almost always a he) has lived in China, would use.

Take for example “China’s Madonna”, Ayi Jihu ( ). Seriously, the lass is okay looks-wise, but has nothing on Madonna in terms of talent, though I’m sure Madonna couldn’t match her Chinese skills (but with practice . . .).

Another example, “China’s Dylan”, Cui Jian, in reality wrote only about an album’s worth of decent tunes his entire career (as compared to Bob Dylan, who wrote about two). If I were to think of a ‘Chinese’ musician who gets close to Dylan, I would talk about Taiwan’s Wu Bai, but in reality they are in different genres. Cui Jian may have played in Tiananmen, but he has gone a long way to put distance between himself and those times.

Seriously, folks, accept China as it is, and avoid these silly mental short-cuts (China = 70’s Japan and China = early 20th C. Germany being two more prime examples).

September 12, 2010 @ 2:25 am | Comment

FOARP I can definitely agree with your view of Beijing as being neither modern nor ancient. It’s stuck in the middle – a lot of the cultural heritage has been destroyed, whereas it didn’t feel modern to me either.

Shanghai on the other hand seemed to be a more complete city, the historical legacy sitting better alongside the modern aspects.

September 12, 2010 @ 2:50 am | Comment

FOARP: “Nothing makes me more sick than hearing people say that something in China is ‘China’s _____’.”

My placing of the phrase “China’s Harvard” in quotes was meant to suggest a sense of irony.

I once attended a lecture by a visiting professor of Chinese history who referred to Harvard as “America’s Beida” (i.e., Beida=Peking University). In spite of the fact that I earned an M.A. from PKU (a much better life experience than an academic one), I was still struck by how awful the phrase sounded to my ear. Nearly everyone in the room appeared to visibly cringe.

Richard: “Gan Lu, I like China.”

I repeat, you can have it. All of it. And may the two of you live happily ever after. Email me the address of whichever dumpy neighborhood you’re living in and I’ll send you a postcard from Paris, Rome or San Francisco. Seriously though, I envy those who find happiness in squalor. I wish that I could enjoy Beijing as much as you do.

September 12, 2010 @ 3:29 am | Comment

I think, when people use “such and such is China’s such and such”, they don’t mean to imply literal equivalence. It’s probably more akin to “Gan Lu’s university is to other Chinese universities what Harvard is to other US universities”. If Gan Lu’s university was truly of equivalent quality, reputation, and international renown as Harvard, then people would probably recognize it for such without the need for comparison. Ex-pats may not know what Beida means, but they’re more likely to know what Harvard means.

September 12, 2010 @ 7:53 am | Comment

@Gan Lu – My comment wasn’t so much directed at you as the idiots who use this phrase in earnest, almost always in an effort to hype something up to a foreign audience.

@Raj – Agreed.

September 12, 2010 @ 8:41 am | Comment

Well, I am a California native, grew up in San Diego, live in Venice and frequently visit San Francisco. I love California. It’s an awesome state with incredible natural beauty.

But I like Beijing too.

September 12, 2010 @ 4:03 pm | Comment

Too many Breeders in China.

China rethinks its controversial one-child policy

Clifford Coonan
London Independent
Sept 12, 2010

China’s one-child policy, probably the most audacious exercise in social engineering the world has ever seen, could be up for review, as Beijing policymakers worry about the effects of a population ageing fast, with insufficient numbers of youngsters to support them.

There is speculation that a gradual rollback of the policy – first imposed 31 years ago – will start next year with pilot schemes in the five provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Zhejiang and Jiangsu.

An official at the Population and Family Planning Committee, who did not wish to be named, acknowledged that a change in the rules was being discussed, but added: “There has been no news about any change in policy from the inner circle of government. Any possible change would cause a huge reaction, so the government would take very careful consideration before making any official announcement about this policy.”

Under the one-child policy, imposed as a way of reining in population growth which was running at dangerously high levels in the world’s most populous nation, most families were limited to one child.

September 13, 2010 @ 8:35 am | Comment

wow. just checked out Ayi Jihu. She was a dishwasher while I was at Cambridge, and worked all of 1/2 a block from where I lived. the Chinese restaurant she worked at was overpriced and crappy (my apologies to her parents).

Her music is, likewise, terrible. Lady Gaga I can respect, even if I don’t like listening to her stuff. Ayi Jihu is all publicity as far as I can tell and no talent. Fun story, but no substance.


September 13, 2010 @ 9:39 am | Comment

Don’t discount publicity – it can make talentless people rich.

Larry, interesting article. It will be interesting to watch what happens.

September 13, 2010 @ 2:04 pm | Comment

“it can make talentless people rich” – yes, publicists!

September 13, 2010 @ 2:44 pm | Comment


You’d better say you live in Venice, CA instead of just Venice, that might give people the wrong impression.

I actually met once a Texan who was “from Paris” and didn’t even seem to be aware that the French also have a city with that name…

September 14, 2010 @ 1:20 pm | Comment

You’d better say you live in Venice, CA instead of just Venice, that might give people the wrong impression.

Yes, we’d feel sorry for her. Venice (as in the original) is a souless place only good for tourism. Lovely to visit, but I would have to be paid to live there.

September 14, 2010 @ 8:34 pm | Comment

I’m still smarting after my 19 Euro beer in Venice…
Nice but Verona was nicer, I thought. And cheaper….much, much cheaper…

September 15, 2010 @ 7:32 am | Comment

When I talk about things in other countries that are unfamiliar to my Hong Kong friends, I often say things like, “He’s Italy’s Li Ka Shing” or “It is the PCCW of Singapore”. (Guess for yourself who or what I’m talking about!) Nothing wrong with making comparisons as long as you successfully convey your meaning. I suppose what bothers Gan Lu is that he believes those who say, “China’s Harvard” are conveying a misleading impression with unequal comparisons. And … I’ll just mention that so many people in the US use comparisons of universities like “Duke is the Harvard of the South” or “Stanford is the Harvard of the West” that in Cambridge, MA I once saw a T-shirt with “Harvard – the Harvard of the North”

September 17, 2010 @ 1:36 pm | Comment

Richard, ask admin for a one month-free VPN account,FBVPN,one of my friends works for them. don’t know whether works in hotels or not. Some hotels block pptp VPN port.

September 19, 2010 @ 12:23 pm | Comment

Thanks. Somehow my hotel’s broadband let me slip onto Facebook and Twitter today, so my fingers are crossed it’ll stay available. This was my worst trip in terms of dealing with the firewall.

September 19, 2010 @ 3:01 pm | Comment

Richard, instead of using Witopia you should look into the software that the Chinese themselves use to get around the GFW. (Most of it was probably sponsored by FLG, but I really don’t care.) In general it’s all free, it gets frequently updated, and I find the speed much better than the free VPN I used before (Hotspot).

The particular software I’m using at the moment is “Freegate” (自由门), and I’m able to access Facebook, Youtube, etc. The speed is so good that, combined with my 4Mb China Telecom service, I can watch streaming video from Western sites like Crunchyroll without any stuttering. The only problem with Freegate is trying to get the software in the first place!

In general, it always helps to have technically knowledgeable Chinese friends — they can introduce you to a whole side of the web that non-Chinese speakers know nothing about. For example, my girlfriend introduced me to one of the Chinese streaming services, PPTV. I know when Westerners complain that the Chinese internet is “too slow” they always mean that accessing sites outside China is too slow, because you can watch streams of high-def (720p) Blueray rips off of PPTV with NO stuttering! I was totally blown away. Hollywood shouldn’t be worrying about pirated DVDs — this streaming is the wave of the future. I’m able to find most of the “big” new Western Blueray releases, the only drawback being that you need to know the Chinese name of the movie. (But I can use another Chinese site for that,

September 22, 2010 @ 3:06 pm | Comment


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September 30, 2010 @ 11:17 pm | Comment

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