Archive for the ‘censorship’ Category

endangered species spotted in beijing

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

I wonder how long this bus will last:


Taken 1/18/2010, 8:45am. (For the record, the API that day was 143 and rising).

Although I imagine most readers of this blog have followed the Western media developments on the Google issue, fewer may have seen the Chinese side. To appreciate the full glory of the Chinese government-backed media spin machine, surf on over to the Global Times English-language Google feature. Many of the articles are directly from Xinhua. Some highlights:

On 1/22, the Chinese media was still pushing the “China’s internet is open” argument:

China urged the United States to respect facts and stop unreasonable accusations on China in the name of so-called Internet freedom…

“The US side had criticized China’s policies on Internet administration, alluding that China restricts Internet freedom. We firmly oppose such words and deeds, which were against the facts and would harm the China-US relations,” Ma said.

The spokesman introduced Internet development in China, saying China’s Internet is open…

The Chinese constitution protects the citizens’ freedom of speech…

So let me get this straight: it is “against the facts” to say that China restricts internet freedom?

Apparently, by 1/25, the Chinese government had determined that this was the wrong messaging strategy, because they have now shifted to “China’s internet regulation is ok because it is in accordance with both our own laws and international precedent”:

China says Internet regulation legitimate, reasonable

China’s regulation on the Internet industry is in line with the laws and should be free from unjustifiable interferences, a Chinese government official said Sunday in Beijing.

A spokesperson with China’s State Council Information Office told Xinhua in an exclusive interview, that China is regulating the Internet legally to build a more reliable, helpful information network that is beneficial to economic and social development…

Online information which incites subversion of state power, violence and terrorism or includes pornographic contents are explicitly prohibited in the laws and regulations, the spokesperson said…

This has nothing to do with the claims of “restrictions on Internet freedom”, the spokesperson stressed.

China’s regulation on the Internet industry is proved to be suitable for China’s national conditions and in line with common practices in most countries as well, the spokesperson said…

Chinese netizens’ right to express opinions within the law is well protected, and their opinions are given full consideration by the government in policy making process, the spokesperson said.

I see. So the government is restricting the internet, but somehow it has “nothing to do with internet freedom.” Forgive me for being confused. Thankfully, apparently my netizen right to express my opinion is still protected. Unless I want to do so on Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, Blogspot, Google Documents, Picasa, Flickr, etc.

censorship of google translate

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

I am a daily user of Google translate. Recently, though, I noticed that attempting to translate certain phrases will trigger a blank page / connection time out indicative of censorship. In line with Chinese censorship conventions, after the time out Google translate becomes inaccessible for a few minutes.

Here are two specific phrases I identified that trigger the time out when attempting to translate from Chinese to English. The first is somewhat understandable, although I can’t imagine why the second is. Any ideas?

“不过,最近那个网站被封了。我不知道什么时候能上。” However, that website was blocked recently. I don’t know when it will be accessible.

“英文版叫什么名字?” What is the name of the English version?

Both phrases can be translated on Yahoo Babel Fish without problem.

frozen in time – beijingair twitter feed shows exact hour twitter was blocked in china

Friday, June 5th, 2009

beijingairtwitterThe BeiingAir automatic Twitter feed is stuck at 6/2, 4:00pm, just before Twitter was blocked in China.

I’m working on some analysis for another post related to the BeijingAir Twitter feed, which automatically tweets hourly PM2.5 concentrations at a single station in Beijing.

In looking at the data just now, though, I realized that it hasn’t updated since June 2nd at 4:00pm, shortly before Twitter was harmonized in China.

It may be just a robotic scientific instrument (a Met One Bam 1020), but don’t you think it still had its feelings hurt? Let’s all hope for a prompt release of Twitter so Bam can get back to doing what it does best.

Update 6/8/09: Twitter is back, and so is the feed:

beijingairtwitter 2
Looks like Twitter was officially blocked for 5 days, 22 hours…

unprecedented internet censorship within china

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

Yesterday, the buzz among netizens was the blocking of foreign-language social networking and media sites, including Flickr and Twitter, in addition to existing blocks on Youtube and Blogspot. Hotmail and are also down.

Today, the net nanny turned to domestic Chinese sites, harmonizing a host of participatory Web 2.0 – blogging / microblogging / content generation / sharing, etc. – sites like Fanfou and Bullog.

However, unlike traditional blocks, in which trying to access a censored website simply yields a “failed to connect” or “connection interrupted” error message, these blocks are taking a different and new form: individual “maintenance” notices placed on the home page of each site. Each site’s maintenance period has a definitive end point, unsurprisingly either June 5th or June 6th. Here is an example from Fanfou:


It seems some netizens have created a public spreadsheet tracking sites “under maintenance” (Chinese only), including the maintenance period dates for each site. It has been fascinating, frustrating, and depressing to watch the list grow in real time over the last hour or so. It will be even more fascinating to track Chinese reactions over the next couple of days.

At least one blogger is calling June 2nd GFW day (h/t Global Voices); in symbolism of being blocked I’ve changed the background of this blog to black. I’ll revert back to white when and if blogspot is released within China.

twitter and flickr blocked

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

56minus1 reports that Twitter and Flickr are both blocked now in mainland China. Youtube and Blogspot (including this blog) remain blocked as well.

FYI, Herdict is a site that allows for user-reported web censorship across the globe; the China page is here.

Update 6/3/09: The New York Times is now reporting on the increased censorship:

BEIJING — China’s government censors have begun to block access to the Internet services Twitter, Hotmail and Microsoft’s, broadening an already extraordinary effort to shield its citizens from any hint of Thursday’s 20th anniversary of the military crackdown that ended the 1989 T i a n a n m e n Square pro-democracy movement.

all blogger blogs blocked in china

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Update 5/18/09: After hearing two positive recommendations from individuals I trust, I’ve invested $40 for a year of Witopia private VPN. So I’m now able to read and post to my blog like normal, as well as access all sorts of other sensitive content (including news and video) during a time in which, apparently, China will consistently ratchet up its internet censorship.

Of course, me having access is nice for me, but does nothing to address the greater issue of working towards greater information and media transparency here within China (including the issue of how to make the content of this blog available to people without VPNs or proxies). But this is a topic for another time.


All blogger-based blogs (e.g. everything that ends in are currently blocked in China. This includes this blog. I’m posting this using the Tor proxy.

Also, Youtube has been blocked for perhaps a month or more.

My guess is – assuming they are lifted at all – that these blocks will not be lifted until after a certain sensitive date early next month.

Until then, I will post as I can and try to stay connected. I need to upgrade my circumvention methodology…I’ve been using Tor off and on for a couple of years but it seems to get slower and slower. Even now I have very limited functionality because the entire page isn’t loading. In any case, if anyone has any advice on reliable and preferably free ways to get around the GFW, I’d appreciate it if you would contact me.

China can be a very frustrating place. To any of you out there who are reading this in a country that doesn’t unpredictably and deliberately stifle the free flow of ideas because of a constitutionally-guaranteed (and court-supported) right to free speech, I invite you to pause for a moment to appreciate that.

grass mud horse in new york times

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

nytimes grass mud horse
Screen capture this morning – Grass Mud Horse story is just below the lead photo

Wow. The grass mud horse made the front page of the New York Times. Although off-topic for this blog, I mention it here because a) it’s hilarious, and b) the Times’ story talks about the grass mud horse in the context of censorship, which I have written about occasionally. According to the Times, the recent explosion of the grass mud horse phenomenon has, “raised real questions about China’s ability to stanch the flow of information over the Internet.”

More info:
Global Voices – More on Grass Mud Horse

Find harmony by owning your own grass-mud horse
Hoax dictionary entries about legendary obscene beasts

new york times blocked again

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

I’m currently unable to access the New York Times online from my office here in Beijing.

My guess is that the block is due to this story: China Rights Advocate Who Tried to Aid Quake Victims’ Parents Faces Trial.

Consistent with past blockages, I can access, but not According to a commenter quoted by James Fallows, this could be because and technically have different IP addresses, and China is only blocking one.

I’ll update as I hear / discover more. Can anyone confirm this?

Last time China blocked the New York Times, it was for a few days, from around December 19th to 22nd. I wonder how long the block will last this time.

Update 2/3/09 6:00pm
After being blocked for me for the entire afternoon, the New York Times is now back up again, including the article I mentioned above.

For anyone who thinks this was just some technical glitch or problem with my computer or my network, I refer you to this passage in James Fallows’ Atlantic piece on the Great Firewall:

Taken together, the components of the control system share several traits. They’re constantly evolving and changing in their emphasis, as new surveillance techniques become practical and as words go on and off the sensitive list. They leave the Chinese Internet public unsure about where the off-limits line will be drawn on any given day. Andrew Lih points out that other countries that also censor Internet content—Singapore, for instance, or the United Arab Emirates—provide explanations whenever they do so. Someone who clicks on a pornographic or “anti-Islamic” site in the U.A.E. gets the following message, in Arabic and English: “We apologize the site you are attempting to visit has been blocked due to its content being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political, and moral values of the United Arab Emirates.” In China, the connection just times out. Is it your computer’s problem? The firewall? Or maybe your local Internet provider, which has decided to do some filtering on its own? You don’t know. “The unpredictability of the firewall actually makes it more effective,” another Chinese software engineer told me. “It becomes much harder to know what the system is looking for, and you always have to be on guard.”

I wonder if perhaps the New York Times piece, which features dozens of sensitive terms, may have automatically triggered a block requiring review before being lifted.

Or perhaps the government read my blog and was embarrassed at being called out, and so lifted the block…

censoring obama’s inaugural address

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Several media and blog sources are reporting the Chinese government’s censorship of Obama’s inaugural address. From the AP:

At one point, Obama said earlier generations “faced down communism and fascism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.” He later addressed “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent — know that you are on the wrong side of history.”

Translations of the speech on China’s most popular online portals, Sina and Sohu, were missing the word “communism” in the first sentence. The paragraph with the sentence on dissent had been removed.

Although I trust the AP’s reporting, I still wanted to verify this for myself. has a special inauguration page here:

sina inauguration page

(Interesting side note: the header refers to him as “Jr.,” which I’ve never seen in the Western media, and is not used on his official White House page.)

From Sina’s inauguration page, clicking 发表演说 takes you to a page featuring both a video of the speech and the supposed complete text (全文). Let’s take a closer look at both sensitive instances.

He says “communism” at 10:14 in the video. The video is not edited (as it was during the CCTV live broadcast), but the subtitle omits the word:

obama speech censorship 1

Original English: “Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks”

Subtitle: “他们不仅仅是靠导弹和坦克击败法西斯主义” (“They didn’t merely rely on missiles and tanks to defeat fascism”)

The text on the site is slightly different from the subtitle (“回想先辈们在抵抗法西斯主义之时,他们不仅依靠手中的导弹或坦克”), but still omits “communism.”

Now let’s take a look at the second part, about dissent. This portion starts around 12:50 on the video.

Again, the video itself is not edited, although the subtitles appear to use the word “suppress” instead of “silence.”

obama speech censorship 2
obama speech censorship 3

Original English: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent”

Subtitles: “对于那些通过腐败、欺骗和镇压异见者来攫取权力的领导人” (“To those leaders who grab power by corruption, deception, and suppression of dissenters”)

In any case, although the censorship of the subtitles doesn’t appear to be too heavy, that of the text version of the speech is. As indicated in the AP article, an entire paragraph is omitted. From what I can tell, these are lines of the speech that are omitted from the Chinese text version on

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society’s ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist. To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

I think the title of Austin’s post at the Time China blog captures very concisely the depressing irony here: “the silencing of ‘silencing of dissent‘”.

new york times blocked in china?

Friday, December 19th, 2008

nytimes blocked

I have been unable to access the New York Times all day today, either from home or from work. A friend in the US tells me that the home page currently features the story “After 30 Years, Economic Perils on China’s Path.” (Link is to the IHT version, which is not blocked here).

The apparent blocking of the NYTimes comes on the heels of the explicit acknowledgment by the Chinese government of their “right” to censor the internet:

China says within rights to block some websites (Reuters)

Is anyone in other parts of China (or elsewhere in Beijing) able to access the New York Times today?

Update 12/20/08: The Atlantic’s James Fallows conducted an informal survey of readers across China, and concludes “ is being blocked throughout China,” noting that the pattern of inaccessibility is consistent with how China’s censorship works. Earlier this year, Mr. Fallows wrote the most comprehensive article I’ve read about China’s Great Firewall.

Also, an anonymous commenter below mentioned problems accessing, but I’m currently having no problems loading that site.

Update 1/15/09: I left China on 12/20 to go home to the States for almost three weeks. Since returning to China last weekend, I’ve had no trouble accessing the Times. Apparently, the three-day ban was lifted on 12/22.