Chinayouren is Free AgainWritten by Julen Madariaga on March 10th, 2011
After a few months in the shade of the GFW, I wanted to get active again on the internet, so as a first step today I have unblocked my blog. I think there has been a few quirks this morning as I was moving to the new URL and some of you might have seen weird things come up in the RSS- sorry for that.
With the previous experience of 2009 and following my own instructions, this time it has been a piece of cake, I managed to get the site completely open in less than 2 hours. Unfortunately, the GFW mechanism has also learnt since last time, and they have done a URL block on the string “chinayouren.com”, which has forced me to change my URL. My new address is: http://chinayouren-free.com, write it down.
Yes, I know, how original. It is not supposed to be a statement of any kind, nor am I trying to rub it in. On the contrary, for those of you who have been paying attention, you know the only reason my unblocks are effective is because I am not well known to the censors. The minute I start getting too smart about it I will be down again in a click. This is not a campaign, and I am not an activist.
I chose free as in FOS, because it is easy to remember, but this operation is not free at all for me. I had to pay another 10$ for the new domain, and if this continues too long the GFW officers are going to squeeze Chinayouren dry. I feel also for the guys at the travel agency “chinayouren.com.cn” who have lost all the incoming connections from out of the mainland due to the URL string reset. They are mere pawns, as it were, in an altogether larger game. 
One point that has made it easier for me to change the URL is the realization that Google is much less relevant to me than I used to think (changing URLs is bad for Google Rank). During my long absence, I have seen the hits from Google remain almost constant, so that my overall stats never went down catastrophically. But what did I get from this? Those were thousands of people coming over when I was not writing anything at all, staying a very short time on my site and not engaging with it in any way. In short, this kind of presence might be great for a commercial operation, but I conclude that a single link from twitter or weibo gets me more action than a hundred Googlers—far from killing the blog, I am beginning to think that social sites may be saving it.
The problem is the GFW knows this as well, and they are evolving fast to catch up with the times.
The New GFW
I plan to write more on the GFW, I have some thought to this recently and I might have interesting insights. Also, I guess China is changing me over the years and I don’t feel so confident anymore to “lecture” this country on their political system. I tend to think more and more in terms of concrete issues rather than on broad theories—for many reasons we will discuss, I consider Freedom of Speech is the single most important objective for anyone who wishes the best for China. And internet FOS is right there at the top of the agenda.
A few points worth noting before I close the post:
- One of the things that has surprised me on my return is that the GFW has evolved in its ways and objectives, it is bolder than ever today, but technically it uses exactly the same methods as before – the real power of the internet censors is not so much on the GFW blocking, but rather on the control they have over publishers in the mainland, as has been noted many times.
- Interesting also is to analyze the reason why chinayouren was blocked this time. In 2009 there was a very clear link between my writing on Liu XB’s case and the block. I was always convinced that my blog had been put into a sort of black list connected to that case, and I got the confirmation last November. The same week they announced the Nobel award, my whole site was put on GFW block, even though I hadn’t been writing for a long time and my “Nobel thoughts” post didn’t attract any attention.
- Finally, I will have to keep a check on my “Jasmines” and “Nobels” in the days coming.I don’t worry so much abut the use of keywords, from what I have seen I am pretty sure there is no automatic block based solely on that. But if I go with big subjects and and get media/twitter attention, down I will go with
Welcome to the new chinayouren-free, the home of the free chinayouren!
- this is a good example of how the Wall behaves in both directions. the server of that site is hosted in China as all the .cn, and you are trying to view it from outside, you are crossing the wall on the inverse direction and tripping the block as well. If you view it from the mainland without a VPN you will have no problem at all [↩]