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America against the GFW

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

I just learn from Reuters that U.S. is testing system to break foreign Web censorship. This is the first news I have that the US government is trying to outsmart the GFW. Fantastic, after the anonymous hackers now it is the most powerful state in the World that will confront the dreaded wall. The war of the internets is here again.

I am not usually supportive of external efforts to force political change in China. Democracy is like love, I say, it has to come from the inside if it is going to be true. But when it comes to breaking the GFW any help is welcome. GFW censorship is a shameful activity and it amounts to lying to the people, China deserves better than that.

Now, the only problem I see here is that the program is not looking great. I will not criticize the technical part of it, I am sure Mr. Berman has hired the best brains in Silicon Valley to ensure the solution is sound. But like in all internet applications, it is the final user’s point of view that has the last word, and from this perspective I have strong objections. Here is why I think it is dumb:

The real challenge of the GFW is not for final users to be able to access information on the web, this is already done in many easy ways, not to mention that RSS feeds are not censored and any blocked website can be read simply by opening its feed on Google Reader.

No, the real challenge is for content providers, including dissident bloggers, Chinese NGOs, discussion forums, etc. to be able to serve their content in a way that is immediately accessible to all. Because the objective of those sites is NOT to be read by their fans, but rather to spread the word into the general population. And the general population has been proven once and again too lazy to use the GFW bypasses linked above, unless it has a definite purpose to use them (usually porn).

In a nutshell: “Voice of America” is offering a service for fans of VOA to subscribe and access content that they can already access anyway. What those guys need is not to access content, but to SERVE it.

So it looks already like GFW 1 – USA 0.  I wish I could say good try, but really they are not even trying. What is this, a VOA publicity stunt? Whatever, all agencies have a budget to spend, I guess.

The War of the Internets

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

So there you are. July 1st passed without any major incident and the famous Anonymous Netizens didn’t show up. I am as blocked as ever and the Nutty Nannies of China are still running loose on the web, unimpressed by the headless suit .

I cannot say it is a surprise, frankly the chances of anything significant happening were one in a wan*. As I said in a previous post, these anonymous Netizens are not Chinese, but Western, from the mostly American chan boards, in particular chan888 (no link here, I have enough trouble as it is with the GFW to get me the hackers as well). These guys surely had some Chinese to advise them, but the initialive looks entirely Western, and the style was very similar to their -quite succesful- attacks on Scientology.

There are at least 2 reasons why their attack on the Chinese censors was destined to be a failure: In the first place, China is not a website that you can hack, it is country, and pretty massive at that. You could manage to confuse the GFW for a while with some coordinated attacks, but that would not change the - mostly offline - internal censorship of Chinese websites, which is what really matters here.

Secondly, the kind of attacks that the Anonymous do are not applicable in China, because they are based on giving negative publicity to the victim. But this country is already such an accomplished expert in creating PR trouble for itself, and in the most prominent media in the World, that one occasional attack by hackers, no matter how succesful, would hardly make any difference.

The China Internet Isle

But there is one fundamental reason why these Western initiated internet attacks have no hope of succeding here. The internet is a very powerful tool of social mobilisation, but only through the voluntary participation of the netizens in one community. The power lies not on the web itself, nor on its pirates, but on the millions of users that get connected for a common cause.

Let me remind you here of that misunderstanding that got my blog blocked in the first place: A famous New York newspaper took me for a Chinese hero fighting for Liberty, and then the censors of China agreed with it. Following that glorious moment of Chinayouren, I got some fellow fighters offering all sorts of contributions to the cause, such as banners to hang on websites. You can see some in the comments here .

It became clear to me then the little awareness in the West of the significance of the Chinese internet. The Chinese internet is not only the single largest national community of netizens, it is also a largely isolated island, with very few connections with the outside World compared to its size.

Partly for language reasons, partly because of the GFW, but I guess mostly because of cultural differences, the Chinese live on a parallel dimension of the web. They don’t use the facebooks, or Youtubes, or Yahoo news, or IRC chats. They have their own means to communicate on the internet, and this largely excludes interaction with people outside China.

And that is where the problem comes. It is the same situation for a company seeking to advertise itself on the Chinese internet as for a social movement who tries to push its way here: you need to be inside the island to have any impact. You need to understand the Chinese and they need to be part of your idea, and only when the wans of Chinese feel that this movement belongs to them, only then the internet can become the most terrible of weapons.

So yes, I do think the internet has still its last word to say in China. But I am pretty sure that when this happens, it will be a Chinese initiative.

*I coined this the other day. Wan is 10,000 in Chinese. And yes, I find it hilarious.

GFW 1st July: Waiting for my Anonymous saviours

Monday, June 29th, 2009

So OK, I am censored, but why NOW?

I mean, I haven’t been writing anything for ages, is the Propaganda Department punishing me for being lazy? Has some big Chinese BBS  linked to me recently, is Uln hot now? As I was looking around for an answer, I found out that the Peking Duck blog was blocked more or less at the same time as mine, and it was asking the same kind of questions.

That is when I got this idea of the LIST, which I wrote on their comments. Everyone knows that GFW is unpredictable, it starts and stops and nobody ever knows why, if you don’t believe me look at this funny chronology. But this random behaviour usually affects only some websites, and never touches others. So necessarily, the guys at the GFW Control Deck are working with a number of websites that have been shortlisted beforehand.

I am quite sure of the existence of this LIST, because I noticed very precisely the moment my blog was shortlisted. It happened earlier this year with that political post that was picked by the New York Times. Since then I had strange things happening, with miniblocks now and then, a perceived slower speed loading in China, and, of course that particular Chаrter 08 post has been blocked ever since (even as the rest of the blog remained open). Also, look at that weird comment in Chinese in that post, where the guy says I am interfering in China’s internal affairs… could be a troll. Or could be not.

Anyway, my guess is that this blog and the PKD’s block have probably nothing to do with our recent activity, but rather with the tense atmosphere in the censors office these last weeks, after the Green Dam fiasco and the Google affair. At some point someone must have said: “hey, let’s block some more sites”, and we were unfortunately the next names on the LIST. And, unlike Google, I am afraid sites speaking specifically of politics are blocked permanently, such as this one, or this one. I hardly imagine the censors taking the trouble to monitor our blogs every day to see if we are behaving better. So my guess is, both for me and for PKD, that the block is here to stay and there is no solution.

… or perhaps there is?


Click to continue »


Monday, June 29th, 2009


So guess what now:  I am blocked.

I am banned, prohibited, harmonized, river-crabbed. Censored, in short, by the Great FireWall of China. If you are reading my blog now and have not noticed anything strange, it is because either:

1- You are reading the blog from outside China and therefore you are not going through the GFW (Chinayouren is hosted outside China, you are on the same side of the Wall). Or else,  2- You are reading this from mainland China and you are using some means to connect anonymously and pass through the wall. Most probably a web proxy or  VPN, which is what I am using now. Click to continue »

The Shanghai Mounted Police

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

My anonymous friend N. has sent in this picture recently taken in an underground station in Shanghai Xuhui. It is a poster depicting a (Kazakh?) horseman riding with a baby just at the moment when a Shanghai policeman has engaged him in a vicious exchange of toothiness.

Government slogans are some of the phrases that I find most difficult to translate from Chinese, perhaps because they don’t usually make sense.  Anyway, here is my take:  “Policemen harmoniously build peace”. And the three sub-slogans on top:  “Penetrate the bases”,  “Penetrate reality”, “Penetrate the masses”.

Police PR campaign

Yeah, said like this, it sounds like something out of 1984, but that’s only if you are not used to Chinese government slogans. This is a PR campaign that has been done many times before in China. The objective is to show the police close to the people, as explained in this old article in the Xuhui district website.

We already saw some similar campaigns in late 2008, and more are sure to come this year, as the government takes every possible measure to avert risks of instability.

On the other hand, I am not sure how necessary this is. From my own observations, policemen here don’t have the bad image they have in some places in the West. They tend to be quite humble, they rarely use violence, and they get yelled at by the citizens they are supposed to protect. More than once I’ve had them visit my house at midnight, just to shyly ask us to please turn down the music and try to not let more people in if we don’t mind.

So  I have to say that, at least in Shanghai, the government has done a good job of managing police PR. Even I find it hard to believe that it is this same 公安 (police)  who arrests activists and bloggers,  the same who kicks villagers out of their old houses marked for destruction.

Exchange Rates and multilateralism

Friday, December 12th, 2008

This week David Dollar has a very informative post: On exchange rates, think multilaterally. It is an analysis of the RMB exchange rates and their change over time. Using one of those useful trade-weighted indexes that the World Bank likes so much, David goes over the history of RMB exchange rates from the 90s to now, drawing conclusions on the policies of the Chinese government and their consequences at each stage.

After some retrospective paragraphs that I absolutely recommend to read to anyone who wants to understand past Chinese currency policy, he goes on to speak of the future:

There is a lot of potential for misunderstanding in this area. China feels that it has had a rapid effective appreciation and now wants to see what the real effects are before going further.The U.S. is probably looking at a substantial devaluation of the dollar against other major currencies, as the immediate financial crisis wanes and the U.S. needs to rein in its consumption and save more. If that happens, it is not in China’s interest to follow the dollar down. It will take good coordination between China and the U.S. to resolve their large imbalances in a smooth manner.

And I have the same objection that I always make to the World Bank Chinese publications: they stick to strictly economic terms, and avoid Chinese politics as much as possible. OK, I can understand being part of the WB he is not as free as this anonymous blog,  and he prefers to not stick his nose into sensitive matters. The trouble is, looking at the economy without the politics around it leaves you completely blind to see the immediate future.

I am not even close to having the experience of David Dollar or the number crunching capabilities of the World Bank, but I have eyes to see that something very big is missing in his picture. Multilateralism? Misunderstanding? Before any misunderstanding can actually happen, there has to be a will to understand. And this is far from sure at this point.

I just copy here part of the comment I wrote on his blog to show what I mean:

Still, as you imply yourself in the post, economists are always better at explaining things in retrospect. I am not sure at all that Chinese authorities will do the right thing in 2009.


We need to keep in mind that Chinese politics always give priority to internal issues over external image or foreign affairs in general. Examples of this abound in recent times, such as their attitude towards protesters during the Olympics, or their cancellation of latest EU Summit because of DL, etc.


If it comes to a point where unemployment gets even slightly out of control I have no doubt that Beijing will do what it takes to avoid internal problems. Including playing with the RMB, engaging in trade wars, and all the while siding with the “people” against the “Western menace”.


We should keep an eye on Unemployment and Currency.

One Update and one Statement

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

After what I wrote last week in my sensationalistic post of the Tower of Babel, I have continued to follow as promised my Path to Enlightment. The results are modest for the moment, but I’ve found already five good links to get me closer to smelling Chinese politics. And I have added these 5 links on a separate section of the sidebar called “Intelligence”. This is not to say that the links in the Normal Blogroll are any less intelligent, I continue to read them and respect them as much as ever.

Now, the difficult part. In my quest to knowledge I have been lucky enough to speak (through email and blog comments) with some of the best specialists in Chinese politics and media. One of them who I am not allowed to quote has confirmed to me that the China Daily editorial was probably just that: an article by an editor in the paper looking for controversy to get the sales up. This is not so unusual nowadays in Chinese newspapers, neither is this article considered particularly risky, as it is not attacking any of the CCP holy principles.  So yeah, my thesis is limping a bit after this.

This doesn’t mean that I regret posting that entry. Some of the hypothesis might be wrong, but the core of the message (tensions in Zhongnanhai) still rings very true. In the end, each entry in the blog has a different role, and this one clearly specified its own: propose some wild hypothesis, incite discussion and try to get some commenters to come in the aid of the party. And yes, let’s admit it, I am still quite proud of having quoted the Bible and China Daily in one single post.

Finally, I would like to make a statement: I set a high value on the accuracy of this blog. Yes, I might write some weird stuff sometimes,  post on politics like a paparazzo or draft nonsensical Chinese lessons. But this has nothing to do with me not taking seriously my readers. What CHINAYOUREN will never do is tell you that a word is fact, or a fact is none, unless it has the proof or citations to support it. I feel the need to say this particularly because I know my being (semi)anonymous takes away part of my credibility. And I wouldn’t want to have people mistaken about me.

So, there’s that for today. And now if you excuse me I will continue with my Blog Optimization Routine (BOR):

“Dalai Lama, Dalai Lama, Dalai Lama, Dalai Lama, Dalai Lama … “