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Chrter 08: Found an Open Link!

Friday, January 16th, 2009

For those who are following the developments around Chrter 08:

I have discovered a website containing the full original Chinese Charter (+ translations) that is still not blocked by the censors. It is also open to comments, apparently not manipulated:

https://knol.google.com/k/-/-/3jhi1zdzvxj3f/9

Thanks to heroic advocate of freedom of speech David Ferguson who, by introducing himself as an editor in a Chinese goverment news portal (china.org) and then pretending to be a detractor of the Charter, has obtained the insider information. And what is more, he has the guts to publicize this link right in the Opinion section of their website. Respect!

Re the link. It is a website at knol.google apparently set up by blogger Zuola. It is very surprising that it has escaped the censorship (Zuola’s blog itself is censored) and I can only think it is because:

  1. It uses https connection and the quick “Charter patch” has somehow missed it, or else,
  2. Advocate Ferguson has asked his bosses at the State Council to unblock it.

Please pass this link to anyone you know in China. Let’s get the document finally circulated, and send your thanks to the China Internet Information Center at china.org.cn

https://knol.google.com/k/-/-/3jhi1zdzvxj3f/9

A little Study of the Internet Censorship in China

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Last Sunday I did a post on internet censorship in China where I mixed in various different ideas and I’m afraid the final result regarding Search Engine Censorship didn’t come out as clear as I would have liked. I think it is an important subject, so here are the complete results:

We will be looking at Google.cn, Google.com and Baidu.com, and we will try in each of them 3 different kind of search terms.

A- Chrter 08: In all its combinations, which are 08宪章 and 零八宪章
B- Political Terms: Tiananmen incidents (天安门六四事件), FLG.
C- Vulgar words: Sex. I will employ the “blog job” and the “chicken bar”.

It is understood that in all cases the search terms are in Simplified Chinese. The browser is Firefox 3.0.5. and the connection is a normal home DSL by China Telecom. The possible results are:

  1. Free Search - Results look consistent and realistic, like the ones obtained in the West.
  2. Reset Connection (RC) - This can only be seen in Mainland China. The result is an image like the one below and the search engine cannot open anymore for a while (I estimate 30 seconds). RC is not directly done by the Search Engine. Wikipedia internal search also gives RCs for B Terms.
  3. Forbidden Message (FM)  - This is the forbidden Message that, with slight variations, is the same as shown below. It says something in the lines of: “Some results are not displayed according to the local laws, regulations and policies”.
  4. Manipulated Results (MR)- This is the case where the results are obviously manipulated, for example in the search of 天安门六四事件 (Tiananmen incident) on Baidu, where all the results are official newspapers such as People’s Daily, etc. Sometimes it can also carry on top of the page a FM.

Google.com
A -Free Search.   (But click some individual results gives RC).
B- Reset Connection
C- Manipulated Results.

Google.cn
A- Forbidden Message and (sometimes *) Manipulated Results
B- Reset Connection.
C- Forbidden Message. When used “” gives Manipulated Results.

Baidu.com
A- Manipulated Results. When used “” gives Forbidden Message.
B- FM and Manipulated results.
C-FM and Manipulated Results.

Conclusions

1- The results are somewhat erratic and it is difficult to see a pattern: it all looks like a series of patches on top of each other rather than a systematic implementation. Also, things change in time, as in *, where the Manipulated Result I saw Sunday cannot be seen anymore.

2- Baidu has a different system from Google: it has no Reset Connections. This is very advantageous for Baidu and I understand it is unfair competition, as a RC is one of the worst experiences while surfing.

3- This might be due to Google’s own preference server location: the involvement of the Search Engines in the RC is unclear no direct involvement (even Wikipedia has RCs!!) whereas Manipulated Results obviously requires their action, and can more easily attract attention from Advocacy Groups. Of course, in the case of sexual terms (C), this is not a problem as the Manipulated Results can just be called “Safe Search”.

4- The Chrter 08 has different treatment than other political terms, but it might just be because it was banned urgently and suddenly, so it is only a quick fix added to existing structure. It does not provoke RC in any case. It looks like they have decided to leave it alone on Google.com to avoid attention from Western advocacy groups, but in exchange Google has had to give up Google.cn and apply the infamous “porn block” to it which is active censorship by SE. Why the FM and not RC? Who knows, I am guessing perhaps RC is more complicated to implement.

5- In any case, and however negative, I understand it is always better to show FM than Manipulated Results, because the former is openly admitting censorship, whereas the latter is a lie and a distortion of reality. Forbidden Message does increase transparency, yet does not justify involvement in political censorship. From this perspective, Google is closer to the truth than Baidu. Baidu seems indeed a more active participant in the government’s information control schemes, and Chinese users of Baidu are clearly the most exposed to Search Engine brainwash.

UPDATE: Following corrections by international expert Nart Villeneuve below: I have introduced a few changes of my own (in blue). In any case, this post is just a very basic review of the SE Censorship system from the perspective of a normal user. If you really want to understand how the GFW works, you should read proper research papers like this one, or this one.

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IMAGES:

1- FORBIDDEN MESSAGE (FM)

2- RESET CONNECTION (RC)

NOTE: If someone is interested in this or has some more information to share please put it in comments. Unfortunately my time is very limited so I only ran 2 or 3 terms for each of the classes A, B and C above. There might be things I overlooked and I would be grateful if you can point them out.


Chаrter 08: Why it should be called Wang

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

When I started my article about the Chrter 08 last month I couldn’t help wondering if it was well worth the effort. Most of the English speaking blogs and media had been very quiet about this issue, and in China nobody seemed to know anything about it.  Two weeks after the Charter’s publication, I thought perhaps that was all we were going to hear of it.

I am pleased to see after all that the Chrter 08, in spite of the weaknesses I noted, is indeed slowly “flying into 2009″. From the English language blogs, it has since got more attention, with featured posts by Xujun Eberlein, Peking Duck, FM, and now also ESWN. Most importantly, in the Chinese speaking circles it is slowly gaining momentum, as is proven by the fact that the government is getting nervous and has closed down (not blocked, note!) the whole site bullog.

ESWN and the CSM have written about this rather optimistically in my opinion. CSM quotes :

Zhang says more than 300,000 websites now link to the charter, and it’s being discussed on blogs, QQ groups, and other chat rooms. “It’s impossible to block information in society now,” he says.

I am afraid this statement has yet to be proved. Like ESWN’s Roland Soong notes, this number 300,000 is taken from the number of Google.com results. It is a relatively large number and it indicates that the subject has become popular in the Chinese internet forums.  But little more than that. Of these results, only 1/3 come from mainland China, and 100,000 is attained easily by many of the hot topics coming up regularly on Chinese BBS (see ChinaSMACK).

The fact is that Chrter 08 is still an unknown movement in mainland China. Out of 5 local friends I asked, all with university degrees and fluent English, even today only one of them had heard the term (but knew no details). As for the majority of Chinese who live out of the cities and don’t use the internet, there is no way they can have heard about it. I don’t know who is the “peasant” that CSM mentions as a signer, but until I get  some tangible evidence otherwise, I maintain that China doesn’t know about the Charter.

This is a very important point because, of the difficult path that Chrter 08 will need to run to achieve its goals, the first unavoidable condition is to become known to the public by beating the censors at their own game. As I said in my previous posts, the government has done an impressive job of silencing Chrter 08, but it is a sign of hope to see it little by little creeping back into the mainstream.

As I see it, the 3 phases and 3 main difficulties that the Charter will have to face to grow into a real mass movement are, in this order:

1-To be Known vs.  internet censorship and lack of freedom of speech

2-To be Trusted vs. weaknesses that make it easy to manipulate against

3-To be Loved vs.   lack of a spark, a leader, a name: the material of which Change is made

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Charter Step 1 and the Internet Underworld

We will leave point 3 for a post in the future, supposing we ever get there. For the moment we are still stuck in phase 1, and it is far from clear that the Charter will make it past this point. We know  that the Chinese government  has developed a very sophisticated system to control information on the internet. But how does it work? What are its strengths and weaknesses to oppose the Charter? Following ESWN, I have conducted some research on Google and found the curious results below.

First, as Roland points out, if you search for Chrter 08 in Chinese, Google.cn is sending back this message:

“Some results are not displayed according to local laws, regulations and policies.”

This has made me think that indeed, when it comes to fighting censorship, the Charter has an insurmountable flaw: it is a document. Therefore, its title and content are fixed and it is extremely easy to locate by a bot. Worse even, in this era of internet search engines, nobody has still given the  Charter a better nickname than that easily searchable title 08宪章. Any internet conversation where the Charter comes up, even if the contents are not copied, is sure to attract the Censor’s eye.

It might sound ridiculous at this point, but I am dead serious: The Chrter 08 should be named Wang.  Or Zhang or Liu, any other term that is not exclusively related to it and therefore cannot be banned. Two centuries ago, the first Spanish constitution of 1812 was nicknamed by the people “La Pepa”, a popular name for a girl that many intellectuals scorned at the time. Two years later, during the reign of autocrat Fernando VII, this name became extremely useful to dissidents to acclaim the Constitution without risk to their lifes, with the famous slogan “Viva la Pepa!!”

Do you still think this is not relevant? Well, follow me with the next google experiment. If you are in China, try to search Google.cn for sensitive political terms like: Falungong, Tiananmen 89 massacre, Liu Xiaobo, you name it. You might be surprised to find not the message above, but rather a reset connection, which only affects viewers from mainland China and which is easily bypassable with a proxy or VPN.  It looks like this:

So what is that first message that Roland Soong and myself have been obtaining? It is not the political censorship message, but another one with which many Chinese men are acquainted. It is the notice you get when you look for some well defined  terms, like those found in pornography. As an example, I suggest you try a search for the word  “口交”. I will not translate it directly here, but let’s just say it is not a blog job. Run the search, surprised? Try any other “vulgar” word and you will end up with Google’s  Chrter 08 message. This is the first and most basic level of defense in the Great Wall, the porn block !

Pretty annoying for the drafters, I guess. But above all, it is very negative for the transmission of Chrter 08, because by calling it this name, the supporters are giving themselves away directly to the  Censors. And this is before phase  2- direct manipulation- has even kicked in.

So we are back to the basics. Like I already said, this Charter is lacking the popular element, the leadership that succesful movements have had in the past, the brand and name and life that would make a whole people roar “Viva la Pepa!”, or the one that years ago inspired a man to dance with the tanks on Changan Avenue. As it stands, it is the cold work of the intellectuals, and nobody has felt the urge to call it Wang.

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Note on Censorship

Finally, one more thing I cannot leave unmentioned. It is not news for anyone that Google have a deal with the Chinese government to collaborate in the repression of the internet. What is news to me is that Google is so openly censoring the principles by which all decent democratic countries abide, including the most basic of Human Rights. Google should be careful, they are entering a dangerous area, one which can backfire in a not very far future.

One more final test for the shame of the censors: when you run the Charter o8 search on Google.cn and you get the message screen, go to the number 4 item on the list of results. I just did that tonight and I believe I found out the essence of Google’s repression algorithm: “Ban all except the People’s Daily”. Indeed, this is the only way I can imagine that a People’s Daily article comes up as the single result for the search 零八宪章. It is a random PD article that coincidentially contains separate instances of 宪章 and 零八.

What a shame, Google, what a shame. Watch your steps today, lest you might find tomorrow that the people does not forget.

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UPDATE: The results on Google change with time, and this last People’s daily result is not on page 4 anymore. In any case, the search for 零八宪章 on Google.cn gives results that have always one thing in common: they are all from websites controlled by the government, like china.com, cctv, etc.  No results from the thousands of forums and blogs that discussed the issue.

UPDATE2: See this post for a more clear explanation of how the internet censorship works in China and the ways in which Google -and many other search engines- collaborate with the Chinese government.

Never laugh faster than China laughs

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

I got a bit excited last night with my new VPN connection. For a few hours I thought I’d found Democracy in a Box, neatly packaged in a 40$ yearly subscription. I have been since exploring new horizons.

Today, second day using VPN I’ve had 2 surprises, one good and one bad:

  • The good one was to discover that I could finally connect to the Time China Blog.
  • The bad one was the first article I read in this excellent blog, containing the paragraph:

Today a prominent mainland blog site, bullog.cn, was blocked, which may also be connected to Chrter 08. A few of the liberal outlet’s bloggers wrote about the document, and at least four signed it. I spoke briefly with Bullog founder Luo Yonghao this afternoon. He said he wasn’t sure why the site was blocked, and wouldn’t speculate on a Chrter 08 connection. C.A. Yeung of the Under the Jacaranda Tree blog noted in December that Bullog had dropped two of its bloggers, apparently for writing about Chrter 08.

Which means that now I cannot connect anymore to the blogs of Anti and Lianyue, where I used to spend many a nerdy hour trying to decipher their mandarin.

As you see there is a more than possible connection with the Chrter 08. The repression of the Charter movement seems to be gaining momentum as the weeks pass, proving that the government is taking it as a serious menace.  This is sad in itself, but there is even worse.

First of all, I want to clarify one point, lest someone misunderstands Ramzy’s article. Normally when we say a site has been “blocked” in China, what happens is that the site continues operating but it is just not accessible from the mainland due to the censors’ Firewall. This is not the case now, the site has been completely closed down. VPNs, proxies or any other other gadget will not get it open for you anymore.

And this makes me think: How can the Chinese authorities be so disrespectful with their citizens? I mean, even supposing they were right to suppress the Charter. There are millions of Chinese that go into that website every day and run blogs, exchange comments, make friends, speak of anything else but politics. These officials think nothing of closing all the blogs down, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t even give bloggers the time to save their archives (mental note: backup daily, Nanny might show up tomorrow!)

This is not only a political problem. This is a basic problem of decency and respect for the citizenry. Let’s hope at least that, like Figaro said, repression will only make the Charter more prominent, and it will allow all the affected Chinese to open their eyes and see how their harmonious government really cares about them. And perhaps some day those same officials will have to regret this.

Nay, never laugh faster than China laughs.

Beaumarchais and the Nanny

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

As I was answering to a comment on the Chrter 08 post, I felt a sudden urge to find the original context for one of my favourite quotes, which stands on “Instructions” as a principle of this blog.

That is how I found again this beautiful passage which I can’t resist copying here, although I know in these fast times some readers may find it somewhat old  (231 years to be exact).  It was written by a  watch-maker, inventor, playwright, musician, politician, publisher, spy, arms-dealer, and notorious activist of the American and French Revolutions:

They tell me that if in my writing I will mention neither the government, nor public worship, nor politics, nor morals, nor people in office, nor influential corporations, nor the Opera, nor the other theatres, nor anybody that belongs to anything, I may print everything freely, subject to the approval of two or three censors.

Figaro satirizes. And then goes on to say:

Foolish things in print are important only where their circulation is interfered with; without the freedom to criticize, no praise is flattering, and none but little men are afraid of little writings.

So beautiful and so up to date, every bit of it. A few bureaucrats in this country should read this, and realize that already 231 years ago their same little game was well known to the people. And that some day, in China too, the attitude of silencing, detaining, firewalling and suppressing the freedom of speech will be remembered as one of the”4 Shames” of the past.

Mind you, I know that quoting a comic writer, even if he is a classic of Literature and Revolution, is not exactly a solid scientific argument. But who speaks of science here? This is all about common sense, about opening your eyes and seeing what is obvious, and about concepts so simple that a child can understand. If I am not allowed to criticize you, all of my praise will be empty of value.

And this leads us to speak of the latest little wave of protest in the China blogs. Like it happens every now and then, all the main blogs are (rightly) complaining against the new Net Nanny ‘09 campaign. The adult babysitting agency CIIIRC has published a list of websites who have been caught posting “vulgar” pictures of beautiful ladies. And warned them to “seriously clean up their unhealthy content”.

I don’t think there can be a better example of a petty departure getting large circulation thanks to the censors. And if I know my fellow men, Chinese or Western alike, I am ready to bet that the offending sites have noticed a dramatic increase in traffic today since the publication of that list, and that blogs like Danwei have done a great service to the community by putting all the links together on one single page for us to check. Bravo!

Note: Translation of “Marriage of Figaro” by Edward J. Lowell in the book “The Eve of the Revolution”. Some slight modifications from my part.

Chrter 08: Creative Translation?

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Last 10th December, a group of Chinese human right activists published a document called Chrter 08,  requiring political reform in the PRC. This document has had surprisingly little impact in the Western media/blogging scene.

There is no telling right now how influential this document is going to be looking into potentially conflictive 2009. In any case, it is a must read for anyone interested in the political evolution of this country. I have spent the little free time that I had last week reading the Charter in its original Chinese form. I am preparing a more detailed post about it, but for the moment, I want to share these  notes:

  • There is a translation by professor Perry Link, published on the New York Review of Books, that has been almost the single source for non-chinese speaking readers worldwide. It is the translation used by Wikipedia (unless they accept my change), and also by the mainstream media, including WSJ and Time. I was shocked to see that the translation is not accurate, including in the preamble some references to the Tiananmen incidents that are not on the Chinese original. Has the original been modified, or did Perry Link publish a creative translation, adding juicy  details about his favourite subject? I leave this question open until I find an answer. But needless to say, I think if the translator has consciously altered the content of the document it is a lack of respect for the brave Chinese who risked their freedom to sign it. (my apologies to professor Link if this is not the case)
  • I am surprised by the little echo that this significant event has had on the Western media/blogging scene. All those noisy journalists that are self proclaimed defensors of Human Rights in China, but only raise thir voices when there is some spectacular violence to sell newspapers, and not for a “boring” document without pictures that lazy Westerners will never read anyway. Fair enough, it is very possible that the Charter will not fly, but there is no telling what 09 will bring us in China, and the effort and sacrifice of all these Chinese intellectuals in itself deserves more attention.
  • The Chinese government has done a good job of controlling the net. At the time of writing  it seems impossible to access from the mainland any site carrying the Charter in Chinese. It is sad to see that they have succeeded in silencing also the Western blogs (although as far as I know there has not been a single one blocked for speaking of the Charter). I guess most are simply not interested or else too scared of seeing their blog blocked in PRC. I know that I am risking many hours of efforts if I get my own blog blocked because of this post, but I think it is the least I could do for those 300 odd authors that are risking much more than this.

Because of point 2 some readers might still not be aware of these events. You can get a summary in the Wikipedia article for Chrter 08 or on this article on Global Voices.

I have also found a more accurate translation of the Charter here.

UPDATE1: The article on Wikipedia has been changed. See the article’s dicussion page for more details.

UPDATE2: Thanks to comment below and to some further research on the internet, I have the theory now that Chinese authors introduced last minute modifications to eliminate some non-essential points and avoid trouble for those already arrested, like Liu Xiaobo. This would make sense, as Liu Xiaobo had been sentenced before for participation in Tiananmen89 activities. Even if this is the case, it is difficult to understand why professor Link didn’t change his translation accordingly, perhaps reflecting some disagreement among the original authors.