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Crossing the GFW and one interesting Idea

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

This week I had some interesting conversations on other blogs, mostly regarding my state of internet blockdom and the possible actions that a webmaster can take to solve this problem. I will share here some conclusions that might be of interest.

Just to make sure we don’t forget anything, I will go first over the most obvious points:

1- If you are any kind of commercial undertaking, or if you depend on your site for a living, please pay attention to what you publish. Sites in English have quite some leeway to publish political content, but the bigger you get the tighter the line will be, and any kind of political activism can get you down.

2- The worst position is when you are big enough to attract the censors attention, but small enough to be insignificant in the general scheme of the internet. Say the BBC gets blocked: this makes a lot of noise, and eventually the Chinese government feels the pressure to reopen it. Inversely, if you stay small enough, you will never be blocked regardless of what you write. When you are in the middle, like these sites, the risk is biggest.

3- Finally, if you are already blocked, you can try your luck at 9 Dongdajie, Qianmen, Beijing, as a commentator suggested (this is the address of the Beijing Public Security Bureau) or any official body of your choice. I have no experience with this, and I am very skeptical about the results, but it is not impossible that the legal system works once in a while. We have seen stranger things in China.

Getting through the block

Once you have gone through the points above and decided that none applies to you, here are the typical solutions for users to get through the Wall. There are many of them, so I will just list the most well known, such as: lists of free web proxies, ad-supported or fee-based VPNs, networks like Tor or activist software like Freegаte*.

I will not go over each of these because you can find lots of information on the internet already, but I have tried a few of them and they all more or less do the trick: you can open in China sites that have been blocked by the GFW. These solutions are well known to the Chinese netizens users, as you can see in this Chinese blog which has even more options, such as giving a SSH number and code to your users.

So, you might think, what’s the big deal with the Great FWall? It is full of wholes big enough for a whole horde of Mongols, like it’s always been.

You are right, and yet, the GFW is a powerful system. For anyone who had a website blocked, it is very easy to see the impact on the stats of incoming hits from China. Depending on your size and content, it can be down to a 25%, and if you remain blocked for some time, chances are most readers will not find their way back to you. My guess: a combination of laziness, hi-tech aversion, and the excess of info flowing on the net means that a missing site is quickly forgotten, and few go through the trouble of opening a proxy for you. Click to continue »

Crisis seen from the Sinosphere (II)

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

From the post left unfinished last week. Some of the main arguments read (or heard) in China Crisis discussions:

The Time

Economies don’t grow indefinitely.  Low cycles follow high cycles and after 30 years it is about time. China cannot break the laws of economics, so the recession must necessarily come in the next X years. The country hasn’t prepared itself politically and psicologically to face this period. In the end, we are sure to have trouble.

Of course, this argument is of little value without the X, and many proponents of a time limit have failed in the past. This is the field of technical analysts and other mystical thinkers. Mythology also plays a role:  In Chinese history, cataclysms mark the end of a cycle. An earthquake preceded this crisis, and a solar eclipse is coming in July, the dynasty has lost its virtue. These arguments tend to work better with a bit of hindsight.

The Markets

The World’s economies are interdependent today. China’s economy is largely dependent on exports and FDI. The weight of these external factors in China’s growth has been much discussed, but regardless of the exact numbers, few doubt that it is a significant motor of the economy. External motors failing, China turns to internal ones: investment and consumption. Today, strong public investment, mostly in infrastructure and energy, is making up for the loss. Click to continue »

Remembering 5.12

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

It was exactly one year ago, almost to the minute. It was Monday, and we had started our meeting at 2pm in the 22nd floor of the client’s headquarters. About an hour later, in the middle of heated negotiations, there was an awkward silence.  It took a long moment before we understood what was making us dizzy. One of the slick managers of the client went first:  he sprang up, kicked his chair back and screamed: “Get the hell out of here!”

Panic spreads fast in the crowds. In the emergency stairs people screamed and treaded on each other as they desperately prodded at their cell phones. The crammed staircase felt like it would fall on us any moment. It is a sense of utter helplessness of man against the forces of nature. It feels terrifying and it feels unfair. 

Ten minutes later the building was empty, and thousands of employees were safely reassembled on the People’s Square. It was a sunny day in Shanghai.  We smoked cigarettes and, to get over our nervousness, we turned to joking about the reaction of our client. Only later the messages started coming in, and we understood we had just had a slight taste of the tragedy that took place 1,000 miles to the West.

Chinayouren’s thoughts today are with the brave people of Sichuan.

On the internet, the best and most tasteful homage to the victims I have seen today is the one on the taobao site. You have to be used to the exuberant front pages of  the Chinese internet to fully appreciate the impression. Only a little candle on the right side of the logo is in yellow colour, but you will have to follow the link to see it, as animations didn’t come out in the picture.

 

taobao-5-12

The Crisis seen from the Sinosphere

Friday, May 8th, 2009

It’s been half a year since the first announcement of the Chinese stimulus package, and the time has come to look back and ask ourselves: how is the Crisis doing to-day? Well, we don’t need to surf very far to find some hints. Judging by the attention she gets  in the media, the Crisis is still in tip top form, barely upstaged by a drove of sneezing pigs, and plotting her next move in the People’s Republic.

And in the meantime, we have read so much about her that the debate gets old, the initial guessing game we merrily joined some months ago giving way to a phase of weary expectation.

So, finally, is there going to be trouble in China or not - Will the Wall Fall? I have my own opinions about this, but I’ll keep them clear off this post. Instead, I want to  summarize some ideas appeared in the sinosphere, list the main arguments from each side, and let the reader choose which make sense.  Luckily, this is the kind of discussion where the same arguments are fluently used to support all views, so the list can be made manageable.

But first of all, let’s examine the parties. In this business of Chinese Crisis Watching there are 3 main schools of thought,  which can be roughly classified as follows:

A. The Optimistic Executives:  Old China hands with long memories, bullish consultants with short ones. Optimistic people with or without a stake in the optimism of their clients. Just to list some recent ones.

B. The Academics of Doom:  Everybody knows the highest fulfilment of a dismal scientist is to announce doom and then have doom come. On the other hand, there might be something in what they say…  some examples.

C. The Rosy Men of the Republic: This 3rd group is endemic to China. It consists of a set of highly prepared bureaucrats who resolutely believe in the Feelings of the Motherland, in Santa Claus and in the Theory of Scientific Development. You can see here some of their latest achievements.

The English-speaking sinosphere is a little world, and we rarely see the big names that populate other provinces of the internet. But we do have a great advantage: debate here is relatively free from partisan politics.  There is not much in the way of left-wing China blogs, for instance, and American republicans don’t go about throwing  green tea parties just because grandpa Wen announced a healthcare plan. 

In fact, the left and the right in China are conveniently concealed behind the red walls of Zhongnanhai. There are few leaks, and the real data which analysts use is pretty much available to anyone with an internet connection and some notions of mandarin. This is a level field where you can browse around, draw your own conclusions, and enjoy your tea leave reading with Armstrong’s great cover of  ”La vie en rosy“.

But enough if the rosy chit-chat. Here’s the points.