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Google: Don’t Make that Mistake

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

evil_googleLooking back to what I wrote last week I realize that, in my effort to keep a cool head and analyze the events, I forgot to say a very important thing: I Respect Google. I have never had any doubt of the non-business nature of their decision, and, in spite of our poll’s results, I am convinced it was based on the personal, ethical and political convictions of the company’s leaders.

I do not like the way it has been done, but it sure takes some guts for a CEO to defy the World order, whatever the company’s IPO said. My own site has been victim of censorship, and I was quick to blame Google when they helped censor initiatives like Charter 08,  so it is only fair that I praise them now. Search Engine Manipulation (SEM) is the worst kind of censorship, because it leads the user to believe that the information contained in search results is a fair sample of the World’s views. It was very difficult for Google to justify that behaviour, and it is good news that they stop being part of it. Bravo.

And yet, there are important reasons why Google has been putting up with the Chinese system for 4 years, and as far as I can see, all of those reasons are still there today. By leaving China on a whim, Google sends the message that all that work was just a big mistake. Worse still, by slamming the door on the way out, Google creates trouble for itself, for the Chinese netizens, and for the World internet community.

By any standard, Google’s statement last week is a disaster. It has all the sins that a company announcement can have, not only from the PR perspective, but also from plain common sense. It is insultingly self-righteous, it fails to provide a clear reason for the decision, and it does not offer evidence for any of the accusations. Worse still, it sends an ultimatum to the government of China, revealing a thirst of political power that is very disturbing in a corporation.

Brazen cartoon on the China Daily

Brazen cartoon on China Daily (WSJ)

The primary colors in Google’s logo and its simple slogan “don’t be evil” suggest a world of fairy tales where Good and Evil are clearly defined, and one can live following the Google path, righteously pointing out to others that they are in the wrong. Life is unfortunately more complex, and only very simple people can believe that God is always on their side.

Intentions and Nature of Google

I liked yesterday’s article by Rebecca Mackinnon because it rejected the idiotic debate about the purity of motive of Google’s leaders. On the other hand, I found it a bit too optimistic regarding the role of Google and the World internet community today. 

Google is no more or less evil than most corporations. The difference is it has a developed a unique business model that requires large amounts of trust and goodwill, and it has done a great job of promoting it up to now. To the point that in the online community, it has managed to reverse the classic roles, turning the radical hacktivists into CEO-huggers. Click to continue »

Han Han and the post-80s

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009


Chinese ultra-blogger Han Han is starting a magazine. He announced it previously on his blog, and his last post is already giving the details to send in article drafts and job applications. I learned this last night from my friend 2Ting, who was eagerly preparing her CV and intro letter. The literati of the post-80s are very excited, it appears.

Han’s magazine, which still doesn’t have a name to avoid imitations, is presented in this blog post. A very Chinese and a very Han Han announcement, interesting for several reasons. But before I speak of it let me give some background on Han Han. I’ve been planning to write about him for ages, and never found the time until today.

The man

Han Han is 2Ting’s idol. He is also the idol of thousands of others post-80s Chinese, and he has become - in spite of himself-  a symbol of this often caricatured generation. His bio is interesting: while attending middle school he won a first prize in a famous literary contest, then he dropped out of high school and started writing  popular novels and driving race cars. By now he has become one of the best selling authors in China, and, if I got my stats right, the most read personal blogger in the World. Click to continue »

Rat Year and 3-month Roundup

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

Today is the last of the Rat days. Happy 牛 Year to all! And byebye too, I won’t be around for the next few days: I’m off to where the weather suits my clothes, down to the charming shores of Southern Fujian.

I will take the chance before I pack up to write my little roundup of the Rat year, as today is also exactly the 3 month Anniversary of CHINAYOUREN. I want to write what these 3 months have meant for this blogger.  We are on holidays and the time is to relax, so I’ll do it in easy bullet points:

  • Hailing from the primitive highlands of Western Europe, Uln is a very recent blogger, with an experience of 3 months writing blogs, and just 6 months reading or even knowing what a blog is.
  • In these 3 Rat months I have discovered that blogging is not just weird psychotherapy. It is also a way to speak of ideas too brainy to be allowed in the pub, and actually get people listening. More suprisingly for me, you actually make friends.
  • One of my main discoveries is that China bloggers are cool. Even the big ones that I thought inaccessible and Holy. All of them answer my emails and sometimes even share readers by linking to this my humble site. For the moment I haven’t encountered a single exception, thanks to all.
  • Speaking of Links: I have to give special thanks to those that helped me get some readers: First, to China Law BLog and Global Voices, who linked me from my very first post. Then the Wall Street Journal blog, for bringing me record readership by linking me 3 times in a single week. And, third but not least, the Fool’s Mountain, who not only inspire me with their ever lively discussion, but also let me publish 2 articles and shamelessly promote my blog on their site.
  • To be completely fair, I have to mention that Google are good to me, and in spite of my pointing my finger at them, I continue getting amazing results in their search engine. For SEO reasons that I’ll never understand I am Number One on strings such as Update President Obama. And what is fair is fair: I owe the same credit to the Chinese authorities who, in spite of my finger-pointing and irreverent writing, have yet to censor my content in any way.
  • The most important of all: I seriously enjoy blogging. It is amazing that 200 people from the most diverse origins come into my website in a single day. I even enjoy it more when someone leaves a comment, so please make my day and leave yours below.
  • Finally, my Bloggy Resolutions for the 牛 Year:  Write shorter posts, write better English and speak better Chinese, enjoy China online and offline.

So let’s go one more time say with me: Happy 牛 Year to all !

Obama’s speech seen from China

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

The guests just left, what a night! The tense atmosphere of a final match in my Shanghai apartment; high expectations and a sense of History. Friends, all of different nationalities, sharing my wine and watching the first speech of President Obama. The silence during the 18 minutes was complete.

Is it only me, or the first half was more intense than the second? The former was full of the brave ideals we wanted to hear; the latter, more martial and patriotic, containing the obvious honesty, courage and loyalty, together with the reference to race.

It is 3am in China. I will leave it to American experts to analyze more deeply, I just want to highlight this passage which stands out from the rest:

We reject as false the choice between our safety and our Ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the Rule of Law and the Rights of Man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.


Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

“Rule of Law and Rights of Man”. Yes. And how to achieve them in the World? By the “justness of our cause, the force of our example”. That is exactly what we wished to hear. It has become true in the speech, and I sincerely hope it will become true in real life.

Many things can change in the World if our most powerful country -our 老大, or “eldest”, as many Chinese humbly refer to America- conducts itself according to these principles, abiding by those same laws that it proposed and signed, and creating new ones as its Ideals may require.

For, though the oath forgets to mention it, the responsibility of the highest political power on Earth is towards the whole of Humanity. And only a great man can be up to that position.

It looks like for the first time in many, many years, we have found our Man.

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:

Thanks to heroic advocate of freedom of speech David Ferguson who, by introducing himself as an editor in a Chinese goverment news portal ( 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 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

Funny bits and ends

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Some strange things happening in this blog:

Post unpunned?

It is hard to resist when you are writing a post and you see the chance to put in one of your puns, but lately I’ve been pretty good at it. It’s been more than a month, for example, that I don’t refer to the Leadership of the PRC with the sentence: “Who and when attended the conference?”.

I say this because I just noticed the opposite case in yesterday’s post: a good gag appeared unnoticed and now risks to seriously embarrass me, as it involves - again- a leader of the People’s Republic. If you remember, I was telling you about Wen Jiabao’s predictions getting a good kick in the family jewels. Only now I realize that Wen’s first name actually, literally, means: Family jewels. Man, I love this Premier more every day.

I don’t believe in self-censoring, so I won’t have it unpunned. For now.


Meet the activist Uln Win

I don’t hide that I was pleased when my trackback indicator told me I had been linked by no less than the Telegraph - well, OK, from one of its blogs.  When I went to look at the article, I found this:

The Chinese blogger Uln Win has reprinted the core principles, together with some analysis, on her site.   [...]  Uln Win makes the point that while the charter originated within mainland China and its signatories are all from within the country, she remains concerned that the vast majority of people in the country remain wholly unaware of it…

Extraordinary! Not only I am a girl now, but I am also Chinese and I am called Uln Win. Let’s go by parts:

1- The change of sex: I kind of fancied I had a virile writing style, obviously I was wrong. I can’t blame him  on this one though, it is true that my profile is not clear in this respect.

2- The Chinese nationality: Funny. The first sentence in my profile famously is: “This blog is written by ULN, a foreigner happily living in Shanghai”.

3- The code name “Uln Win”: This has to get the top prize. I just can’t imagine where he got it from, there is not an instance on the internet of such a name. My guess is he wanted a powerful name for his female Chinese hero, and he added the “Win” as a sure winner! I can’t wait to read his next post, will Uln Win rescue Liu Xiaobo from the claws of the regime?

Well, this explains why my statistics give so many visits of less than one minute, that’s what I call skimming a blog. I suppose it is the excess of information we all bloggers suffer. To be fair, it looks like at least he read the post, which, I suppose, is what matters.

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, and, 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:

  • Free Search - Results look consistent and realistic, like the ones obtained in the West.
  • 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.
  • 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”.
  • 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.
A -Free Search.   (But click some individual results gives RC).
B- Reset Connection
C- Manipulated Results.
A- Forbidden Message and (sometimes *) Manipulated Results
B- Reset Connection.
C- Forbidden Message. When used “” gives Manipulated Results.
A- Manipulated Results. When used “” gives Forbidden Message.
B- FM and Manipulated results.
C-FM and Manipulated Results.


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 to avoid attention from Western advocacy groups, but in exchange Google has had to give up 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.





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.

Unemployment and the Spark of the Revolution

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

You will excuse me for writing two serious posts in a row. It’s been ages we don’t do anything on the Crisis, and these days there’s been a series of articles on the subject that I couldn’t just let pass.

Two of them have to do with the growth projections for 2009. Yawn. We’ve been seeing new projections and discussions thereof almost every week, and after the holidays break it looks like here it is all over again. It is mostly fruitless, because there’s not enough new information between one projection and the next, and so most of the times the changes reflect the mood of the expert more than anything else.

It was however interesting to read this PD article Sunday where one CPC “renowned economist” worried that “China is likely to lose 3.9 million jobs in 2009″ if GDP growth slows to 8 percent. Well, he need not worry anymore, according to other top CPC officials quoted here the very next day, “China Risks Missing 8% Growth Target”, which will be “extremely arduous” to achieve. They are starting to change their tune, again.

And this brings us to a more interesting subject which, although it is as difficult to predict, at least it is more telling than the empty statistical artifice of GDP. I am speaking of Unemployment.

There has been two contradicting articles over the weekend, by Wang Tao from UBS and by Victor Shih. They hold different positions as to what will be the unemployment figures in 2009 and what will be their social impact. In any case, it is worth noting that both of them, with their 15 Million (Tao) and 35-50 Million (Victor) figures, are way above any calculation by the “renowned economist” of the People’s Daily, who gives 1 Million for every % of GDP lost.

Needless to say, I am with the relatively pessimistic predictions of Victor on this issue. Partly because I deeply distrust socio-economic projections issued by banks (you can hardly blame me on that). But mostly because the arguments that Victor puts forward are more solid than Tao’s. Based on his deeper knowledge of Chinese politics,  Victor goes on to analyze the possible consequences of his prediction in a worse-case scenario.

Noting that, even if the government has the capacity (as he calculated here) to subsidize the unemployed families for an extended period,

the current wave of layoffs affects a young and vibrant cohort most capable of carrying violent collective action against the state. Without any systematic triggers, we at least will see a spike in localized riots which necessitate the mobilization of People’s Armed Police (PAP) units all over China. The central government would also be compelled to (and they are doing so already) roll out generous unemployment benefits for migrant workers and college graduates (to the tune of 300-400 billion RMB). If a systematic trigger occurs and instability spreads to a sizable city, we will see the large scale mobilization of both PAP and army units and possibly substantial bloodshed. In most scenarios, the CCP regime would still survive a large scale, cross regional rebellion. However, “overall investor confidence” will be lost.

What is the “systematic trigger” which I refer to? I don’t know exactly what it would be. However, if we look back in history, it can be a wide range of events, including the death of a popular leader, a serious natural disaster, the spread of a deathly infectious disease, a small student demonstration turned violent, religious groups…

This idea of the “trigger” (I called it the “Spark” on my previous post) is right on. It is exactly the element that is missing and the one that will make all the difference: when we have social tension to get the people in action, and intellectuals to draft the road map, the mix is an unstable equilibrium waiting to get in contact with a spark. Of course, Victor doesn’t know what exactly this spark would be, and neither do I because its own nature makes it unpredictable. But I would add to his hypothesis one of my own:

The emergence of a massive wave of protest on the internet that extends to all the forums and BBS simultaneously, with new sites being created faster than the government can block the old, which could create a cascade effect that would force the government to commit its worst mistake: close down the internet altogether. This would add to the protesters millions of online game addicts released from their cybercafes, constituting a serious army of instability.

Check out today’s post by Imagethief on the subject, showing with 2 nice graphs that we have an unprecedented situation in China. Also,  yesterday Jeremiah of the Granite Studio did an interesting comparison of the present situation and the one in 1919 during the May 4th movement. In those times, there was a clear “trigger”: the humiliating treatment of China by the Western powers in the Treaty of Versailles after the First World War, including the unforgivable transfer of territories to Japan.

One last note for the optimists: this weekend I learnt of a reputable economics professor living in Shanghai who recently bought 3 months advance of canned food to store in case the situation gets rapidly unmanageable. In a city like Shanghai, if the logistic networks are disrupted we can run out of food in a matter of days. I am still not quite there myself, but I must admit that, since I heard this, the idea hasn’t quite left my head and I tend to go more generous on every visit to Lawson’s.

UPDATE: Oops, I completely missed this one. All Roads has been doing the same comparison and drawing his own conclusions. You can see it here.

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 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 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


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, 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’m 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 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.


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 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.


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 gives results that have always one thing in common: they are all from websites controlled by the government, like, 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 this one for the ways in which Google -and many other search engines- collaborate with the Chinese government. I have learned a lot in the year since I wrote this article, and I know now some of the info contained is not technically correct. I am not updating the text above anymore, so if you are interested in the technical part you should absolutely visit these two posts.

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,, 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.

I am enjoying Liberty

Friday, January 9th, 2009

I had to do it, really, I couldn’t stand it one second more and it was getting on my nerves. It’s all very good to show solidarity and suffer with the people, but I have my limits. This time back in Europe I got used to the advantages of an adult life and I can’t get back to primary school.

So I’ve decided that I am old enough to surf alone. The time has come for the bird to leave the nest. Time for Emancipation. And that’s exactly what I’ve done tonight. I paid the fee at Witopia to get their personal VPN service, and farewell old Nanny!

I still can’t believe how smooth it goes, yes, it is almost like Democracy!  If the old Fathers of Enlightment could see me now, how proud they would feel to know I have liberated the Republic of my Garden. Debate, free opinion, bikinis, exchange of ideas, charters, the new riches of Chinayouren.

No human language is powerful enough to describe the taste of freedom. Perhaps, the only line that gets even close to the sensation is this one I learnt on a Chinese park sign.

a blaze of multifarious colors from which countless fairy stories and sayings are handed down, thus forming a quiet, deep and precipitous dreamland.

I leave it here for all to ponder.

CLARIFICATION: I just come back to this post and realize that the above might sound cryptic for readers not acquainted with the Chinese internets. The whole post is about me breaking the chains of censorship and rejoicing in the new found freedom. I guess I got a bit carried away.

I did this by means of purchasing the services of a company called Witopia, which for 40$ a year provides a coded connection that can’t be blocked. There are other, free ways to do it, such as proxies, but all time consuming and annoying.

FYI, the internet censorship in China, AKA the Nanny, Net Nanny or the Great Firewall of China (GFW), with the collaboration of many online companies big and small (Google, Baidu, etc.) blocks all the sites with suspected “counter-revolutionary” content. There’s been a lot written about this on different blogs, one of the most complete and best written accounts is this one by James Fallows.

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.