I apologize for the lack of any posts in the past few days. I have been out of the country on business. The time away from China made me consciously aware of the restrictions that the Chinese government places on media access while in the country. In fact, I hope this post does not run afoul of the government censors patrolling the web.
Just a little bit of background information about the censorship of the internet (many have written asking about it.) The government of China has a control of all network interconnection points between the country and the outside world. At these points, they have filters that allow them to selectively permit access to content from outside the country. Collectively known as the “Great Firewall of China,” it is a fairly effective way of keeping “inappropriate” material out of the hands of the masses of internet surfers. (Note: There are stories of attachments and emails being stripped or blocked, but I have not heard of it personally. This would also require a lot more effort and may only be directed towards certain individuals.) For the most part, it’s unnoticeable. Most websites such as Yahoo News or CNN work just fine. The occasional New York Times article won’t load, but it’s sometimes due to a slow internet connection (or possibly that’s what we are supposed to think.) Some sites like Wikipedia and online gambling sites (but thankfully not InTrade) are completely blocked. The firewall is not without holes. Computers outside of China can act as “proxies” which can download the webpage for you and then send it to you, without the “wikipedia.com” address, effectively getting around the firewall. However, it is much slower, and only available to those technically savvy enough to know how to do it. For more on this topic, I suggest searching for information online, unless you’re in China, in which case you’ll find nothing. There was a good episode on Frontline about “Tank Man” which uncovers much of the censorship in China. I believe this is a link to the epsiode online, but of course, I can't access it from this end, so I'm not entirely sure.
The internet is not the only thing that is censored. Popular media is censored as well. It is so difficult to get a copy of western publications that I saw a September 2006 issue of Time magazine on sale next to a booth selling fake Coach bags. They wanted 20 RMB for it. The bookstore across the street from me is 7 stories tall. It probably contains fewer than 20 titles in English that are not language instruction titles. They are all the types of “classics” you would usually read in 7th grade English, like The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This week, I was in Singapore. I was reminded by others living in China to be sure to visit a bookstore so I could buy books and magazines and stay connected to the outside world. Sure enough I did, and despite the inflated international prices, I stocked up.
The weird thing is that even though I missed it, if I were Chinese, I wouldn’t have noticed it. It’s a little scary how effectively the government can control the media and thus your views of everything going on outside the world.