My blog fell victim to the Chinese censors.
It's probably the title that turned them off. I thought "warinchina" was kind of cute. They obviously did not. The site, like those of many other bloggers, is still blocked, stuck behind what has been labeled as the "Great Firewall of China," the largest system of Internet censorship in the world.
Sites such as Flickr, Wikipedia, religious websites, Amnesty International as well as Western news media are all blocked.
Ten years ago no one thought China would be able to control the Internet, or the scream that it could unleash. Heralded as the great medium of democratization – an unsilenceable siren of anarchy and free speech – the theory went that since the Internet is decentralized and quick to adapt, no despot or authoritarian would be able to restrict it.
They were wrong. For the most part, the Chinese Communist Party has succeeded – and Western companies appear to have been eager to help.
Yahoo! China, for instance, blacklists certain words and phrases. If someone types, say, "democracy" or "free speech" in its search engine, the words are automatically picked up by the servers and the results are blocked from appearing on the user's screen, according to the Weekly Standard.
Similarly, almost all chat rooms in China are monitored by censors who delete politically incorrect comments in real time. Yahoo! and other Western Internet companies have been heavily involved in this process, according to news reports and human rights observers – Human Rights Watch issued an extensive report on the issue in 2006.
In fact, Yahoo! may have gone the farthest of the major Western web companies in working to please the Chinese authorities. The firm has not just passively supplied the tools for suppressing dissent, but it has also actively assisted the government in arresting those advocating free speech.
For instance, the Christian Science Monitor reported in September 2005 a Chinese journalist was arrested after information about his activities was provided to mainland police by Yahoo of Hong Kong. It was information they were under no obligation to provide. Yahoo! denies sharing information with the Chinese Security Agency.
But Yahoo! is by no means alone. When Google launched its Chinese language site in January 2006, it was harshly criticized by human rights organizations for agreeing to censor its search results in order to comply with Beijing's strict restrictions on information.
Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, defended his company's compliance with local law. Speaking to reporters at a press conference in April 2006, Schmidt said, "I think it's arrogant for us to walk into a country where we are just beginning to operate and tell that country how to operate."
However, more recently, Google may have begun to change its tune a bit and has taken a new approach to censorship. The search giant is now appealing to U.S. trade representatives to treat Internet restrictions as international trade barriers and a hindrance to the growth of the global economy. By lobbying U.S. trade officials, Google is hoping that they will start to treat the issue of international censorship in economic terms, rather than just as a political issue.
Microsoft also censors blogs and the results of its search engine. In 2006, Microsoft shut down a Chinese blogger's site which discussed politically sensitive issues, such as a Beijing newspaper strike. According to Microsoft, the blog was shut down at the Chinese government's request. (MSNBC.com is a Microsoft - NBC Universal joint venture.)
At the time, Brooke Richardson, group product manager with Microsoft's MSN online division at company headquarters in Redmond, Wash., told the Associated Press, "When we operate in markets around the world, we have to ensure that our service complies with global laws as well as local laws and norms."
That may well be the case for the Western companies trying to do business in China, but the few Chinese Internet chat rooms not yet silenced by the censors are increasingly filled with users expressing their discontent about the situation.
A brave few are even taking on the government directly. For example, a man in Shanghai is suing his Internet provider for blocking his blog, which is hosted on an American server. The Internet provider refuses to give him an explanation why the site was blocked.
And the restrictions have led to some creative ways of getting around the government's long arm. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, for example, found that 10 percent of users admit to regularly using foreign-based proxy servers to get around government censorship.
By rerouting their Internet connection through a proxy server in Japan, Europe or America, Chinese users can make it appear as if they are accessing the Web from one of those locations and circumvent the Chinese gateways.
The government has tried to fight back, compiling a list of potential proxy servers to block, but someone with knowledge of the system is able to easily avoid these measures. According to Ethan Gutmann, author of, "Who Lost China's Internet," "A shrewd native engineer could probably root out and defeat 99 percent of those government agents."
The next generation
Knowing this, the government has begun working on the next generation of censorship technology: the Golden Shield.
This new system would be a nationwide digital surveillance network, a database-driven remote surveillance system linking national, regional and local security agencies with immediate access to the records of every citizen in China as well as a vast network of surveillance cameras. Supplementing these records will be speech and face recognition software, smart cards that allow authorities to wirelessly identify people, credit records, and Internet surveillance technologies to monitor surfing patterns.
With the crystallization of the next generation of Chinese Internet surveillance, there is little hope that the wall of control will be tumbling anytime soon.
It looks like warinchina.com will have to wait.