Tag Archives: Censorship

Photoshopped Pants and Why “Face” is a Poison

UPDATE: The nice folks over at 译者 have seen fit to translate this into Chinese. Check it out!

Warning: If you don’t like bitter rants, you may want to stop reading this after the first couple paragraphs. And if you don’t like sarcasm, you probably should never have come to this site in the first place.

Well, if you were wondering whether or not the “new masters” at the Beijing News (新京报) were going to exert control over the paper, wonder no longer. Behold:

You may already have heard about the tourist from Luoyang who came to see Beijing and got sent home and beaten because he was mistaken for a petitioner (keep in mind, it is not illegal to come to Beijing and petition the government anyway).

The image above is of said petitioner, passed out in the street after being beaten by police. The top photo was posted by Southern Metropolis Daily (as you can see by the watermark), one of the relatively independent newspapers in the Southern Media Group. The bottom one was posted to Weibo by — you guessed it! — the Beijing News.

Facepalm. Now, mix that with the revelation that national security police detained harassed and threatened a reporter for “revealing state secrets” because he reported on a former official’s sex dungeon murders. That’s right. The fact that a former firefighter was keeping six KTV hostesses in a sex dungeon — well, until he killed at least one of them, possibly two — that’s a “state secret.”

Of course, what they actually meant by “revealing state secrets” is ‘causing the local police force to lose face’. You may be wondering how trying to conceal sex slavery, kidnapping, and double homicide isn’t somehow a bigger loss of face. By all accounts the criminal here was not some high-level official…anyway, we’re getting sidetracked.

In both instances, the issue is face. Of course, in these cases, the “face-saving” effort was completely botched, but the principle is the same. Truth doesn’t enter into the equation, it’s all about polishing that turd and hoping someone — anyone — is fooled.

Time and time again, Chinese officials use this approach to take a real problem, an embarrassment, or, in some cases, nothing at all and turn it into a disaster (or a bigger disaster). Off the top of my head, here are a few examples:

  • The “Jasmine Revolution Protests” — Protests “organized” by a handful of overseas Chinese no one had ever heard of attracted almost no one save a few curious onlookers and a bunch of bemused journalists. Bemused, at least, until the cops showed up and started pushing people around trying to shut down a protest that wasn’t actually happening. They eventually locked up half ((Yes, I’m being hyperbolic. It’s a rhetorical strategy; shut up.)) of Beijing’s intelligentsia — none of whom had any connection to the calls for protest, of course ((If they have, we’ve seen no evidence of it)) — and beat up a couple Western journalists just to ensure what would have been the year’s biggest non-story would become a smoldering embarrassment that managed to garner international criticism even when half the Arab world was on fire.
  • The Wenzhou Train Crash — The crash was a disaster in and of itself, and one that was getting more embarrassing for China as each new detail emerged. But somehow, officials managed to make a horrible situation even worse by bungling rescue efforts, burying train cars, and then playing down these mistakes in what has got to be the most inept press conference in world history. When people started criticizing them, they tried to cover that up by deleting posts, then tried to un-cover-up the cover-up by letting people speak freely for a while, then went back to covering-up by deleting posts when it seemed things were getting out of hand. In doing so, they took what was a disaster for the nation’s high speed rail and turned it into a disaster for the nation, but most especially, for themselves and their own legitimacy.
  • The Sichuan Earthquake — Another disaster, this one was made worse by the fact that when people attempted to investigate the cause of collapsed buildings — or even just collect the names of the dead — they were harried, bullied, and harassed at every turn. This, of course, served to convince everyone the government was hiding something and by the time they finally released their own list of names, most people had already made up their minds about what had happened. As a result, the original story (gov’t built shoddy buildings, kids died as a result) — which was already pretty bad — got worse: gov’t built shoddy buildings, kids died as a result, gov’t tried to hide this even though it was plainly evident, gov’t probably now rebuilding things with same shoddy practices.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Whatever the situation, it can — and often will — be made worse by official attempts to save face.

Saving face is a universal desire — after all, who wants to look bad? — but given that “face” is essentially pure vanity with another name, some people are remarkably shameless about it here.

China is, as its “defenders” will point out to you endlessly, a developing country. Despite the shiny facades in Shanghai and Beijing ((not that you can see the shiny facades in Beijing for all the pollution…)), anyone who’s been to the countryside knows that this is still a third world country in many respects. I certainly don’t envy the people charged with running it.

But I have no sympathy or forgiveness for their perpetual desire to hide the truth — from the rest of the world ((a.k.a. that one country called 外国 where everyone eats 西餐 and has really cute babies.)) and from their own people and (probably) even themselves.

The story, of course, is that this is all in the name of national stability. If the people were allowed to see that man with his pants ripped, things could go bad. So they’ll get part of the truth — a watered down, photoshopped Truth Substitute (TM) that tastes almost like the real thing. See? Stability!

But even a little lie is still a lie. And though I’m still young, I’m old enough at least to have learned that the lie that stabilizes things in the short term (“No, I didn’t put that ding in your car!”) can be destabilizing and downright destructive in the long term. Especially when, day after day, you’re adding little lies on top of yesterday’s lies in an attempt to maintain the facade (“No really, I can’t even drive stick!”). Sooner or later, the whole thing is going to crumble.

The train crash, shoddy building practices, etc. — it’s very obvious that Chinese leaders, most of them anyway, are playing the short term game, so it’s no surprise they don’t care what their truth-massaging might lead to down the road. But for their sake, and for ours, I hope someone up there realizes this before they make whatever the next disaster is worse, too. Or, god forbid, the whole tower of lies comes crashing down on top of them.

That might seem like poetic justice. But of course, if the tower does collapse, it’s the people under them who will ultimately get crushed.

In Brief: Ai Weiwei’s Mainstream Appeal

People on both sides of the “aisle” — which is starting to feel more like a chasm than an aisle, by the way — have, for different reasons, long suggested that Ai Weiwei’s mainstream appeal in China is limited. Moreover, some have suggested that Ai’s profile is too low for many people to care that he’s arrested.

But this morning, I noticed something quite shocking. The Chinese phrase “Chinese artist Ai Weiwei” was the 8th most-searched term on Baidu’s hot topics list. See the photo below, courtesy of @goldkorn who had the good sense to grab a screenshot before it was deleted.

Baidu's top searches as of around 10 A.M. this morning

Now, first it’s important to establish what the Baidu hot topics list actually is. It’s essentially a real time list of the hottest search terms with time-sensitive relevance. So, Ai Weiwei being at #8 on this list doesn’t mean he was the 8th most searched for thing on all of Baidu, it means he was the 8th most searched for thing on Baidu after the things that get searched for every day (Youku, NBA, etc. etc.) are discounted.

Still, this list is something I’ve been reading every day for the past several months, and it’s a pretty great indicator of what news stories are the hottest on any given day on the mainland. It is also, of course, censored. For that reason, I was doubly shocked when I saw Ai Weiwei’s name — I didn’t expect that many people to be searching for him, nor did I expect his name to be able to appear on this list.

The latter was, apparently, an oversight. Shortly after I noticed this and reported it on Twitter, the list was updated and Ai Weiwei was nowhere to be found. Clearly his initial presence on the list was just a temporary oversight on the part of Baidu’s censors. But what of the fact that he was getting searched for enough to appear there in the first place?

Regular Baidu searches for his name turn up fairly “harmless” stuff, as you would expect. There’s no reference to his activism or to his arrest and continuing detention ((Which, I recently learned, could be totally legal. Apparently under Chinese law you can be kept under house arrest indefinitely without charges or any need to notify the family of your whereabouts. This is true because most house arrests occur in one’s own house, but many have speculated that since Ai’s detention would be illegal at this point under Chinese law any other way, he may be officially under “house arrest,” but at a “house” that was chosen for him by police. That way, they can legally hold him as long as they want without charging him, and they don’t have to tell anyone where he is. Fun!)), which isn’t surprising given that Baidu’s search results are censored. But since almost all of the items on Baidu’s list come from news stories, I also checked Baidu’s news search and found this story, which is probably what sparked the spike in searches for Ai Weiwei.

As readers of Chinese will quickly see, it’s actually a story about economics, but a ways down the page there is an interview between a reporter and a representative of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, in which the reporter asks this question:

“Many people in Europe are concerned about the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, and I don’t know where he is either, can you tell us whether or not he is alive ((Presumably the interview was conducted before Ai was allowed to meet with his wife briefly earlier this week)), and what kind of charges he will face?”

The Foreign Ministry official’s answer is exactly what you’d expect, and I’m not going to translate it because you can read it in the Global Times in English basically any day of the week.

What’s interesting about this story is that a question about Ai phrased in that way is allowed to appear online uncensored, and morevoer, that such a question, halfway through an article about economics, would attract so much attention that the term “Chinese artist Ai Weiwei” would suddenly be propelled to the top ten of Baidu’s hot topics list.

Of course, there’s no way to be sure that article is what did it. But there are no other recent articles on Baidu about Ai Weiwei, and no other considerable reason that that search term would suddenly show up today.

In any event, it seems to indicate that Ai’s domestic profile (and the domestic profile of his arrest and detention) may be significantly higher than everyone — his detractors and his supporters alike — originally thought.

UPDATE: Fascinatingly, Ai Weiwei has also appeared — twice — on the weekly trending topics list, which isn’t something I look at. His name “Ai Weiwei” made the top ten weekly trending searches on May 14th and May 15th; screen captures of that as well as more analysis are available at ZaiChina (in Spanish, but Google Translate is your friend). Thanks to Daniel Mendez of ZaiChina for pointing this all out in the comments here.

In Defense of the NY Times and Paranoia

Recently, the New York Times ran an article about the increasingly tight controls over everything from the internet to the media in China. It starts with this anecdote:

If anyone wonders whether the Chinese government has tightened its grip on electronic communications since protests began engulfing the Arab world, Shakespeare may prove instructive.

A Beijing entrepreneur, discussing restaurant choices with his fiancée over their cellphones last week, quoted Queen Gertrude’s response to Hamlet: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The second time he said the word “protest,” her phone cut off.

He spoke English, but another caller, repeating the same phrase on Monday in Chinese over a different phone, was also cut off in midsentence.

Everyone likes a good censorship test, so it’s easy to understand why people started piling on. Shanghaiist and Shanghai Scrap ran tests to see if they could duplicate the effect, and both found they couldn’t. ChinaHush also noted this, and on other blogs and Twitter the response has been kind of harsh, calling the story “false” and attacking the credibility of its authors.

Now, I love a good Western media thrashing as much as anyone. And a Western media blooper that allows us to shout “protest” into our phones? Now that’s good times.

These “experiments” are all predicated, though, on the assumption that the NY Times article is talking about automated censorship. You say “protest”, and presto, the phone magically hangs up on you. And yes, if the New York Times had reported China was doing that, it would be a load of crap. But that’s not what the story says.

Let’s take a look at the sentence that immediately follows that opening anecdote:

A host of evidence over the past several weeks shows that Chinese authorities are more determined than ever to police cellphone calls, electronic messages, e-mail and access to the Internet in order to smother any hint of antigovernment sentiment.

It seems clear to me that the anecdote was meant to be understood in the context of “authorities [being] determined […] to police cellphone calls,” which is probably exactly what was happening. The anecdote isn’t meant to be evidence of voice-recognizing censorship software, it’s evidence of increased police surveillance of the phone calls of anyone they consider suspicious.

Now, there’s no way to know whether the Times’s contacts would fit this description, because both of the sources mentioned are anonymous. Still, other journalists on Twitter confirmed that the authorities are definitely listening in on some phones. So why is everyone assuming the reporters are just making this whole thing up?

The fact is, we’re all testing for an automated system, but that makes no sense. I can’t even imagine the kind of resources bringing such a system to bear on all mobile phone lines would require, and even if they could, how could it possibly work? Given the diversity of accents and dialects throughout China, not to mention the diversity of “sensitive” words, my guess is such a system would be more or less impossible to make effective. Text filtration is one thing — and we already know for a fact that China Mobile filters texts for sensitive keywords from time to time ((I learned that myself the Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.)) — but voice filtration is another one entirely. Why bother? The PSB already has lists of their “people of interest”, it’s probably a lot cheaper to monitor their phones manually than it would be to monitor the phones of the entire nation via some crazy software.

Now, is this the clearest New York Times story ever? No. The fact that so many people assumed they meant automatic filtration software is testament to that. Moreover, there’s no real way to be sure it’s true because the sources are anonymous. Probably, there was a better way to start that article.

But with that said, is it fair to call the article “false” or accuse them of poor fact checking because yelling “PROTEST!” into your phone didn’t get you disconnected? No. We’ve all had fun playing with our phones. But let’s call off the witch hunt until we have some actual evidence that they’re making things up.

Surveillance, Stability, and How Everything is Terrible

UPDATE: It’s a burden being right all the time. According to this official government release (via the New York Times), the purpose of the cameras being added in Beijing has nothing to do with safety:

“The goal, the [Beijing government] Web site ((Seriously, New York Times? You’re too cool for AP Style?)) stated, is to “directly and effectively monitor” the content of performances on behalf of various government agencies.”

***

Amidst the kerfuffle about another Global Times piece from the Beijing Metro section, you’d think more people would be watching their pages from day to day. But since they aren’t, it falls to me to share this really depressing news with you:

The culture industry is the latest to fall under the authorities’ watchful eyes, quite literally, with the debut of yet another surveillance project Wednesday.

The capital is planning to inject 5.57 million yuan ($847,754) to establish a massive remote surveillance system covering all the capital’s entertainment venues, according to the Municipal Bureau of Culture Wednesday.

The bureau is seeking bids this month for a system combining audio and video monitoring and emergency services coordination.

When complete, the bureau will be able to use the system to “directly and effectively monitor” all performances in cinemas, theaters, music clubs and even arcades, store and manage all video materials and share the information they obtain with other government departments as needed, according to the bidding document.

Apparently, the authorities have finally figured out that people are committing thoughtcrime in private and are taking the first steps towards putting a stop to it, which is to put cameras and microphones anywhere people might congregate (that doesn’t already have cameras and microphones).

Actually, no one will clarify the purpose of this surveillance, but I imagine that when the government gets its PR game together, this will be presented as a safety measure. How that would work, I don’t know ((What I mean by “I don’t know” is “It wouldn’t.”)), but that’s not the point. Regardless of what the stated or even intended purpose of this system is, putting surveillance systems inside cultural centers is creepy. And it gets even creepier:

This project is the third surveillance plan announced recently by the city. On Tuesday, State authorities proposed a nationwide database to gather information on the assets, income and families of all individuals in order to curb corruption. And last week, the Municipal Science and Technology Commission announced that China Mobile’s Beijing branch plans to track cell-phone users’ positions to study transportation patterns and in turn combat traffic jams.

So, when you’re in public, cameras and phones track your precise location. When you’re at a bar, nightclub, movie theater, or concert, cameras are watching you. Not a problem, if you trust your privacy, safety, and freedoms to China Mobile and the stability-maintenance arm of the PSB. However, I think many people — myself included — don’t trust them.

But is this really a big deal?

“I think mass surveillance helps deter anti-social behaviors,” Tian Yangang, a Beijing lawyer told the Global Times, adding that one need not worry too much about privacy in a public place like a theater.

Does surveillance help deter anti-social behaviors? Because there are plenty of cameras around Beijing, but people still spit, curse, and push people out of the way when getting on to buses and subways. It probably does deter actual crime, but how often are serious crimes committed in movie theaters or at concerts? Often enough to warrant legally-mandated, government-monitored video and audio 24-hour surveillance?

A theater is not a public place, it is a privately-owned establishment. And I for one have no doubt whatsoever that this initiative is about rooting out and putting a stop to bands, artists, and filmmakers who get away with politically edgy material by performing it in private clubs.

Now, add that development to the recent GFW upgrade that has blocked several VPN services (I know for a fact Freedur and Witopia have been targeted, albeit without total success) and Gmail ((I’m not sure what exactly they’ve done to Gmail. It works sometime, but it’s so slow and unreliable as to make it essentially unusable most of the time.)), the recent beatings and detentions of numerous foreign reporters, the recent declaration that China will under no circumstances do anything that might challenge the Party’s death-grip on power, etc.

I asked way back in December if things were getting worse. It seems pretty clear they are. And for those of you this-is-what-Chinese-people-want advocates, here’s some food for thought. This story was originally reported by the VOA, but its statistics come from a poll conducted by China.com.cn, which is a Chinese government-owned portal):

In a China.com.cn poll of 1,350 netizens, only 6% reported they were “happy”. Only 36% felt their lives had improved over the last five years. Additionally, according to a Gallup poll conducted from 2005-2009, China ranked 125th out of 155 countries in terms of whose people said they were the happiest (Denmark was the happiest country, apparently, with 82% of its people reporting happiness).

But the first is an unscientific poll, to be sure, and the second one was probably conducted by wily foreigners bent on using their science to promote anti-China forces! Well, here are some hard numbers for you:

Even though China has a large GDP, this is simply due to the fact that it has a large population. On a per-capita basis, the country ranks 99th out of 183 nations. It is no surprise, therefore, that wages are low.

But salaries in China aren’t just low, they are abnormally low. Typically, a country’s minimum annual wage is 58% of its per capita GDP; in China it is 25% of per capita GDP, good enough for 158th place out of the aforementioned 183 nations.

The gap between the GDP and minimum wage rankings – 99 versus 158 – is perhaps the most telling statistic. For the majority of countries, there is a close correlation between the two rankings; the disparity in China’s case points to grossly inequitable income distribution.

This is borne out by the Gini coefficient numbers, a widely accepted measure of economic disparity. China’s coefficient is 0.47 on a range of 0 (perfectly equal) to 1.0 (perfectly inequal), putting it 83rd out of 134 countries measured.
According to Gini, China’s level of income inequality is higher than in almost every industrialized country in the world.

Past studies have blamed the income disparity on the rural-urban divide, the development divide between coastal and interior regions, and even foreign purchases of Chinese products. These factors may be responsible to some degree, but so too is the government.

[…]

Recent studies have shown that:

• Wages of civil servants are abnormally high. The average salary of a civil servant in China is six times the minimum wage, compared to a global average of two times.

• Management level salaries in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are abnormally high. The average SOE manager in China makes 98 times the minimum wage, compared with a global average of five times.

• Within the state sector itself, wage disparity is abnormally high. An SOE banker on average earns 3,000% more than his counterpart at a construction company, compared with a global average disparity of 70%.
The pressure is compounded by costs of necessary items being abnormally high relative to wages.

• The UN recommends that it should be possible for an average worker to purchase a home with three to six years of annual income. In Beijing, it is estimated that the average worker would have to toil for 74 years just to buy a place in a suburban multi-story condo block, unfinished, unfurnished and without any amenities.

• The cost of electricity is a good index of the basic utility costs for urban residents. The average cost of 1,000 kilowatt-hours as a proportion of the average monthly wage in the US, South Korea and Japan is 2.67%, 3.19% and 8.19% respectively. In China, by comparison, it is 30.68%.

• The US Department of Agriculture estimates that the average Chinese family spends 28% of its total monthly income on food. While this compares favorably with other developing countries, the number is far higher than America’s 6.1%. Food prices remain the key driver of inflation in China, rising 10.3% year-on-year in January as the newly revised consumer price index rose 4.9%. The figure is well above the traditional central government target of 3%, and even above its revised target of 4% for 2011. This makes wage growth an even more pressing social issue.

So yeah. What was that about how stability makes everyone rich and happy?

Tsinghua U. Celebrates 100 Years, Pokes Net Nanny in the Eye

It’s been a busy week for ChinaGeeks and ChinaTrolls alike, what with the revolution that wasn’t and its raft of associated questions (inquiring minds want to know: Is Mary Kaye Huntsman, wife of U.S. ambassador John Huntsman and notorious McFlurry addict, the foxiest spouse in the 2012 republican presidential field? We say yes yes and yes!). Safely ensconced in ChinaGeek HQ (read: C. Custer’s private room at Latte) the day of the hullaboxun, we picked up on an interesting tidbit that has, up to this point, flown largely under everyone’s radar. As part of ChinaGeeks’ ongoing commitment to public service and the promotion of Western information imperialism, we thought we would share it with you.

The day it all didn’t go down, we tracked down a good friend at Tsinghua university to ask how the whole thing was playing out on the campus of China’s most wired university. Knowing now how the events of the day unfolded, it will probably come as no surprise to the reader that even to this fully bilingual, painfully tech-savvy friend of ours the news that the Big Mac revolution was underway came as a somewhat of a shock.

(Random tangent: Seriously, whose idea was it to meet at McDonald’s? Is this a revolution or a fifth grade field trip? Somewhere–probably the girls’ locker room at Beijing No. 4 High School–the ghost of Chairman Mao is facepalming)

With that bit of non-news confirmed, our conversation drifted into other topics. Several minutes and several changes of subject later, Tsinghua Friend said:

“I heard Tsinghua developed a new browser that can access facebook and twitter”

Huh? What was that?

HM: so you mean it’s got a built-in proxy?

THF: not sure, it’s built on ipv6

This was news to us. Also, what’s “ipv6”? Sounds shiny.

HM: doesn’t sound like something that would be politically possible

THF: i was surprised too
but tsinghua wants to launch it for the 100th anniversary i think

Now that is indeed interesting news. Our curiosity piqued, we followed the link Tsinghua Friend sent us. Here’s a screenshot for the lazy and the Chinese-illiterate out there:

At first glance, it all seems to fit with Tsinghua Friend’s description. We’ve got the Centenary Celebration logo, the browser name (a combination of Tsinghua’s official school color–purple–and the browser’s Firefox foundation), and an option to download the sucker. Being the curious critters we are, we clicked the download link.

17 hours left . . .

Yikes, looks like that’s not an option. So where else can we find this thing? Sina.com to the rescue!

(Interesting side note: Purplefox is now at #7 on sina’s list of most downloaded browsers this week. Not exactly setting the world on fire, but still one spot ahead of the China version of Firefox itself, and definitely enough to confirm that we’re not the only ones taking notice.)

Firing up the browser, we’re greeted with what looks like a slightly stripped-down Firefox interface, done up in a tasteful shade of light purple.

Default page is the download page of the browser itself, no shock there.

More interesting are the three links in the bookmarks bar: Youtube, Blogger, and Facebook. Blogger, we could care less about (Blogs are dead, you see . . .), but those other two rank pretty high on our list of frequently visited sites.

So does it work?

Short answer is, “results may vary”.

The good news is that you don’t need to be a Tsinghua student to download and use the browser, nor do you need to be on campus at the university. Anyone can download and use the browser anywhere they want.

In our tests both at home and in various locations around Sanlitun, we found that sometimes Youtube or Facebook were accessible (always one or the other. We never got both to work at the same time.), sometimes timed out. When we were able to access Facebook, we weren’t always able to log in successfully. Speeds were significantly slower than with a VPN. But the bottom line is, the thing works. Check the screenshot:

It appears that the browser is, for the most part, as advertised, which immediately raises all kinds of questions. Let’s tick through some of the most obvious ones, shall we?

Q: How does this thing work?

Tsinghua Friend is not a computer science major, and we’re more of a China geek than an actual geek, so unfortunately (mercifully?), we can’t go into great detail on all the technical wizardry going on in the back end. Our first instinct was to say “fairy magic”, actually.

A little googling brought us up to speed, though. The key lies in in the browser being built to access, by default, the ipv6 version of a web page.

In a very brief nutshell (and with apologies in advance to all the techies out there to whom this explanation is painfully simplistic. Feel free to chime in in the comments on all the places we’ve gotten this wrong), ipv6 is a system by which web sites are assigned the actual physical address that a browser directs itself to when you request, for example, that it show you “facebook.com”. It’s the successor to a previous standard known as ipv4, upon which almost all of the internet as we know it was built.

The switchover is necessary because, as you might have heard, someday very soon ipv4 will run out of addresses. Ivp6, on the other hand, was built with something on the order of a few hundred billion addresses per person on planet Earth, so it’s probably fair to say that once the transition to ipv6 is complete, space will no longer be an issue.

The numerical addresses behind the web addresses we type into our browsers are, almost without exception, ipv4. However, some of the more tech-forward outfits out there have already started the migration to ipv6. As you might imagine, prominent among these are Google and Facebook. As far as we were able to find in limited, desultory googling, Twitter does not yet have an ipv6 address (once again, if we’re wrong on this, feel free to correct us).

Purplefox comes with a built-in list of ipv6 addresses for major sites that have already made the switch. So when you type in one of those sites, it automatically directs your page request to the ipv6 version of the site.

(Worth noting is that you can actually do this trick in most standard browsers, but since they don’t do the routing automatically, you have to enter the actual numerical ipv6 address into your address bar with brackets around it. To access Facebook, for example, you enter “[2620:0:1cfe:face:b00c::3]”. When we tried this using Chrome, we were able to open Facebook’s front page, but we weren’t able to log in. Your mileage may vary.)

For whatever reason, the Great Firewall is not currently set up to block on a consistent basis the ipv6 versions of sites whose ipv4 versions are on the banlist.

Q: Why not?

A: Didn’t you see where we wrote “for whatever reason?”. Do we look like Li Changchun to you? On second thought, don’t answer that (he looks much better in red than we do) . . .

If we had to speculate (and since saying something on the internet automatically makes it true, that’s just what we’re going to do), we would guess that the answer is “because they haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

Ipv6 is coming, make no mistake about that. At some point, if they want to maintain the integrity of their reality distortion field, the Infocops here are going to have to get around to addressing ipv6. But it may still be awhile before that day arrives.

With everything else that’s on their plates, it’s probably no surprise that ipv6 isn’t very high on the priority list. So until they get the hole patched, this whole Purplefox thing will make a pretty neat little party trick (assuming you go to the same kind of parties we do. Pi recitation throwdown, anyone?).

Q: OMG WE HAZ TEH INTERNETS BAK!! UP WIF TEH REVOLUSHUN!!

A: Hold your horses there, Sparky! Remember, this only works for websites that have a ipv6 version. Right now, that’s not a huge list. The one site that would make this whole thing really interesting–Twitter–is not on the list, at least as far as we’ve been able to find. And anyway, the only person in China who uses Twitter is Ai Weiwei (or maybe it just seems like it . . .).

Don’t believe us, ask your Chinese girlfriend. No really, go ask her. We’ll wait . . .

See? We told you.

The clincher on the whole thing is that there’s no mobile version of the browser, so all those millions of folks out in the hinterlands just getting on the mobile web, the folks who wouldn’t know a VPN if it bit them on the pigu, won’t be able to bask in Purplefox’s jasmine-scented glory.

Besides, if Tsinghua is at the cutting edge of ipv6 in China, then you’d better believe they’re at the cutting edge of how to block ipv6, whether they like it or not.

Q: Wait, what do you mean, “whether they like it or not?”

A: Well, it’s not exactly a secret that a lot of the bright young things out at Tsinghua aren’t exactly fans of the GFW. Actually, it might be more accurate to say “hold it in open contempt”.

QHF: a lot of tsinghua geeks make fun of the GFW
i saw an ad recruiting interns for the internet center
they used a tinyurl link
which is blocked
the ad says “链接在墙外,非诚勿扰“

HM: haha
so it’s basically like “if you’re not smart enough to figure out how to see this, don’t even bother applying”?

QHF: exactly
they put up 2 huge ad boards in our dorm area
which made me laugh

Which brings us to the most interesting question. Why wou . . .

Q: WHY WOULD TSINGHUA DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS?!

A: Right, that’s what we were going to say. You’re quite the eager beaver, aren’t you?

Short answer is: your guess is as good as ours.

A quick spin through the internets (Google, Baidu, and Weibo) for information on how this browser got the green light or interviews with the people involved in building it came up empty. Then again, we’re lazy, and our head is starting to hurt. Commenters who can dig up more solid information, 欢迎你们!

Since the internet’s primary purpose is uniformed speculation, you better believe that we and  Tsinghua Friend have our own theories. There’s the “geeks hate the firewall theory”, there’s the “100th anniversary celebration theory”, there’s the “look, China can build an ipv6 browser too!” theory, and there’s the “2000 words into this post I’m too tired to make up another theory” theory.

It’s actually not too far-fetched that China’s premier technical university would try to build a browser around ipv6. Tsinghua has aggressively rolled out ipv6 connectivity out across its own campus, and ipv6 is at the heart of the government’s efforts to vault China ahead in the race for next-generation internet predominance.

But considering that the three links preinstalled in the browser’s bookmarks bar are three sites that, technically speaking, are illegal to view inside China, it’s hard to swallow the idea that the people who put this together didn’t have other things in mind besides the technological arms race.

Citing national prestige as the ostensible rationale for developing a browser that undermines what the Chinese government sees as a crucial weapon in the fight to protect that prestige.

Now that’s cheeky.

Q: So what’s it all mean?

A: You know what, we’re tired of all your questions (actually, after all this typing, we’re just tired generally). That’s what the comments section is for! You’ve got the basics, go figure it out for yourself!

. . .

. . .

Go on, get out of here! Get off my lawn!

. . .

No, seriously. Get off my lawn.

Update: And we didn’t even start on the question of whether there’s some kind of black magic GFW tracking software built into the back end of Purplefox. Download at your own risk!

Egypt, China, and Revolution (Part 2)

I can’t help thinking that some of this is all my fault. You see, having been one of the few people in China who stayed awake all night last Friday, I was (I think) the first person to report that China was censoring the news about the protests in Egypt, kind of. What I said was this:

Word of the revolutionary protests is spreading on Weibo and through BBS forums, but appears to be being scrubbed just as quickly. Attempts to link to Al-Jazeera’s live coverage of the story resulted repeatedly in Sina’s Weibo service displaying an error message about “forbidden” content. Some Weibo messages have mentioned Egypt, but the topic appears to have been scrubbed from the trending topics on Weibo, where it hasn’t appeared in the top 50 all night.

I believe I beat the AP on this by several hours, in light of the fact that they were probably sleeping, like sane people, at the time I posted it.

In the days since then, of course, the situation in Egypt has worsened, and comparisons to China are becoming rather difficult to avoid. And the springboard from 1989 to now is pretty apparent. If a pro-democracy movement is spreading across North Africa, in this global age, could it spread to China? And what is China doing about that?

“They’re censoring it,” is the obvious answer, and while that’s true, it’s also complicated. Has that complexity been reflected in the coverage?

First, let us start with the Straits Times, whose coverage is (perhaps unsurprisingly) appalling:

China has continued to censor online discussions of the protests in Egypt, wary that images of tanks in Cairo would evoke memories of its own bloody Tiananmen struggle in 1989.

Keyword searches of the word ‘Egypt’ are blocked, and foreign news websites reporting on the ongoing uprising have been disabled and remain inaccessible.

As much as I like to joke, the Tiananmen comparison is entirely apt here. But then things go downhill quickly. First of all, what the hell is a “keyword search”? Is it the same thing as a regular search (yes)? Because searching for “Egypt” isn’t blocked on any Chinese search engine I know. And in fact, Baidu.com’s auto-suggest feature currently suggests “Egypt riots” as soon as you type in Egypt. It’s also the second response on the results page when you search for Egypt.

Searches for the term “Egypt” are blocked on Sina’s Weibo microblogging service. But, as I reported originally, people are still perfectly free to talk about Egypt and the riots on Weibo, “Egypt” just can’t be searched for and is blocked as a trending topic.

Similarly, the Straits Times reports that “foreign news websites reporting on the ongoing uprising have been disabled and remain inaccessible.” I wish this was more specific, because I can’t find a single foreign news website reporting on the uprising that has been disabled. Even Al Jazeera, with its 24-hour live video coverage, is accessible, as it has been since the protests began.

Again, the Straits Times folks may be talking about Sina Weibo, where links to Al Jazeera’s site are currently blocked. But that is absolutely not something that’s true of the Chinese internet as a whole. Moreover, it’s important to remember that private companies like Sina generally censor themselves preemptively. It’s possible the decision to block the Al Jazeera site was made without input from the government itself. In fact, that seems likely, since the Al Jazeera website is still totally unblocked.

Of course, not everyone is doing as terrible as job as the Straits Times. But lots of people have been making this mistake, seen here in TIME’s coverage but widely available in a variety of Western media outlets:

As the unrest in Egypt stretches on, China has blocked the country’s name from micro-blogs and is scrubbing related comments from the web.

No. Sina has blocked searches for Egypt, and disabled it as a trending topic. But the word Egypt is not blocked, as evidenced by this post I made last night. It says the word “Egypt” seventy times. It went through fine and has been there for over a day without being deleted. Note also tweets like these, actual information about the riots in Egypt, that went through without a problem and a day later, still haven’t been deleted. And here are a couple posts I made on Jan 29th about Egypt. Those weren’t deleted either.

This may not be a significant distinction for everyone, but I do think it’s important. Simply saying “China censors news about Egypt!” is easy, but things are not that simple. In fact, China has created a much more elaborate system to deal with the unrest in Egypt, which seems to be focused more on misdirection than direct censorship. Sina and other web portals are scrubbing Egypt-related content from their front pages, search functions, etc., which makes it less likely to become a big story. At the same time, though, people are still allowed to tweet about it, and even read news coverage about it (both foreign and domestic), which decreases frustration.

Of course, Chinese coverage has predictably focused on the destabilizing effect of the protests, the violence, and the heroic government effort to rescue Chinese citizens in Egypt (although there was an ugly rumor going around on Twitter that the first plane they sent left behind a group of schoolchildren so as to ensure that all the “important” government-connected folks could be rescued first). The message is generally: what’s happening in Egypt is bad and no good can come of it. Not a big surprise.

But everyone seems to be ignoring the most significant thing about the Egypt-in-China story: no one cares, because it’s Spring Festival time ((Imagine, for example, that on December 25th, China sentenced a highly visible pro-democracy dissident to a harsh prison term. How many Americans would be paying attention? It’s happening in a far-away country, it doesn’t have immediate ramifications for US foreign policy, and it’s Christmas, goddamn it. No one would care (well, almost no one).)). When the protests got serious on Friday, many people were already on their way home. When things got really violent last night, almost everyone in China was busy either watching the horrible, horrible spectacle that is Chunwan or burning down expensive buildings with fireworks. The government holiday lasts for another week, and most people won’t begin returning to their regular lives until at least a few days after that. If the riots in Egypt are still going by then, it could pose a danger to the Chinese government. But so far, there’s no big threat.

Egypt, China, and Revolution

For the past three hours or so, I have been captivated by the situation in Egypt, where it appears at this time (about 6 A.M. China time) that the Egyptian president Mubarak may already have been overthrown, or at the very least faces a dire threat to his legitimacy from the massive protests that have resulted in, among other things, the burning and looting of his political party’s official headquarters.

(EDIT: Or maybe not? Mubarak finally showed up at 6:20 and made a speech on Egyptian TV, so he’s at least still in the country. I am now going to sleep.)

Of course, this is an extremely sensitive issue for China, given that the protests in Egypt are motivated primarily by factors that exist in China, too: wealth disparity, corruption, censorship, etc. Of course, China is not Egypt. But the spin machine is still running.

Xinhua’s Chinese site doesn’t feature the Egypt story prominently. At present, the big headline story is about Wen Jiabao calling the German Prime Minister. The only headline on the site that mentions Egypt is this short blurb about Hong Kong officials announcing a travel warning for Egypt. There are Xinhua stories about the riots, but they are clearly being buried, none of them appear on Xinhua’s crowded front page.

Xinhua’s English site does mention the protests on the front page, in this story, which describes the protests but makes no attempt to explain why they are occurring.

Word of the revolutionary protests is spreading on Weibo and through BBS forums, but appears to be being scrubbed just as quickly. Attempts to link to Al-Jazeera’s live coverage of the story resulted repeatedly in Sina’s Weibo service displaying an error message about “forbidden” content. Some Weibo messages have mentioned Egypt, but the topic appears to have been scrubbed from the trending topics on Weibo, where it hasn’t appeared in the top 50 all night.

Now, of course, all of these could just be because it’s late at night, and news reporters are, by and large, asleep. But netizens discussing the issue on BBS forums are reporting threads on this topic are being deleted rapidly, so it seems likely Xinhua’s omissions and Weibo’s squeaky-clean trending topics are not coincidental.

One wonders what the Chinese government is thinking about all this revolution in the Middle East. I feel quite certain they are not amused. As it’s now 6 A.M., I’m not going to take much more of an analytical leap than that right now, but feel free to discuss it in the comments. Below, I’ve translated some of a post and some comments about the Egypt protests from Mop.

Netizen Comments

From this story about the protests on Mop.com. First, an excerpt from the original post, written before things exploded on Friday:

“What’s regrettable is that while China and Egypt have the same political system, China has devoted itself entirely to pursuing “harmony”, whereas Egypt has broken out in large scale protests and threats, directly calling for the president to step down. This is very difficult for Chinese people to understand. According to reports, the demonstrators were able to get together all at once because of communication through the internet. The incident exploded beyond the expectations of authorities, which is also something that couldn’t happen in China. From this, we can tell that Egypt’s system of information and internet management lags behind China’s

[…]

After [the first] protests were suppressed, the government quickly announced that these activities were illegal; as for what laws specifically were violated, that’s decided by the people holding the guns. I think in the future they will ban protesting, and ban speaking about “sensitive” things like “black jails”, “mental hospitals”, “death by being crushed under a wheel” ((These are all unsubtle references to things in China that have happened recently)). So I think the Egyptian people will continue to live in a monarchy for a long time, safe and content in paradise.”


Comments
:

“The original poster of this story has already been judged [by authorities] to be a counterrevolutionary.”

“I doubt this post will last a day [before being deleted].”

“Fuck, not having a government is the true “kingly way” [a reference to the title of the post, means not having a government is the best form or goverment]”

“Leaving my name before this gets harmonized.”

“Confucianism is slavery, the most useful narcotic of China’s feudal rulers.”

“Who’s name are you promoting this in? In the name of the people? At the very least, what you’ve said doesn’t represent my opinion.”

“In the Heavenly Kingdom [China] people are happy to sit around and watch rather than taking a stand.”

“I think the Egyptian political system is very similar to the “Heavenly Kingdom”, it’s just that the people are different…”

“The authorities in Egypt aren’t as experienced as the Heavenly Kingdom, start brainwashing in middle school, watch over the internet, if there’s a sign of trouble just arrest it ((literally, trans-province it, referring to police pursuing criminals across provincial borders)), break the backbone of the people, ensure they can never straighten or harden up, so they won’t dare to oppose, turning the Heavenly Kingdom into a police state.”