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The ‘Great Firewall’ of China: what’s up with that?

April 19, 2011


Nothing is sacred. The Great Firewall looms, its power grows, and now Google search, Gmail, Gchat, and all Google apps run through Google Chrome are taking a hit. None of them are completely blocked, but now they only work half the time. So, if we’ve ever been talking on Gchat and suddenly I sign out, it’s not because I don’t love you. It’s the Firewall.

What’s up with that? you may wonder. Well, basically, the Chinese government hates Google for challenging its censorship and embarrassing China in the process. Therefore, the government wants to make Google users miserable enough that they’ll abandon Google, without actually blocking Google’s services completely so that they can deny involvement and blame Google for the problems. (The world knows better.)

Also, by blocking foreign web companies like Google and Facebook that China cannot censor, domestic versions of these sites, like Renren (China’s Facebook) and Sina Weibo (China’s Twitter) flourish, promoting the success of domestic businesses over foreign competitors and completely preserving the government’s ability to censor, censor, censor away.

Sadly for me, the situation is intensifying. Most of you probably already knew that Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China. But did you know that Google-owned Youtube (oh, the pain), Google’s Blogger service (anything with “blogspot” in the URL), and Google Docs have been blocked for quite some time now? But before, Google search Gmail – and with it, Gchat – were untouched by China’s censors. No more.

Even worse, ever since the uprisings in the Middle East, a fearful Beijing has been redoubling its efforts to stop VPNs – Virtual Private Networks that allow people in China to get around the Great Firewall. My VPN service, Witopia, worked great in 2010. But Since January, nada. It’s a disaster. And, therefore, I have zero access to Facebook, Youtube, and Blogspot sites. This new development makes the internet censorship here much less tolerable for the expat crowd, myself included.

Wait a minute, Morgan , you may be thinking now, how do you get your blog posts on Facebook, then, and how do you keep posting on Twitter? Well, I use tricks. WordPress has a “publicize on Facebook” feature that somehow gets around the firewall. And I use a service called Twitterfeed (the website is ironically now blocked in China, whereas it wasn’t before) where anything I share through Google Reader is automatically published to my Twitter feed.

Unfortunately, now Google Reader is totally unreliable too. WHEN DOES IT END???

On the bright side, WordPress, which used to be partially blocked, is no longer blocked! Hooray! So blogging has become a bit less of a pain. Also, luckily China’s and will usually have any internet sensation, for example Rebecca Black’s Friday, so I’m not completely cut off from US popular culture.

Also, guilty secret: there’s something so refreshing about the Great Firewall. It’s a great excuse for not keeping up with Facebook (which I was always bad at anyway), and Youtube no longer sucks up hours of my time. I’ve discovered things like the news, cooking blogs galore (except the ones @blogspot), and how to correspond with people I care about through email. By taking away my internet freedom, the Great Firewall has paradoxically freed from the burdens of online social networking. (This is the glass-half-full approach. It’s still damn annoying.)

As for social/political implications of the Great Firewall, as long as I still live here, I’ll stick with a safe “no comment; not my business how the government does things here.” I realize Bob Dylan got torn to shreds for that attitude, but I’ll take my chances.

(If you want to learn more about the Great Firewall, check out; I can’t, because it’s blocked here–surprise, surprise–but apparently it has all kinds of figures on blocked websites, blocked terms, the speed of different websites, etc.)

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