Every now and then a news story about the repression of freedom of online information access, internet censorship, in China breaks the news in the West. Recently it was Google who posted a somewhat boring and definitely not newsworthy video about how their search engine, when searching Chinese phrases, gets blocked on the mainland. More accurately, “connection reset”. What is news to me is not the info in the video, that’s old hat, but that Google was blissfully unaware of it until 2012! It’s been that way for half a decade or more, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s much more to be frustrated about when dealing with the internet in China.
When it comes to Google, users in China, especially Western expats who know there is an internet out there beyond mainland China, know that far more than a single page load gets blocked. Click the wrong search result in any language and Google will be blocked completely, not just the page you clicked. Now I’m sure you are thinking that this occurs on just sensitive topics, like T-Square for example, not so. A search for that won’t even get a search result page to load (you taking notes Google???). No, I’m talking about any normal search, “Cat allergies”, or “Fire truck” searches for example. Any normal term will invariably bring up a page hosted on a blog, like wordpress.org, or on a banned server. Click one of those links, and your connection gets blocked.
And then there’s image searching in Google and Bing. Search an image, and you may or may not get a result page. Click a few images, and sooner than later your connection will be blocked. The same holds true for Bing. Apparently the Chinese government is deathly afraid of anyone viewing an image of flowers, Sponge Bob, or any number of innocent things which it has not approved. So basically, image search is a grand “no no”. Try searching apps, blogs, using Google Docs, setting up an Adwords account on Google, and you’ll never make it to the page. Even Gmail’s regular service, along with GMX, Yahoo, Mail.com, hotmail, etc., will be totally blocked randomly from time to time. Basically, the internet beyond the prying eyes of the Chinese Internet Police is a frustrating place to operate.
Then, of course, there are normal things you want to do. Like buy a url or rent server space for example. This seemingly easy thing to accomplish online is met with particularly difficult Chinese characteristics. GoDaddy, for example, is a no go. Sure, you can buy a url there, but hosting sign-up, any kind of support window, or extra info page will get you the “connection reset” result. Anyway, the majority of GoDaddy hosted sites are blocked in China simply because GoDaddy is a competitor, or was a competitor, with local government-run hosting sites in China. Even searching for other providers often ends in a “connection reset”, which is very frustrating to any would be internet webmaster.
So let’s say you get a url and hosting, like I did for this site, then it’ll be smooth sailing right? No. Not if you have the unfortunate luck of sharing a server with a previously blocked site. There are millions of them and it is a distinct possibility. Also, if you chose, as I have, to host a WordPress site, other frustrations will follow. WordPress itself is blocked, but through PHP services on your hosting account, WP can be installed with relative ease. The problem comes when you want to preview screen shots of plug-ins or upload media, like photos. One or two screen shots may come up on the plug-in preview screen or a couple of photos may upload, and then it is “connection reset” time, or the case of a never-ending upload. And you can forget about visiting WordPress developer’s sites. 99% of the time they will result in your internet connection being blocked. So, as you can plainly see, hosting this site is no easy task. Perhaps I need not mention it, but of course, things like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter etc. are also permanently blocked and placing widgets on your page connected to these popular social sites will result in unmade connections or raise the flags of the censors enough to get your site nominated for the Banned List.
So why all the censorship? With China’s faltering economy (as goes Europe and the USA, so goes China), isn’t all this censorship a great impediment to international business? The answer to the first question is relatively easy. It’s simple, the CCP has built up a greater tower of lies than any other nation in the history of the world. Were the internet free and open to Chinese mainlanders, then 1.2 billion people would be overthrowing the government as we speak. Not good if you are in power in the Middle kingdom. And as you may suspect, the answer to the second question is closely related. The number 1 job, role, goal of the CCP is to preserve its own power. A small trade-off in economic ease for those silly Laowai who seek to do business here is a small price to pay for their throne.
“It’s in the Party’s interest”, like with absolutely everything else here, is why going online is a struggle for anyone caught behind Chinese enemy lines…
Follow-up Blog Post: More From Behind Enemy Lines