Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

Being checked on

December 16, 2007

As I recently was asked how I accessed my blog in China, I can at least say that it was not always easy to update it. Due to the Internet censorship it most of the time was not possible to directly write on my blog. The so-called “Great Firewall” sometimes made it impossible to add posts or to read the blog. There is a really good article about Google and the Internet in China overall, the best and most comprehensive one I have read so far. I was published in the New York times and its only downside is the length of about ten pages, so it takes some time to read.

Chinese flag in front of the Google headquarters in Beijing, China
Chinese flag in front of the Google headquarters in Beijing

Many web pages are permanently or temporarily blocked in mainland China, including websites that rank among the most popular in Europe or the US. For example it was impossible to access Wikipedia for most of the time. But one has to add that the firewall is a dynamic system operating with keywords and specific blocks so at certain periods of time it was possible to access pages that were blocked the day before. Besides that there seems to be a regional difference in the selection of the blocks. I can say so for my blog because that was probably the web page I was looking on a fairly regular basis.

To edit my blog I relied on a VPN provided by my university in Germany. With such a network one can easily circumvent the firewall since the traffic is redirected via Germany. While being on the road, however, this was not possible because to access it, I need some VPN software. I could have used a proxy server, but most of the time I mailed the content home and had my brother update the blog.

But the Internet is not the only place where there is a control of people: The Chinese “Hukou”-System (户口) is a powerful measure of control. Basically this system was introduced in the 1950s to control the flow of people and make a distinction between rural and urban residents. I am not going into the details, but this system makes it very hard for people from the countryside to move into the cities. I once saw police arguing with workers about their illegal status in Beijing. Once I got into a passport control by myself: I needed to show the passport and a certificate that I was a registered resident in Beijing. I was only able to present a photocopy of my passport so the police officer called the station and after they only after had checked my residence status they let me go.

One’s passport also needs to presented every now and then during travel: At each and every hostel one checks in, one has to present the passport and fill in a form. During my travel I was able to memorize the nine digit passport number – but I was not able to impress any Chinese with that because it just seems natural for them to know the number of their ID (身份证).

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The nailhouse – how to spread a word in China

April 5, 2007

The “Nailhouse” has achieved some fame in the Chinese blogsphere. At first, it seemed like an ordinary situation in present-day China: A redeveloped area was supposed to be built in Chongqing, the world’s largest city. To get the ground ready for construction, the homeowners should be compensated and moved to other places. This is one reason, why the Hutongs (small streets) slowly vanish from many places (except where they can be used for touristic proposes like south of Tian’anmen).

In Chongqing happened something unexpected: After one homeowner disagreed with the compensation arguing it could not buy her an equivalent place, the house was the only that was left untouched on the construction site. This awkward situation was made public through some blogs, spreading the story and adding pictures. The house owner herself eventually created a blog, that was viewed more several hundred thousand times.

Later on, to my surprise also state owned newspaper were running stories on the topic and foreign media picked up the topic. There was considerably few censorship although the homeowner’s blog had been suppressed for some time. I think the case of the Nailhouse was especially watched from foreign countries because it’s one of the first times that a possibly political sensitive topic got that much attention from China’s bloggers. Just a few weeks ago the National People’s Congress had decided to change the property right. The development of “independent citizen reporters” that are local residents contributing to blogs might somehow be dangerous to the monopoly of the state owned media, because it is hard to control the fast spread of news that do not originate from an approved news agency.

I myself have to cope with the censorship of websites in China, as well. My blog is not available from mainland China, so I cannot directly add new entries, without some technical knowledge a Chinese won’t be able to read my posts.

PS: The Nailhouse was finally torn down after the developer reached consensus with the homeowner.