Great firewall

China has a new great wall, which blocks parts of the Internet from its citizens. This is partly done by absolute blocks, for example banning the BBC because it has a Chinese language news site. But it is also done by more subtle means – letting the companies who run forums know that they might be shut down if they don’t remove unacceptable posts, but never quite defining what unacceptable is. That way the companies have to err on the side of caution, and require less direct supervision and enforcement.

Sites I couldn’t access from within China: BBC News Online, Google News UK, Chinese Google News on google.com, Wikipedia, any WordPress.com blog. An expat told me in seconds how to get round some of these. For example, by searching Wikipedia at A9.

In contrast, I was surpised I could access: CIA World Factbook and EastSouthNorthWest (a Hong Kong run blog about China). The restriction really does seem to be only on Chinese language content.

For all that, the most physical censorship I found was of English, in the Economist I bought at Xi’an airport. There was an article about the Cultural Revolution. Curiously, I could read the leader which said “this editorial will probably not be read in China”. Then I turned to the main article – suddenly in shock. Pages 29 and 30 excised with a neat tear. As well as the Cultural Revolution article, one on the back about Japan.

Visions of factories full of censors, desperate to ship the Economist to educate businessmen into booming the economy, eager not to see China insulted by revision of Mao. Carefully turning the pages of the foreign magazine, one by one removing the offending page.