Thoughts on the Blockings

30 Mar 2004

Recently Typepad blogs have been added to the list of blog services blocked by the Chinese government. This is already old news. Some bloggers have responded by turning their blogs’ background color to black as a sort of “virtual protest.” I guess that’s cool, but I think they’re going to have to either get used to black backgrounds or just accept the blocks.

Just before the Typepad block, some major Chinese blog services were blocked temporarily. But before that, the last big blocking to directly affect expat blogs in China was the blocking of Blogspot (AKA “Blockspot”). Guess what? Blogspot is still blocked. The big stink bloggers made about it then had little effect, and it seemed to have even gotten more international media coverage than the most recent block of Typepad.

After Blogspot was blocked, many bloggers adopted a less direct approach to the problem. It’s the same one Napster users adopted when that great giant was struck down. They found another service they could use. The Sinosplice Network began, and at the same time the number of other blogging services commonly used multiplied. Things seemed to be peaceful for a while, until the most recent blockings.

Thankfully, due to bloggers’ decision to branch out in the blogging services they used, the most recent block did not affect as large a proportion of China blogs as the Blogspot block did, although some of our favorite blogs were among the fallen (Danwei.org the most notable in my own personal reading habits).

Those of us that follow tech news may have recently read about the biological principle of genetic variation helping to guard populations against disease being applied to the computer world. I think the same principle applies to the blogging community in China.

Yes, they shouldn’t block us, but I don’t think mere ardent idealism is going to get us very far in this case. We need to be smart. We need to use lots of different blogging services. It would be best if every blog had its own URL, each with a different hosting service in a different IP range, but that’s a little unrealistic.

Unfortunately, the existence of the (rather complete) China Blog List could be a big help to those that would thwart us. I can’t really help that.

Also, should the powers that be ever decide to block any blog in the Sinosplice network, this network I put together could easily be taken down in one fell stroke. I can’t really help that either. But it seems that if the new blockings are going to continue (and we currently have no good reason to believe that they won’t), further grouping blogs on one server (like Living in China) is only going to hurt the “blog population” in the long run unless that server has some aces up its sleeve.

Furthermore, even if we can’t keep our attackers from accessing the full China Blog List, we can at least be a little more subtle in our methods of circumventing the blocks. Those outside of China don’t need the information, but those within China might do well to pass the information around a little more privately. There is much more to the proxy solution than the several websites which are most well known, but the full extent of our knowledge need not be publicly displayed.

Let’s be smart. We’re not in our native countries, so our instinctive responses are not necessarily the most appropriate.

A famous Japanese idiom comes to mind: the nail that sticks up gets hammered.

And we know this is true in China as well.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. NOTE: Please be respectful of the sensitive nature of this topic and do not post comments (or key words) that would draw unnecessary attention to this blog!

  2. I’ve heard that blogspot blogs have been unblocked to some degree in China. I’ve had two Chinese visitor recently, so I was wondering if it was unblocked. Unfortunately, some in China still could not access blogspot blogs. Has China completely blocked blogspot, or is it unblocked in some areas?

  3. I wonder how the government imposes its blocks. Does it block the IP or the DNS record or both? If it only blocks the IP, then dynamically assigned IPs and dynamic DNS would be the answer to the problem. I bet the gov has already thought of that and has probably blocked DNS request/responses for entire domains. Anyway, does anyone know exactly how the blocks are done?

  4. wulong: It is, as far as I can tell, by IP range. I don’t think anyone knows exactly how it is done, but people have been successul in getting their sites unblocked by moving it to a different web host.

    John: I certainly agree that discussions of circumventing these things needs to be done more discreetly. One does not tend to successfully thwart the enemy by talking about their plans in the enemy’s living room.

  5. This is really strange.

    I can’t access my blog brainysmurf — not through four different computers in two different locations. Although everyone tells me that it’s fine.

    It’s not a server problem, I don’t know what it is.

    Whatever the case, it’s taken a lot of air out of my balloon, so to speak. It’s really quite sad, but I disagree that this means i should just sort of accept it.

    I agree that virtually protesting won’t change much, but like I said I’m not going to just roll over and play dead.

  6. Adam,

    I can’t access your blog now either. I noticed it first around 12:30am today, shortly before I went to bed.

  7. The PRC government won’t be blocking Sinosplice, or LiC, or the sites on the blog list (or at least it’s far down the list), for the simple fact that, as people occasionally point out, there are so few non-ex-pat bloggers listed. The blocks of larger news organizations may be retaliatory, but it’s harder to imagine the censors banning IP ranges based on some random comments on some page in English by a non-national.

    The IP splitting is an interesting tactic, and it’s nice to see the offers to share space among the blogging community here, but I would propose the following as a more effective statement of solidarity with Chinese national bloggers:

    If you have space on your server, open it up for Chinese bloggers to use. Even if it’s just one or two, you’d be giving an unrestricted platform to people who otherwise would have to operate under the supervision of BlogCN and other censored providers. A list of available space could be circulated among participating sites, and anyone who felt they had sensitive views could sign up. Each site takes a small risk that they will attract the attention of the authorites and be blocked, but the more hosts who participate, the less risk there is. A distributed network of “Chinese blogs in exile” seems to me a better way to serve the community than enshrouding blogs in black for the forseeable future.

  8. zhwj,

    Funny you should mention that — I’m actually starting to organize just that. I think you’re right — distributing blogs as widely across the internet is the safest solution for everybody.

    Anyway, watch this space for the launch of my idea.

  9. As of right now, on our campus network in Hangzhou, I can access Brainysmurf but it’s really really slow to resolve. Are you sure it’s not a problem on your server’s (or hosting provider’s) side?

  10. Hey, Brainysmurf.org finally loaded for me too, after about 10 minutes, only without the stylesheet and most images.

  11. Brainysmurf is back up, for me at least. I suspect it was more of that random weird shit that comes out of nowhere and disappears just as quickly. I’ve had decidedly inoffensive New Zealand websites disappear in a similar way, only to reappear later, untouched, intact. Welcome back, Adam.

  12. John, you just got a mention on the Guardian Weblog: http://www.guardian.co.uk/weblog

    You might want to look at formatting the bottom of your posts a little differently, though — she read your name as “John March.”

  13. Brad,

    Thanks for the heads up. I have been neglecting my “individual entry” template for too long. I finally made that change along with a few minor other changes.

  14. For some reason I have not been able to update my website for over a month now…

  15. I’ve heard that saying about the nail in chinese too. I think.

  16. Just a note to say, good luck to you. I was living in China last year and ended up taking my blog down for various reasons related to anonymity (my old blog was on your list back in 2002 – sorry for not letting you know it had vanished!). I actually had a very similar idea to what zhwj suggests, but never got around to putting it into practise. Hope you have better luck.

  17. I agree that we need to be smart…but I’m afraid I’m not smart enough.
    This reminds me of when Google “was” blocked(picture searching is still blocked for me sometimes,but it works for my sister in Guangzhou).I had to use proxies and mirrors,but they all stopped work after a while,and the speed was frustrating.
    Anyway,I hate it when we still see the “this page cannot be displayed” all the time,even though people are already careful with “sensitive contents”…

  18. I never noticed my free was restrained b4 blogcn’s shut down and typepad’s block.
    sinosplice’s famous, but I also don’t think they’ll block u, john. If they do, well~~ at least no good I think.

    John, u haven’t noticed the change of my blog url? It’s in mblg now http://mblog.com/echo_point
    I planned to settle down at typepad. however, I can still visit it through www. unipeak.com
    Still sad~~

  19. The government has the technology to look deeply into the individual packets being sent and received. So they probably have bots looking for words and phrases that are derogatory and those get sent to a human censor whom makes a decision. I am sure they are more interested in Chinese language sites, but English language sites are certainly on their list as well. Point is that the way they go about blocking sites leaves everyone open to censorship but obviously more popular sites will have more opportunity to get causght and acted upon.

  20. DAMN….Would someone in China please tell me if http://www.blogdrive.com/ works for you?

    Hope it’s just my computer…

  21. echo,
    I could access it the day b4 yesterday, but not yesterday or today.
    u may visit it through http://www.unipeak.com
    😉

  22. Heather,thank you
    Aghh it would be troubling to submit entries that way,but anyway…

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