Bring on the Seed of a Free Internet!

Yesterday quite a stir was caused by an article on the South China Morning Post called EXCLUSIVE: China to lift ban on Facebook – but only within Shanghai free-trade zone. To be clear, though, it’s not just about Facebook:

> Beijing has made the landmark decision to lift a ban on internet access within the Shanghai Free-trade Zone to foreign websites considered politically sensitive by the Chinese government, including Facebook, Twitter and newspaper website The New York Times.

An unfiltered Internet? In Shanghai? Seriously?! For some of us, this is a total dream come true. I often say that filtered (and slow, as a result) Internet access in China is one of the most frustrating downsides to living in China as a foreigner. Maybe we should be more concerned about food safety, pollution, and social issues, but the truth is that Internet censorship directly affects us (and our businesses) every single day.

OK, but first, let’s be clear about what this so-called “Shanghai FTZ” really is:

> Shanghai Free-trade Zone is the first Hong Kong-like free trade area in mainland China. The plan was first announced by the government in July and it was personally endorsed by Premier Li Keqiang who said he wanted to make the zone a snapshot of how China can upgrade its economic structure. Other mainland cities and provinces including Tianjin and Guangdong have also lobbied Beijing for such approvals. The Shanghai FTZ will first span 28.78 square kilometres in the city’s Pudong New Area, including the Waigaoqiao duty-free zone and Yangshan port and it is believed it may eventually expand to cover the entire Pudong district which covers 1,210.4 sq km of land.

Pink Flowers

Photo by Will Change

OK, so it’s not all of Shanghai, it’s just a corner of Pudong. Bummer. But one could hope that such a haven of free internet access right in Shanghai could be expanded over time… or at least exploited by the entire city. It does give one hope.

Lastly, I’m reminded of a quote here:

> 百花齐放,百家争鸣 (“Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend”)

Here’s hoping for the best!

Update: The People’s Daily has refuted the claims made by the SCMP article linked to above. Here’s some English coverage. Bummer, but I guess there’s no new “100 Flowers” incident brewing, at least!


John Pasden

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


    1. Rent an office in the tallest building you can find in the FTZ
    2. Setup antenna on roof (something like this – 100Mbps at 30km)
    3. Mount another antenna on your apartment roof
    4. Unfiltered internet access without having to move to Pudong!
  1. I agree that the internet situation behind the GFW is a great hassle of living in China (overseas, students pay for a “internet speed enhancer” which is a VPN than tunnels INTO china so they can use Youku and other sites at full speed with no area restrictions).

    Your use of 百花齐放 reminds me of the last time that phrase was popular, when ‘freedoms’ were really a trap to draw out dissidents. I suspect the FTZ internet may still be extensively monitored, even if access to foreign websites is largely unrestricted 😉

  2. I hope they’re planning to expand it. Otherwise it’s even worse, for general Chinese people.

  3. Wasn’t “100 flowers” about “enticing the snakes out of their caves”? I sure hope this isn’t a ploy to target people the government fears.

  4. A typical day in the office:

    (preparing flashcards to help teach new vocab in today’s class) Hmm…should I use Baidu, Goodle HK, or Yahoo? Google usually has the best results, but there’s that whole firewall thing to contend with…Eh, whatever. Google it is!

    two minutes later

    Dammit! I’m blocked again. Sigh. Ok let’s give Yahoo a shot.

    two minutes later

    Crap! I totally didn’t even think to look at the URL of that image before clicking it. WordPress and Blogspot pictures are like landmines out here just waiting to ruin my day. Ugh. Oh well, let’s try Baidu. At least there I don’t need to worry about getting disconnected by clicking something that’s linked to something that uses the word “Taiwan” in a manner that some bot somewhere thinks is sensitive.

    Baidu search “cloudy”

    Why are all these images of shoes, video games, random celebrities and nudity? Honestly, I thought the whole point of the firewall was to PREVENT porn from popping up everywhere…Screw this, I’m drawing these flashcards by hand.

  5. It is your choice to live in a totalatarian society. I don’t have any sympathy.

    • I wasn’t really looking for your sympathy, but… noted.

      • My apologies, I was quite inebriated when I responded to this post…

        I really intended to comment on how grateful I was to live in Canada, where we are free to elect, every 4 years, who our next dictator will be.

        The internet is not censored in the USA or in Canada…but it is apparently monitored by the NSA.

        This may be my final message before I have to defect to China…

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