Posted by: thelocaldialect | October 12, 2007

WordPress — my internet refugee camp

What better a way to welcome my blog to it’s new home than to write a post about why it had to leave the old one, right?

 Lots of people, without a lot of first hand “insider” information into China’s web-censorship policies, mistakenly believe that we’re virtually trapped behind the great firewall, unable to access even the most basic news from abroad, possible unable to receive e-mail, and living in fear of Big Brother watching what we write, listening for that knock on the door that might signify that maybe we’d crossed the line in making that dirty joke about Chairman Mao in an e-mail to dad last week.

However, the reality is a lot more boring than all that. In actuality, perhaps because of technological restrictions, perhaps because of a lack of vigilance, or perhaps because no one really cares THAT much what some expat out in Yunnan with delusions of grandeur writes on her weblog, as anyone, foreign or Chinese living her can attest, the Great Firewall rarely shows itself, and when it does, it poses more of an inconvenience than anything else. Sites seem to be blocked randomly. BBC news links are off-limits, but CNN isn’t. Blogspot is blocked, and then unblocked, and then blocked again, but, curiously, you could always write new posts and publish them, you just could see them afterwards. Wikipedia was blocked for awhile, but now it’s not. You can still access pictures of things like Tiananmen with ease. If you want to read a story about how local thugs stole land from farmers in Guangdong, you can. If you want to watch a You-Tube video of the slaughtering of dogs in Sichuan, that’s there too. It seems like, paradoxically, some of the things you’d most expect to be censored are right there for all to see, while seemingly innocent sites are left unmolested. What gives, Great Firewall?

 And then, of course, there are internet proxies. The same handy little sites that many back home use to get onto Myspace from work and dodge net nannies can be used to bypass what should be THE most effective internet censor of all. Looking at a “banned” site is ridiculously easy. Even google, which supposedly plays along with the Firewall, and has gotten loads of flack for it in the Western media, will give you a long list of free ways to bypass it.

 All of this sort of begs the question — what’s the point? Is all this censorship just for show? Is it just a big joke that everyone who actually uses the net is in on, a way to make the grandpa who valiantly fought against Western Imperialism feel better about the increasingly international China he now lives in? Or is the internet simply too big to effectively filter, rendering any attempt at doing so on a mass scale pretty much innefective and basically pointless? Is it odd that sometimes, when I come across a site that seems blocked for no reason whatsoever, and another site, openly critical of this country unblocked and proud, I almost wish they’d just get it right for once? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of censorship, but I’m even less of a fan of pointless censorship. It doesn’t make any sense that I can read Westerners rant about how China wants to poison American babies with lead paint, but I can’t read a blog about kittens.

And on that note, welcome to my new, censorship free wordpress blog.  I just hope I didn’t jinx myself. Hold on, I think there’s someone at the door …

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