The writing on China’s FireWall
It’s Sunday morning in Beijing and too early to wake up local friends. But I know my friend in New Delhi is up early, sipping chai and posting a status message I want to read. We would catch up for a few minutes on Facebook before starting the day’s work — until the Chinese censors began poking it.
The Great Firewall won’t let me write on your Wall. It has also cut me off from birthdays and dozens of email ids I never stored elsewhere. During the last week when Beijing released economic growth figures that indicated China is currently the best-performing major economy, another telling statistic made news. Chinese netizens numbered 338 million by June, including over 50 million Chinese bloggers. I live in a nation with the world’s biggest online community that now surpasses the population of the US, but there’s not much that we can actually surf online.
Last month, Beijing’s IT Ministry mandated the installation of anti-porn software on all computers sold in China before July 1. Netizens complained that the confused software would even block pictures of pigs — and Garfield — for resemblance to human skin. So the order was stalled after an online outcry and debates that the software was spyware.
But since China’s worst ethnic riots that killed 192 in northwest Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi on July 5, the Internet lockdown tightened. Officials alleged that overseas separatists instigated rioters through the Internet, so just as we had got used to living without downloading YouTube videos, social networking sites Twitter and Facebook also vanished.
During routine news searches before I wrote this blog, Google was blocked several times for a few moments each. The shutdown may continue until the politically sensitive 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China is safely over on October 1.
China’s online population is increasingly influencing the outcome of anti-corruption cases and tracking accountability in governance. The leadership monitors online views daily, for signs of stability, discontent and dissidence. But I need my Facebook friends now more than ever as I countdown the number of expats still in Beijing. My friends and my friends’ friends are all going away, partly due to recession relocations. A local magazine cover for July asked if Beijing’s Homo Expaticus is heading for extinction.
I want to read what Internet analyst and journalist Rebecca MacKinnon at the Hong Kong University has to say about the latest censorship. But her website and blog is blocked.
I try the China Beat where international writers track Chinese media coverage. Blocked.
Okay, keep looking. What is the Time magazine blogging from China? Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage.