Wall Space

Friday, January 08, 2010


For a few hours on Monday the strict controls that China exerts over domestic access to the internet – known as ‘the great firewall’- disappeared. Chinese internet users could twitter, Facebook, read about Tibet - you name it. But was it a harbinger or a glitch? Chinese media expert Rebecca Mackinnon explains the rules and misconceptions that surround China’s internet.

Comments [2]

Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Well, it so happens the good professor of whom Ms. Shih writes was on the PBS Newshour this evening and some of the mystery behind this apparent breach of the Great Firewall may well have been associated with the breach of Google's g-mail system in China the current fall out from that "hack". As the professor discussed Google's (now China's third most popular censored search site) threat to leave the country, he emitted a Buddha-like serenity.

Whether Google wins its current battle with the authoritarian regime and stays or loses and makes good its threat, Professor Qiang suggests that if it comes down to "Chinet" (as he termed it) versus the Internet, the latter will eventually win. I tend to agree, though because it faces an arbitrary set of limits. "Indinet", as I'll call it, as described in the next segment, which depends on end-user cultural attitudes to fuel its censorship may be a more even opponent.

Meanwhile, I have been waiting weeks for the guest on some program, radio or television, when told "Thank you" by a host for their appearance on a program to respond with an appropriate "Your welcome." Ms. Mackinnon, you win the prize!

Jan. 13 2010 09:59 PM
Evelyn Shih from Berkeley, CA

You should try interviewing Professor Xiao Qiang, who teaches at the School of Journalism at UC Berkeley. He has a dissident activist background, and is actually denied re-entrance to China. But he is doing interesting work with the website, Chinadigitaltimes.net.

Specifically, he works to illuminate the ways in which Chinese web users creatively circumvent censorship. Sometimes, this involves use of homophones that aren't the target of Great Firewall filters. Sometimes it means use of sharply satirical neologisms that criticize officialdom from the side. This new creativity is precisely due to the pressure of censors upon cyberspace and the blogosphere.

Prof. Xiao is a MacArthur Genius grant recipient, and is very savvy in Chinese web culture. I think he would bring more nuance to the topic of this piece.

Full disclosure: I'm not a student of Professor Xiao, but I do some translations for him occasionally. I have lived in Taiwan, but not the PRC. Taiwan's media stands in stark contrast to PRC media in that free speech is protected, to the point that the vitriol can become tiresome to the average media consumer.

Jan. 10 2010 10:48 PM

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