As you may have heard, yesterday Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese human rights activist, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. After reading about it on Time's website (via my Chicago connection), I decided this was an opportune time to see just how great the Great Firewall of China actually is.
The Great Firewall of China refers to the Chinese government's attempts to block certain websites - anything that might be politically touchy, for instance, or social networking sites. In general, it isn't too big of a hassle, if only because I can get around it with my Chicago VPN connection, but I'll write more about day to day use of the firewall in a different entry.Since I had only ever run into the firewall while trying to access Facebook, using a political event to see just how vast the firewall actually is seemed like a fairly good idea. (Until the police show up on my doorstep tomorrow....)
I started by going to Google, which redirects to Google Hong Kong, and typing in "Liu Xiaobo". I hit enter, and "the connection has been reset" webpage popped up. Funny, that's the same one I get when I try to access Facebook over the Chinese connection. I went back to the Google HK homepage, and searched Mao Zedong. Immediately, the Wikipedia link popped up along with numerous portraits of the glorious leader. No problem with the connection there, I guess.
I then went to Baidu, which is the Chinese-government approved search engine. Searching his name there, I was able to find links to some online forums apparently discussing the event. However, my computer can't display Chinese characters, so I had to use Google translate to translate the page for me. I copied and pasted the forum text, but again, "the connection was reset". I was mildly impressed that the Chinese government was thorough enough to block political messages even from Google translate, which was confirmed when I tested "hello" both ways in google translate with no problems. Point 1 to the Chinese government.
I then reconnected to my Chicago VPN connection, which basically identifies my computer as being on campus. Translating the text there, I was able to get only some gibberish about cheap plane tickets and a user comment of "Haha, sensitive words.. No [don't use?] Yuntai forum". That's not an exact quote, but the gist of it, seemingly implying that the author of the post was well aware of the censors. Through the VPN connection, I also got the Chinese characters for Liu Xiaobo's name, and after I disconnected, went back and typed them into Baidu. This time, all it brought up was press releases from the Chinese government berating the Nobel Peace Prize Committee for awarding it to a Chinese dissident. I'll include the text below - the contrast to the reports I read on Time and CNN was surprising.
While the China server blocked me from searching/translating things about Liu Xiaobo, it didn't "reset" the connection when I went to Time's website and brought up the story there. I searched CNN.com for it, and was able to access their story as well, despite the fact that when they broadcast the story on the news, China blacked-out the station. (BBC also reported a blackout in China during the broadcast). So while the Great Firewall is comprehensive enough to block politically-charged messages from being translated on Google Translate, it wasn't comprehensive enough to block CNN or Time's online articles of it. I was surprised they were sneaky enough to block the translate tool, but apparently the Great Firewall still has some gaping holes in it.
Text from the Chinese news release is in the post below this, if you're interested.