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The Internet Censorship Communications

An Inside Look at the Great Firewall of China 165

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the must-protect-general's-secret-recipe dept.
alphadogg writes "An interview with James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, who has experienced 'The Great Firewall of China' firsthand, an experience people from around the world will share this summer when the Olympics comes to that country. Based in Beijing, Fallows has researched the underlying technology that the Chinese use for Internet censorship. One good thing to know: With VPNs and proxies, you can get around it pretty easily." Will these Olympics lead to a more free China, or is it just corporate pandering?
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An Inside Look at the Great Firewall of China

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  • But, eventually, corporate pandering will lead to greater economic freedom for the Chinese, and then, ultimately, greater political freedom.

    I don't mean to sound elitist, but most Chinese people in the USA that I have talked to have basically said that yes, while more human rights and freedom of speech would be nice, the problem is that the Chinese peasant class is so uneducated and so poor that there is a huge risk of total social chaos if China adopts the Glasnost route. They want to avoid a Soviet - collapse style meltdown.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Convincing the people that the government is the only thing standing between them and chaos is a classic tactic of totalitarian governments. (Now think about what the American government is currently doing....)

      However, given China's recent history, I'm not even sure they're wrong. The country went through a lot of chaos before the Communists took things over and got the country settled down. I've talked to people old enough to have been around a fair bit before the Communists gained control and I've never h
  • CORPORATE pandering? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ScentCone (795499) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:52AM (#23379052)
    Will these Olympics lead to a more free China, or is it just corporate pandering?

    Ask the international Olypmic commitee what they were thinking. The companies that make money off of the broadcasting and related licensing are going to make money regardless of where the games are held. It would likely be a lot easier, logistically, NOT to have to put up with the Chinese nonsense while moving the media army into place to cover the games. Which corporations are being pandered to, here? The corporation that is China? They (the Chinese) promised all sorts of open access and press freedom as part of the package they pitched while trying to seduce the panel that chooses the venues. They were obviously lying, a lot. How that broadly strokes "corporate" interests enough to refer to it that way in the summary is not clear enough in the summary to warrant that particular bit of editorial spin.
    • by zappepcs (820751)
      China has more problems than you mentioned. Aside from the deceit with the IOC, The just had a huge earthquake, still need to save face over the Tibet issues, and in general terms have to maintain face or risk losing sales of Chinese made products worldwide.

      If the 'Great Firewall' turns the Olympics into a fiasco, or the Chinese themselves do so, if even half it's trading partners boycott, it would seriously dampen China's fiscal ardor. They have gotten themselves into a 'put up or shut up' position. Lets j
      • by CastrTroy (595695) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:22PM (#23379506) Homepage
        Just about everything we purchase now is produced in China. Sure it would hurt China a lot of a country were to boycott them. But it would also hurt their own citizens. Not only would consumers be unable to purchase products from China, but businesses would be unable to outsource labour to China in order to keep prices low. While I think China needs to change their ways, I don't know if boycotting Chinese products is really feasible from an economic standpoint.
    • I have to say, if you lined up the Olympic committee, the corporations involved in this Olympics, and the Chinese government, I would say the Chinese government inspires more trust than the other two. All three are self-serving, but the Chinese government are the most socially responsible of the lot.
      • by ScentCone (795499) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:52PM (#23379922)
        ll three are self-serving, but the Chinese government are the most socially responsible of the lot.

        I see. That would be the China that just shouted down any attempt by the UN to even hold discussions about whether to try to bypass the Burma junta and get international aid directly to the million people that are about to die there? That IS socially responsible!

        And corporations? They exist to serve the people that form and invest in them. That's their actual purpose. Of course, many of them are lining up to provide goods and services to aid the people who are about to die in Burma, while China and Russia are backing the junta's demands to funnel all of the aid through them (you know, the people who elected not to warn their coastal population that they were about to die in droves, even though the rest of the world scrambled to let that military regime know what was about to happen). You know, the military regime that is confiscating such aid as IS allowed to land there, and which they are labeling with their own stickers and political propoganda before handing it out. You know, the military regime that China is insulating from so much as a formal rebuke from the UN.

        What's your motivation, here, exactly? You find the Chinese government - who jail and even kill people for saying the sorts of things you can sit at a US corporate desk and say all day long, and who harbor and sanction outright network vandalism and malware propogation around the world, and prop up hell holes like North Korea - more trustworthy than Honda, or Bayer, or LG, or Nokia, or Virgin Atlantic, or AMD, or your local grocery store chain? Really?
        • Corporations will go over corpses to make profit for their shareholders, as long as they can get away with it.

          Chinese government does a lot of shit that's inexcusable. But they did ultimately take a rural country with a few percent literacy and turn it into one of the world's strongest economies. They did a lot of crap on the way (The Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution), but they also did a lot of good on the way. During roughly this same time, the trustworthy, people-serving IBM was manufacturing
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I dunno, the Chinese government doesn't strike me as being particularly socially responsible. They may do their best to maintain order and stop various "vices", but their environmental record totally stinks. That they apparently couldn't give a rat's ass about Beijing's polluted air for so long, and then suddenly decided that It Must All Be Cleaned Up right when a horde of foreigners are about to descend upon the city doesn't speak well for them at all. For whatever reason, they seem to be more concerned wi
  • by ch-chuck (9622) on Monday May 12, 2008 @11:55AM (#23379094) Homepage
    The "Great Firewall of China" was a neato headline when Wired did it over 10 years ago.
    • Indeed it's no longer the ingenious neologism it once was, but have you a more apropos term in mind?

      I think it still captures the spirit of the system quite well -- As a firewall, China's filter network keeps things the Party wants to keep out from entering, and things it wants to keep from getting out from leaving. And I think the visual of China's iconic, ancient landmark actually makes for an excellent metaphor for both the scale and the socially archaic nature of the system.

      The Great Wall was of course
  • They can put needles in collars of soldiers to force them to stay at attention (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/worldnews.html?in_article_id=564629&in_page_id=1811&ct=5)
    but they can't figure out how to block the internet from their people.
    • Re:Incredible (Score:5, Interesting)

      by pkalkul (450979) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:11PM (#23379364)
      In their recent book, Who Controls the Internet, law professors Timothy Wu and Jack Goldsmith have a nice section on China. Their argument is that effective control does not require total control. Yes, it is possible for internet users in China to circumvent government controls, but as long as these controls work well enough for the average user -- who as other commentators have noted, have other concerns and priorities -- then the Chinese government has effective control. An educated Western user who has certain expectations for the internet, and who has the technical resources necessary to access proxies, can perhaps (relatively) easily bypass government controls. But that does not mean that these controls, combined with logging and fear of reprisals, are not very effective.

      And, of course, China is a large market for many firms, and therefore the Chinese government has leverage to exert their influence over a set of intermediaries -- Yahoo and Google, for example -- to make their control effective (again, not perfect).
  • China wants the olympics because it makes them a legitimate major nation in the international sphere, not an automatic enemy.

    Suddenly we're giving them the olympics but making demands about Tibet.

    Why Tibet?

    I am serious- of all injustices in the world why has the Western world particularly adopted Tibet? No matter how you look at it, it's a rightful conquest. Do we expect France to come over and tell us to relinquish Puerto Rico? No- imperialist gains are imperialist gains. I don't see why China's dominion i
    • by Shakrai (717556) * on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:45PM (#23379788) Journal

      I am serious- of all injustices in the world why has the Western world particularly adopted Tibet? No matter how you look at it, it's a rightful conquest. Do we expect France to come over and tell us to relinquish Puerto Rico? No- imperialist gains are imperialist gains. I don't see why China's dominion is evil while ours is not.

      One suspects that if I made the same argument and replaced 'China' with 'the United States' and 'Tibet' with 'Iraq' that I'd be quickly modded troll. And since you mentioned Puerto Rico -- are we repressing an independence movement in Puerto Rico at gunpoint? Are the people of Tibet free to vote in local elections and choose their own destiny as the people of Puerto Rico are?

      They revolt out of nationalistic pride, but in reality they are better off with China's modernizations.

      If I made the same argument about Native Americans I'd be modded down faster then you can say "gunpowder". What the hell gives one group of people the right to impose "modernization" on another group of less well armed people? This isn't the 19th century anymore.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        One suspects that if I made the same argument and replaced 'China' with 'the United States' and 'Tibet' with 'Iraq' that I'd be quickly modded troll. And since you mentioned Puerto Rico -- are we repressing an independence movement in Puerto Rico at gunpoint? Are the people of Tibet free to vote in local elections and choose their own destiny as the people of Puerto Rico are?

        Tibet is technically an "autonomous region". What that means is obviously questionable in reference to Chinese power. Despite this, I am positive that Tibet can not vote themselves out of Chinese control, the same way that Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands likely cannot.

        If I made the same argument about Native Americans I'd be modded down faster then you can say "gunpowder". What the hell gives one group of people the right to impose "modernization" on another group of less well armed people? This isn't the 19th century anymore.

        But we didn't modernize the native americans- at all. We simply kicked them off the fertile land and built in their place. In fact, one might go so far as to point out that we placed them at various points across the country with the le

        • by Shakrai (717556) *

          the same way that Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands likely cannot

          There's nothing stopping either of those places from moving towards Independence if the population was so inclined. Palau [wikipedia.org] obtained Independence. So did the Federated States of Micronesia [wikipedia.org]. There is actually a Puerto Rican Independence Party [independencia.net] too -- though they don't currently have the support of the majority of the population (which sees benefits in remaining an American Commonwealth), but they do exist. Think China would tolerate the creation of a Tibetan Independence Party?

          Whether or not you think it's right, these people are no longer serfs. Although they don't know it yet- that's a good thing. You really need to take a long hard look at what life in China is really about before you start acting like it's a nation of slaves. Pre-1959 Tibet was a nation of slaves.

          So can we invade Saudi

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by p0tat03 (985078)

            There's nothing stopping either of those places from moving towards Independence if the population was so inclined.

            I thought the Civil War has already decided the de facto stance the US has regarding secession of states? States are basically allowed self-rule, up to the point of seceding, and then all hell breaks loose.

            Not so different from Tibet.

    • by jellie (949898)
      Tibet is unusual because (Tibetan) Buddhism has an image of peace and goodwill. When people think of Buddhism, they're much more likely to think of meditation and peaceful monks than the feudalism that it had years ago. Similarly, there's a huge difference between a man shooting a little old lady and that same man shooting a drug dealer. There was a victim in both cases, yet the old lady will receive much more sympathy. It's just how psychology works. Whether Tibet is better off is largely debatable. Hell,
  • by ShawnCplus (1083617) <shawncplus@gmail.com> on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:07PM (#23379280) Homepage
    Little known fact is that the Great Firewall of China is the only slap in the face to freedom that can be seen from outer space.
  • Because across the world governments are tightening their grips, and some are trying to extend their grip well past their own borders. There was this saying about "First remove the beam from your own eye"
  • by Reality Master 201 (578873) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:09PM (#23379308) Journal
    What does an athletic competition have to do with the internal politics of a country?

    At the risk of running afoul of Godwin's law, Nazi Germany hosted the Olympics before the beginning of WWII. They mostly used it as a propaganda opportunity, and it's hard to say that the event led to any more openness or political moderation on the part of the German government.
    • by jellie (949898)
      I agree, I don't think it's actually going to make much of a difference. The 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow was boycotted by many countries and was led by the US, though I don't know if it amounted to much. However, this is the perfect time to air our grievances against China. When a country signs on to host the Olympic Games, it must also agree to allow the press to move freely around the country -- which has obviously not been done in Tibet. Additionally, the Olympic Charter states that "sport is a human ri
      • However, this is the perfect time to air our grievances against China.

        The U.S. has done plenty to China, from being deeply involved in the Second Opium War (an outright invasion) to bombing a Chinese embassy. In contrast, what has China ever done to the U.S.? What are the legitimate grievances that the U.S. has towards China? Remember, you should only cite legitimate grievances, not the propaganda.

    • by antdude (79039)
      Does this mean we will have a bigger conflict coming like a war? :(
  • Honestly, do questions of this format need to be posed anymore? If there is ever an option for more corporate pandering, it will be taken.
  • by analog_line (465182) on Monday May 12, 2008 @12:15PM (#23379418)

    Will these Olympics lead to a more free China, or is it just corporate pandering?


    Since when has any Olympic games, even the ancient ones, ever led to to resolution of any conflict? Did the 1936 Summer Olympics get Hitler to mend his ways? Did the 1980 Moscow Olympics get the Soviet Union to mend their ways? Did any of the Olympics held in the US do anything but promote self-importance and exceptionalism amongst Americans? Did the Tokyo Olympics, or the Nagano Olympics get Japan to mend fences with China and Korea over Japanese war crimes in WW2?

    At the very best, it allows rival groups to fight each other in a less murderous way for a bit (and even that isn't a given, see Munich 1972, Atlanta bombing). That's a good thing, but expecting more than that is ignoring history. The people in the "Olympic movement" that see the games as a tool for peace and understanding are just deluding themselves. Even with the ancient games, wars were only put on hold, not ended, and that was only because it was a religious event.

    The only people that ever make money on an Olympics are the ad agencies.
    • by shrikel (535309)

      The only people that ever make money on an Olympics are the ad agencies.

      And the International Olympic Committee members, of course.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Dallas Caley (1262692) *

      It's not that the Olympics games themselves will actually lead to anything, it's that in order for them to take place China will have to expose itself to western culture in a way that it hasn't previously. Millions of people in China will see their first glimpse of the outside world through these games and that is what could lead to significant change in the country.

      As Americans, we look at China and say "well why don't they want freedom?" The reality is that they don't even have a concept of what our ty

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by zoogies (879569)
        There are bigger problems in China than your concept of "freedom". Such as staking out a decent living. If you think the Chinese people look at their government and say, "Well, gee, don't we have a swell government? They tell us so, better believe them!" then I think you have a very badly misconceived notion of China.

        Maybe I do too, but I get the sense that in China, the people aren't exactly giggles over the government. It's more of a bitter sentiment, and deservedly so, because when has the government rea
      • by wumingzi (67100) on Monday May 12, 2008 @01:19PM (#23380336) Homepage Journal
        As Americans, we look at China and say "well why don't they want freedom?" The reality is that they don't even have a concept of what our type of freedom is, for them it's probably something to be feared because that's what they have been told. But the more that the people are exposed to the western world the more they may realize what it is that they are missing out on

        Um, No.

        First, the Olympics won't do much except to bring a bunch of well-fed non-Chinese speaking tourists to Beijing. These are only unlike well-fed Chinese-speaking tourists in the sense that they, well, won't speak Chinese.

        China has a large middle class and a lot of rich idiots. The only difference is that there are a lot more poor folks in China than there are of the first two, which brings those "average income" numbers down. It's not like this will be the first chance Beijingren will have to see someone who hasn't skipped a meal recently.

        Second, and I have to be very measured in what I say here, you need to understand something about the "cultural DNA" of China. The West, especially the US, is a very individualistic society. We will put up with a certain quantity of crime, homelessness, etc. as a consequence of this individualism. This isn't a "god damn America" indictment. It's a deal we've all made with each other. We like our personal freedoms, and have decided to accept a certain level of the bad in order to get the good. What tinkering is done with our social safety net is done with this background.

        Chinese society comes from a more collectivist background. This does not mean that Chinese like repression, or will always reflexively listen to elders and betters. However, it does mean that there is an expectation that the state will provide public order. In short, in the interest of maintaining a well-ordered society, you can give up a little individual freedom.

        Many of my in-laws from Taiwan (a free, democratic, thoroughgoingly capitalist Chinese society) find American culture to be strange and alien. The big houses and the lawns are nice, as is the open space and clean air, but what's up with all these people staggering around downtown drunk and drugged out of their mind with nowhere to sleep? Don't they have family to take care of them or something? Why on earth do they allow anyone to go to a store and buy a gun? Doesn't that encourage criminals? Isn't someone going to write a law to stop this?

        Even when I talk to people in China (who have some incomplete knowledge of what the US is like), you get some interesting discussions about how the world should be put together.

        Chinese taxi driver: "American houses are very big, and you have lots of land with them. That must be really nice."

        Me: "Yes, but the other side of that is that it's not very convenient. You need a car to go to the market, or to visit friends, or to go out to eat."

        Driver: "So you can't just walk to all of those things?"

        Me: "No. They're often several kilometers away."

        Driver: "Oh, that's no good at all. I wouldn't like that a bit."

        Assuming that life in the USA is the apogee of human civilization and that all societies will inherently want to move in that direction as quickly as possible displays ignorance at best and arrogance at worst. Get out and see a bit of how things are put together elsewhere before making assumptions about what other people want.
        • by wumingzi (67100)
          (addendum to self... hit the submit button too fast).

          Note that after having lived lots of other places, I live in the US. Like anyplace else, there's good and bad. I've decided the good substantially outweighs the bad, but there's more than one way to put that together. My in-laws all (theoretically) have the right to immigrate here. None of them have shown the slightest interest in doing so. Big houses and clean air doesn't make up for the fact that people talk funny and the food is all wrong.
      • If it goes anything like the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the "non-trusted elements" will not be allowed anywhere close to the concentration of foreigners.
    • by Deadstick (535032)
      At the very best, it allows rival groups to fight each other in a less murderous way for a bit (and even that isn't a given, see Munich 1972, Atlanta bombing).

      Melbourne, 1956, Hungarians vs Russians in water polo...

      rj

  • I thought it was common knowledge that there was a massive FibreBone coming into an old 486 running Squid and Squidguard?
  • by hey (83763)
    Seems funny to interview a magazine author. Why doesn't he just write an article about it?

  • I find the comment that the firewall is unpredictable to be interesting. Do Slashdoters think that this is on purpose so it can't be studied and subverted or is it just a case of banning the BBC when they have anti-Chinese content or is it just a case of a huge bureaucracy being contradictory (as they often are).
  • With VPNs and proxies, you can get around it pretty easily.
    In a Related Story: Comcast is set to begin operations in China.
  • By using Tor and a few hacks [quantenblog.net], you can have a look at Chinese internet censorship by yourself.
  • Will these Olympics lead to a more free China, or is it just corporate pandering?

    No - the Olympics will not lead to more freedom for China. The good news is that China is already on the way to more freedom, and the Olympics are a symptom of that, or rather of the new-found wealth that China enjoys.

    As for the "Great Firewall" - seeing that it is very easy to circumvent, combined with the fact that the Chinese are no fools, shouldn't that make you think a little about the purpose of it? To me it seems obvious that they are not trying to isolate the people from all information that isn't

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