Censors with idiosyncratic taste

Perhaps you have heard of the “Great Firewall of China,” the elaborate system of filtering, blocking and monitoring that tries to sanitize internet access for Chinese people.

Apparently, a large number of government officials are involved in this project, and controlling internet access has loomed largely in Chinese IT deals. If you have not already seen it in newspaper articles, see what happens if you search for “Tiananmen square” in images.google.com and then in images.google.cn. (What happened to “do no evil”?)

Access to news seems to be a primary concern, and several news sites are blocked. The choices are very interesting. The New York Times is accessible, but BBC news is not. By the way (and thanks to Hoeteck for noticing it), bbc.co.uk is accessible, it is only news.bbc.co.uk that is blocked. I think I will have to start getting my news from the BBC once I get home. Apparently, Al Jazeera was blocked at one time, but now it is not (I don’t know what that means). Of course, news.chinatimes.com, the main Taiwan news site, is blocked.

A bizarre thing is that blogspot.com is blocked, but blogger.com is not. This means that I can post here, but I cannot read what I post. (That’s my excuse for typoes and bad formatting.) Neither typepad.com nor livejournal.com are blocked, by the way.

If you want to know whether your favorite web site is endorsed by Chinese censors (meaning, it’s blocked), just ask me.

A final note: Lance Fortnow’s blog is not blocked, but Scott Aaronson’s is. (Way to go Scott!)

Update 3/30/06: an astute reader points out that if I want to read Scott’s blog so badly I can search for it on google, and then click on the link to the cached version of the page. Indeed, this works, but it returns Scott’s blog as of March 21. If I do the same on BBC news, I get a page dated March 25. In general, for a news site, the cached version will be of little use (and contain no pictures). By the way, google news work, and it shows pictures (except that sometimes cliking on the links leads you nowhere), and even the Taiwan edition of google news is available, so it is at least possible to get the headlines of the news.

Update 4/29/06: The New York Times has an article on blocking and censorship in China. It explains that Google’s dealings may not be so evil after all, and the complexity of the issue. There appears to be a major difference in the way individual dissent is treated compared to any form of organizing and mobilizing, even when very small groups are involved. It is comforting that it was probably not illegal to write this entry from within China.

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6 thoughts on “Censors with idiosyncratic taste

  1. Just checked images.google.cn from Israel (from the academic network) and it is not blocked, only a bit slow. Israel has no blocking policy and no great firewall in the state level.

  2. What makes you feel what you experienced were actually the results of the so called great firewall and not anything else?

  3. Luca,

    It seems to me (in the US) that one can search in google.cn for scott’s blog (e.g. it’s the top result for the keywords aaronson blog) and then there a link to a “cached copy” of the webpage. (Strictly speaking, it’s written in chinese in the same place “cache” is written in the english version.)

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