what? It would seem that the Bikwil Web site is banned in the
People’s Republic of China.
before you say “we must be doing something right”, a
little background is called for.
the Internet has spread exceptionally quickly in China, with more than 33
million users in January 2002, most of whom are young, well-educated,
upwardly mobile males who live in eastern cities. Within five years China
is predicted to become the world's largest Internet user. Not hard to see
why, either, considering that the population is already close to 1,300
million — more than a fifth of the world’s population.
modern history, the Chinese Government has understandably embraced the new
technology with ambivalent feelings. On the one hand it has actively
encouraged this rapid uptake, mainly for economic reasons — i.e. its
current commitment to free enterprise and its desire for broader trade
relations. Yet on the other hand — out of fear for the political
consequences of an open information economy — it has striven to ensure
that all content meets Party standards by imposing strict regulations as
to its use.
example, in 2000 President Jiang Zemin told a conference that China should
recognise “the tremendous power of information technology . . . [because]
the melding of the traditional economy and information technology will
provide the engine for the development of the economy and society in the
same time, government policy dictates that all local Internet content
providers must obtain approval from the Ministry of Information Industry
before they can receive foreign capital or cooperate with foreign
companies. Not only that, they have to
records of all the content on their Web sites and all the users who dial
on to their servers for 60 days, and hand over the records to the police
on demand. Web site proprietors should also censor and report to the
authorities any illegal content that is posted. (Paul Ham, Sydney
Morning Herald, 16 November 2000)
content is content that “subverts State power, harms the reputation of
China, damages chances of reunification with rival Taiwan, or supports
cults”. In other words, material that “disturbs social order or undermines
for infringement include arrest, large fines and equipment confiscation.
tight controls have been imposed from the very first day in 1995 when
access to the Net in China was opened. This has been achieved by
channelling all service through what has become popularly known as the
Great Firewall of China, i.e. a large collection of government router
computers. In this way, unwelcome sites are blocked before a user can be
connected to them.
overseas Web sites, it follows that many are going to be regularly barred.
Access blocking, however, has been described as “sporadic and
disorganized”, and sometimes seems quite capricious. I’ve even seen it
portrayed as “quixotic”.
that are blocked or have been previously blocked include:
Human Rights Watch
Los Angeles Times
New York Times
Sydney Morning Herald
Tibetan Government in Exile
Voice of America
Wall Street Journal
The White House.
search engines Google and Alta Vista have been proscribed at times.
this indiscriminate outrage reached me a few months ago when an Australian
teaching English in China was looking for ezines and stumbled on a
tempting reference to Bikwil. But could she readily access our Web
site? Not on your Nelly Duff. However, like millions of Internet users in
China, she knew what to do: she tried a proxy server.
server” is an anonymous relay computer outside the Chinese firewall.
Chinese users log on to the proxy server, which in turn logs on to the
blocked site, thus fooling the government's site-blocking software.)
is, proxy servers can be excruciatingly slow, and are sometimes
unreliable. Moreover, the Ministry is getting smarter in its intimidation
methods, especially about blocking proxy servers.
Internet people have had to try sneakier techniques to evade the censors,
such as changing the domain names of proxies and setting up smaller
unpublicised proxies knowledge of whose existence is passed around “under
the radar”, by word of mouth.
that sounds too technical, don’t worry: the key thing is that the war game
of wills and wits goes on, and as you know, when it comes to Internet
censorship the game’s the thing.
October I discovered a method whereby I was able to personally test
whether Bikwil is really banned. Harvard Law School's Berkman
Center for Internet and Society runs a Web site where with reasonable
confidence you can
check a given
site for its accessibility in China.
enough, Internet access to Bikwil is blocked in China.
should Bikwil be banned, anyway?
truthful, I really can’t say, but I don’t think it has anything to do with
our innocuous and wholesome content — unless of course it was our infamous
this breakdown in Sino–Australian relations relates to our [previous] hosting service
— Zip World, which is part of a company called Pacific Internet. Is there
some dark secret lurking therein? Does it host some other site that’s
incurred official Chinese wrath?
importantly, perhaps, where will this all end?
know: possibly one day soon we’ll hear that Bikwil has been banned
in Burma, or in Cuba, or in Iraq.
Arabia, maybe. Or in Singapore. Tunisia even. Or Vietnam.