Friday, March 28, 2008

Confronting the Great Firewall of China

I returned yesterday from China, where I was in Shenzhen, attending ZTE's Global Analyst Conference. (More on ZTE in a future post.) Using the Internet there was an adventure in finding out what I could, and more usually couldn't, get to. Many of the sites that I regularly visit (most of which could hardly be called political or provocative) were blocked.

Pretty much any blog, no matter its contents, was out of reach. I tried accessing blogs through both a feed reader and Firefox to see if the problem was that RSS feeds were blocked, but I got the same result. Even blogs that are completely politically innocuous, such as Engadget and Gizmodo, were unavailable.

Interestingly, I could post to my own blog, but I couldn't read it. Similarly, my mail client could send mail, but not receive it; the only way that I could receive mail was through a web client. I was in Shanghai and Hangzhou last year, and I didn't notice the same level of interference.

On my way back to the States, I had a wait for my return flight at Hong Kong International Airport. Using PCCW's free WiFi service, I fired up my browser, feed reader and mail client, and everything worked just fine. I could access all of the sites that were blocked just a half-hour away on the Chinese mainland, as well as get my mail.

It may have been the combination of the Great Firewall with the fact that my hotel was right next to the local police station, but I felt more than a little paranoid and uncomfortable while I was in Shenzhen. The city is very modern (it's the place where China's experiment with Capitalism inside of Communism began,) and the people were very friendly, but I frankly don't look forward to going back.

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