Posted by: Joe English | October 25, 2008

Commentary: Chinese Internet censorship cuts like a big, blunt, knife

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

Regular readers of my Running Advice and News blog may have noticed something unusual this week on the blog: no new content. The unexpected furlough came not from a technical glitch or a lack of news — as were in the middle of the biggest marathon running month of the year — but rather at the hands of China’s Internet censorship policies.

Now you might not think — as I don’t — that the ramblings of some running coaches about marathon training methods and the happenings in marathon running, would be a threat to the government of the most populated country on the planet. But unfortunately, the goverment of the People’s Republic of China disagree with you.

And it isn’t that there is anything specific about our blog that caught the attention of censors, it’s the manner in which China’s Internet censorship is employed — by blocking certain blogging hosts in whole — that makes Chinese Internet censorship cut more like a big, blunt, knife than a precise cutting instrument.

A visit to China
I was excited to be traveling this week in China, marveling at the amazing progress that the country continues to make. Beijing has been transformed by the Olympics and I was overjoyed to see the national pride on display as thousdands of Chinese visited the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube on a Thursday afternoon when I was there.

China feels more and more like the rest of the world and, in particular, like the West when you visit it today. My Grande Decaf Soy Latte didn’t even raise an eyebrow from the young baristas in several Starbucks that I visited. And it came at a price that felt like I was in the United States too. Yet the place was packed with Chinese locals working in Beijing’s Central Business District.

But all of the good will took a big hit when I sat down to post a story on my blog on Monday morning. When I tried to log in to my blog hosting provider, I received time-out errors after waiting for the application to load. I tried again and then again, but the admin console just wouldn’t come up. After awhile it occured to me exactly what was happening — Internet censors had blocked the platform’s control console from loading, which essentially makes it impossible to post new material to blogs (or create new blogs).

By blocking the adminstration console of the blog platform, for whatever policy reason, the goverment has blocked hundreds of thousands of existing blogs — and of course the creation of new blog communities by people in China.

But it didn’t stop there. It dawned on me to try accessing my blog as a reader out in Internet land would. No response. It would appear in China that my blog doesn’t even exist.

Certainly, a blog about marathon running is not the problem that China is trying to solve by blocking blogging — both writing and reading — in their country. What it shows is that China has a long way to go in their desire — if they have one — to be a more open and transparent society.

As a journalist and media scholar, I am a strong believer that a free market-place of ideas is essential to finding truth and is essential to freedom of expression. Allowing free discussion of ideas lets the best solutions float to the top and soceity is better off when the best solutions to any given problem are found.

China doesn’t agree with me on this point. I hope for the sake of the billion-plus people in China that they one day have the freedom to discuss and collaborate that we enjoy here in the United States. Today that’s simply not the case.

Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Managing Editor, Running Advice and News

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