Tom Lasseter, who in 2009 took over the Beijing bureau chief spot for McClatchy Newspapers from long-timer Tim Johnson, has a great post on his blog about the GFW.

Due to a computer glitch, Tom lost his VPN the other night and without it decided to traipse around the Internet as viewed from inside China (and with no tunnel out). Poking around here and there and brushing up against its fiery walls, he concludes that the various blocks in place aren’t just to outright deny access, but rather to make it more convenient to get information from a more controlled and State-friendly source.

Am pausing now to wonder what this tells us.

There are some things that the state here does not tolerate. Trouble in and the Uighur regions. Discussion of the crackdown. Interference by Western groups. Unregulated communication by the masses via platforms like Twitter and YouTube.

Beyond that, the approach is much more nuanced. You can use Google, but it’s not as convenient as Yahoo. You can learn about some history in general, but not in particular. You can write and read blogs, though access is a bit haphazard. In other words, there is a large field of things that the government will allow, with the price of dealing with a sliding scale of hassle.

Read the whole post here: Losing my VPN. A virtual disappearance in China


  1. Probably because I’m not yet caffeinated, I was not wowed by Lasseter’s piece. To me, it sort of betrayed the bubble many expats here (myself included) live in. I understand he needs to write often, and has to write for people who aren’t in China — I’m totally sympathetic to this conundrum faced by many China-based journalists — but this is old, old news. That he doesn’t seem to have much handle on how Chinese view the internet — something easily picked up from dozens of other stories — makes me wonder how much he knows about other aspects of Chinese life.

    All that said, he’s usually a good writer, and I don’t do well without coffee.

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      I’m not sure we’re coming at his post from the same angle Fred, as I did initially sort of get that “who the frack cares — we know stuff’s blocked.” The point that Lasseter makes that I think is the key take away is the point about making it easier to just use the “approved” sources. This idea, though well-discussed and nothing new in GFW-pundit circles, I think strikes to the core of understanding not just what modern censorship is, but also what thought-swaying practices are utilized in the information age. The idea that it is impractical and impossible to fill every street corner of the Internet with propaganda, and that it is unnecessary when you control the paths people take home through utilizing our penchants for the path of least resistance — which cares little for quality and truth.

      • Ryan, I went back and read the article. I tried hard but am still not feeling it. I think your previous comment is pretty great, though, and way more insightful than I found the actual article. Maybe he was trying to show and not tell. You should keep writing on this.

        On a related note, I have an invention idea that maybe you can help me find someone to make. I want to place my thumb on the computer trackpad, have it read my caffeine level, and then prevent me from emailing/commenting/tweeting/etc. if it’s too low.

  2. I also think the article was weak. Aside from him stating the obvious as as if it was a great shock (“No more twitter?! OMG!!”) I felt like he fabricated some of his own reactions to write the piece he wanted to write.

    I’m a teacher and I teach newspaper reading. I’ve been going to a lot of news sources (BBC, NYT, etc) and reading articles that are critical about China. I have not seen one article that was blocked and no website that was slow to load. I have no problem with google. I also go to China Daily and I find that website slow and bulky.

    Yet, we writes as if all the western sources are difficult and slow to load on purpose, but not Xinhua which is “super fast and colorful” (I’m paraphrasing.) To me that is fabrication just to further his point.

    The fact that he also implies that the chinese gov’t went onto his computer and sucked away his VPN is annoying. He got the microsoft “blue screen of death” so clearly he has technical issues as a VPN is downloaded software.

    I feel like this piece is unnecessarily fear based. For anyone living in China, we are bored by the news and aren’t impressed. But for anyone living outside, which I think the author is addressing, he is just driving further wedges between the cultures and hoping to foster the attitude of fear, oppression and control. He might not be doing it conciously, maybe he just wanted to show off a little in a “wow, I live in a tough place but I still trick the man!” kind of way.

    But that’s just my two cents!

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