Friday, June 29, 2007

Ryan Pyle Blog: China's War Against the Internet

As I sit here at my desk in Shanghai, China I am concerned by the war that is taking place inside China at the moment. For those who live here you know exactly what I am talking about, I am referring to the government's war against the internet.

Currently I am trying to upload images to my archive in NYC, I am getting a whopping 5.4KB/s and it's taking an average of 5-7 minutes per image to get this new work uploaded. When I was in Hong Kong last weekend for work I managed to upload about 100 megabytes of images in less than ten minutes; Hong Kong of course has free and un-censored internet access. China does not. But this isn't the whole story.

The government in China can be felt in every aspect of life, and that is to be assumed since China's ruling politicians continue to see the country as a "socialist" state. I use hyphens because sitting at my desk in Shanghai I can count no less than 17 buildings that seem to be greater than 40 stories high, and my apartment only faces north-east. It's clear that China's brand is a special kind of socialism.

But back to the war. The Chinese government owns and controls access to the internet. Meaning that they can block, slow down and shut down essentially anything they want. Sure there are proxies and such but they have been begun blocking the sites to download proxies. This all encompassing behavior by the PRC's government has lead to a mass of critical articles written by the world media, discussing things like "Net-Nannies" and "Cyber Cops"; and all these things are essentially true. There are rumors out there that some 40,000 people in China make a full time living from the government by surfing the web and fishing out "unacceptable" content. Sites like this one, are blocked, for example.

Now, let's move beyond that. Sure there will always be malicious content on the web that will be blocked in countries that rule in a one party system. There will be bloggers who disapprove of corruption, land seizures, web access, education, human rights and so on and so forth. All that, believe it or not, feels fairly standard for me after living in China for five years.

What I can't seem to tolerate is the government's heavy handed policy's on sites that don't directly criticize government actions. For example, the powers that be in China recently blocked But they didn't exactly block the site entirely, they just blocked the pictures - the website still operates and people can still log in and check their mail and contacts, etc. This is apparently in response to a some photographs that appeared on FLICKR after some police beat a woman selling food on the street in a city in central China.

So now FLICKR is being used as a political tool, perhaps not what its creators had intended. But let's look at who these creators are, oh that right. owns and operates FLICKR. And wasn't it just a few years back when Yahoo cooperated with the Chinese government and passed along secrete details about one man's email account that ended up getting that person imprisoned? Afterwards took an incredible amount of heat for their decision to cooperate, and now just a few years later this is how they are rewarded, by blocking the worlds most popular photo sharing website. It makes little sense.

Blocking sites, blocking pictures, slow FTP and obtaining personal information from web companies by threatening to shut down their China operations, are just some of the ways in which China is engaged in an all out war with the internet. Who will win, well I think the internet will win. People will always create new technology to stay one step ahead of Cisco System, the provider of most of China's Net Nannie equipment.

The real question, however, isn't who will win and who will lose, it's about the cost of this war. How many business suffer in China because of slow and impeded web access. How many good opinions are blocked when trying to isolate a few bad one's? How many beautiful pictures of China are blocked in relation to the one's from that protest and beating in Central China? Does all this just seem a little too paranoid? Does it seem like just a little too much? It does, I am sick of it. In the time it took to write this blog I have only been able to upload 4 images out of my batch of 30. Efficiency is king, and China is at the bottom end of that spectrum.

ps. I really hope this is the last time I have to write about my slow FTP problems in China.


Ryan Pyle

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous18:00

    Ryan, why do you live in China if you hate it so? No one asked you go, you chose to go, and for you to complain about how the country is run and operates sounds very selfish and like the world, or 1.3 billion people, should revolve around what you think. The true is same of this blog. You surely must have been aware that the internet is censored in China when you moved there, so this complaint of yours just shows you are bad at planning. I'm not pro or anti china, but i am anti people who move to another country and expect laws, governments and social norms, or what they like to call "common sense" to be the same as their home country. You moved to another country, it's gonna be different. China will not evolve to be a giant china town or even remotely close to Hong Kong (Hong Kong was colonized, China is definitely not a colony). You surely must be aware of this right? Maybe you are expressing your right to freedom of speech..... but again, that right does not exist in China! Should it change? Who knows, but you, as someone who aspires to be a photojournalist, should know that it's not your duty to advocate change, but to document what is going on. I fear your frustrations with the government of China is tainting your work and objectivity. Maybe as a guy who plans to live in China, you should know what you are in for...



This is Ryan Pyle. I appreciate you adding a comment to my blog and I hope that this space has offered you something useful and interesting. I look forward to staying in touch and I'm glad you took the time to comment.

Ryan Pyle