Sunday, February 8, 2009

A bit more on Charter 08 and the Great Firewall

Ian Lamont at The Industry Standard contacted me last week (I'm visiting China) asking my opinion on what role the Internet has played in Charter 08's spread, and whether the Charter will present a serious challenge to the government of the PRC. Here's my response:

About websites filtering in general, James Fallows provided by far the clearest explanation of how China's "great firewall" works. You can find an entire chapter in his new book Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China devoted to this topic.

As far as I know, for internet savvy people, it is not that hard to get around the "great firewall" - there are many ways to do it. As an example, my blog is blocked here in China, still I can use Google's translation feature to view it completely. This is to say, for anyone in China who wants to access particular information, there is a way to find it with a bit extra work or cost. As such, I have the impression that the purpose of the filtering is more to discourage the general population than to completely block information. And so far it has worked exactly to that effect, because most people don't like to go through that extra trouble.

About Charter 08 in particular, I've found at least one Chinese language website hosted on a sever in the US can be accessed from within China, see This site can easily be Googled using either Chinese or English keywords. If you read Chinese, you can see the comments on that site by mainland Chinese are mixed: there are supporting voices and there are doubts and criticism.

From my latest conversations with people in China, most have not heard about the Charter. Among those I have talked to, only one friend, an educated man who is interested in political issues, knew about it. I think internet blockage is not the sole reason for this. As I have reviewed, and also analyzed by ESWN and Rconversation, the Charter needs more work to appeal to the working class and general population, especially at a time when the Chinese government enjoys high trust and support from a large population who are more sensitive to economic conditions than political issues. In short, so far the Charter is an abstract though sound concept in the ivory tower, without concrete and practical ideas, interesting mostly to a small group of elites.

Part of the above response has been quoted in Ian Lamont's article "Charter 08 exposes flaws in China's 'Great Firewall'."

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