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June 03, 2014

Column: Finding Workarounds as China Squeezes Internet

by Doug Bernard

It’s become something of a ritual in modern China.

Beginning a week or two before the anniversary of the 1989 pro-democracy uprisings in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Chinese authorities begin to squeeze the Internet tighter and tighter, blocking dozens, then hundreds of websites.

Often, the blocked sites belong to international newspapers, TV stations or magazines reporting on the Tiananmen anniversary, or links to search subjects such as “June 4”, “Tiananmen massacre”, or “Goddess of Democracy” – the papier-mâché statue which served as a rallying point for the student protesters.

This year, which marks the 25th anniversary of the protests and their violent suppression, is proving no different.

Recent findings posted at GreatFire.org, a website run by Internet freedom activists, document a growing number of newly blocked websites, and increased filtering of many others, even including the popular domestic Weibo blog service.

Also completely blocked: Google and all its myriad services.

“This current disruption affects Google search, images, translate, Gmail and almost all other Google products,” blogs GreatFire co-founder “Charlie Smith”, using his pseudonym.

“It also affects country-specific services - for example, internet users in China will not be able to access the French version of Google (google.fr) or services being delivered in relation to that domain,” he said.

New tool

But that hasn’t stopped online free-speech activists from developing a new tool that’s busting through China’s Great Firewall block of Google.

Developed by GreatFire engineers, the website can be found here, along with this list of proxy websites and other tools for getting around the Great Firewall.

Charlie Wilson says the site, which uses a strategic technology he calls “collateral freedom,” provides an unblockable path to the main Google site for those within China.  So we decided to put it to the test.

VOA Beijing correspondent William Ide normally uses a Virtual Private Network, or “VPN” to skirt around the many Chinese Internet filters and blocks. He attempted to turn it off and see if he could access Google through normal connections.

He reported he “…was not unable to access gmail or the google search engine,” online, although curiously he could get to Gmail via his iPhone and iPad.

Then he tried Wilson’s GreatFire Google site linked above.

“It worked like a charm,” Ide reported.  “I got through to the search engine just as smoothly as I would using a VPN.”

GreatFire’s Google-buster site isn’t entirely perfect, however.

For example, while it does allow unfiltered access to Google searches, the links returned may be blocked themselves.

Reports VOA’s Bill Ide: “Some of the links that the search pulls up, such as the Wikipedia link for the Tiananmen Square protests are still blocked by the Great Firewall of China. Interestingly, I was able to view Malcom Moore's piece in the Daily Telegraph.”

That story, “The Last Prisoner of the Protests”, details the incarceration of Miao Deshun, a former factory worker who is reportedly the last person to remain imprisoned for his Tiananmen protest activities.
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