News / Asia

Column: Finding Workarounds as China Squeezes Internet

  • A man stands alone to block a line of tanks heading east on Beijing's Cangan Blvd. in Tiananmen Square, June 5, 1989.
  • The bodies of dead civilians lie among mangled bicycles near Beijing's Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989.
  • A blood-covered protester holds a Chinese soldier's helmet following violent clashes with military forces during pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989.
  • Pro-democracy demonstrators pitch tents in Beijing's Tiananmen Square before their protests were crushed by the People's Liberation Army on June 3, 1989.
  • A man tries to pull a Chinese soldier away from his comrades as thousands of Beijing citizens turned out to block thousands of troops on their way towards Tiananmen Square, June 3, 1989.
  • A military helicopter drops leaflets above Tiananmen Square, May 22, 1989.
  • Beijing University students wave fists and flags as Chinese military helicopters fly over Tiananmen Square, May 21, 1989.
  • Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang speaks with fasting university students in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, May 19, 1989.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people fill Tiananmen Square in Beijing, May 17, 1989.
  • Beijing University students relax in Tiananmen Square as their hunger strike for democracy begins a fourth day, May 16, 1989.
  • Students shout after breaking through a police blockade during a pro-democracy march to Tiananmen Square, Beijing, May 4 1989.
  • Student demonstrators scuffle with police as they try to break the guard line to march to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, April 27, 1989.
  • Chinese students link arms in solidarity at dawn in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, April 22, 1989.
  • A student leader tries in vain to settle down a crowd of Beijing University students who converged on the Chinese Communist Party headquarters after demonstrating at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, April 19, 1989.
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, 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 ( 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.

Doug Bernard

Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.

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Comment Sorting
by: Meow Ming from: Beijing
June 03, 2014 5:33 PM
It is time for a regime change in my motherland - china.

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