As someone living in China, let me tell you what life is like with restricted internet

Imagine having no Google, no Youtube, no Facebook, no Vimeo, no Twitter…being forced to use Bing to search, no accessing any sites hosted on blogspot or wordpress, Gmail having intermittent outages, sites using Google Analytics taking ten times longer to load, Dropbox only working on occasion, and no other file sending services.

Imagine that there are equivalents of these sites that are state-owned and controlled: a search engine that only returns government approved sites, a censored twitter where you must register with your real name and passport number, and an internet radio site that is forced to play “red” songs celebrating the government. Imagine that these government-sanctioned alternatives are shoddily and hastily assembled and have none of the quality or convenience the originals had.

Of course, you can bypass all of this by paying a premium for a VPN. But even then, those can be unreliable or slow and often get shut down. And having to use them feels like a precursor to tiered internet services.

Everyday using the internet here feels like a struggle. There is so much restriction of information, even that which could be considered “benign”. Imagine not being able to have access to any open education sites, such as Khan Academy. The lack of convenience of Googling for an answer is something I miss a lot. Going back home to US internet is amazing and something I’ll never take for granted again.

I know SOPA doesn’t imply that all of this would happen in the US. But it certainly feels like a step towards this sort of restriction, and sets a dangerous precedent.

P.S. These restrictions here haven’t slowed down pirating a single bit. When I discuss it with my Chinese friends here, they say that everyone pirates everything; that anyone who legitimately purchases something that could be pirated is considered a fool for doing so.

Honestly, I’ve more or less switched to Bing from Google anyway. Google’s database may be more extensive and better-indexed, but since they disabled quotes and the minus operator (at least by default), it’s goddamned useless.

I saw someone reposted this discussion in Chinese on some of China’s websites and the first idea came up to me when I saw this is that” Damn it, they will soon block reddit.com for this……”

BTW, I bypass the damned Great Fire Wall by setting up a private vpn server on Amazon EC2, which is much more reliable and faster than most of the public commercial VPNs.

Imagine having no Google, no Youtube, no Facebook, no Vimeo, no Twitter…being forced to use Bing to search, no accessing any sites hosted on blogspot or wordpress, Gmail having intermittent outages, sites using Google Analytics taking ten times longer to load, Dropbox only working on occasion, and no other file sending services.

A very western perspective. Most Chinese don’t care because they certainly don’t use these websites. If you replaced these sites with “No Baidu, no Youku, no Renren, no Tudou, no Weibo”, would any of your American audience care? No, because they’ve never heard of nor care about these sites.

Imagine that there are equivalents of these sites that are state-owned

They are not state-owned. They are beholden to the state to stay in business. Big difference. You pretend you know a lot about China, but these mistakes belie a biased ignorance.

a censored twitter where you must register with your real name and passport number

Only in certain cities, and only just recently (who knows if it will even stay around).

shoddily and hastily assembled and have none of the quality or convenience the originals had.

Another lie, and spoken like someone who has never really used them. Weibo is in most ways far superior to Twitter. Embedded pictures, a comment feature, embedded video, and much more. I’d love to hear move of your opinion of how “shoddy” these sites are, but I’m guessing you speak no Chinese and thus have no idea.

P.S. These restrictions here haven’t slowed down pirating a single bit. When I discuss it with my Chinese friends here, they say that everyone pirates everything; that anyone who legitimately purchases something that could be pirated is considered a fool for doing so.

Here’s the clincher. None of what you spoke of is done by the Chinese government to restrict piracy. To even imply so completely discredits your argument and uncovers fundamental problems with your understanding of how and why the Chinese internet works.

The chinese don’t use those sites because they are blocked in China. I am in China, and work with 20 Chinese people and they all would like to be able to use Youtube and Facebook. The Chinese alternatives to most popular foreign sites are shit, and Chinese internet users who have seen the alternatives know it. The only exceptions I’m aware of are Baidu maps (because Google maps is a trainwreck of errors in China, and the others I’ve seen avoid that by having no detail), and possibly Baidu’s search engine for Mandarin sites (my Chinese isn’t good enough to be sure, but Google has never been as good in some foreign languages as they are in English).

The Chinese internet services I’ve used have been a mixed bag, quality wise (Baidu MP3 is kind of a mess, and Baidu Images is completely useless, for instance, but QQ is pretty much the best IM program I’ve used, and Baidu Maps for Android is great.)

But that’s kind of missing the point…so what if they get all the same software functions as the rest of the world in their parallel internet, if they can access none of the same content?

The chinese don’t use those sites because they are blocked in China. I am in China, and work with 20 Chinese people and they all would like to be able to use Youtube and Facebook.

You’ll have to do better than anecdotal evidence, because Chinese didn’t use those sites even when they were unblocked in 2007/2008.

The Chinese alternatives to most popular foreign sites are shit, and Chinese internet users who have seen the alternatives know it.

Weibo is much better than Twitter (embedded images and videos, comment system, etc), and Youku/Tudou are on par with Youtube (with the added benefit of no upload length limit). You’ll have to be more specific than “they’re shit” because that’s simply not true.

if they can access none of the same content?

You’ve never been on Weibo or Youku in depth, have you? If you have, then you’d know that almost all content finds its way into the Chinese internet (usually after being translated). Fall_Ark is a popular weibo account with 30,000+ followers who basically only translates Reddit memes into Chinese. There’s also a Weibo account who posts popular Youtube videos to Youku. You make it sound like Chinese are stupid and that they’re deprived of interesting content just because some sites are blocked.

Anecdotes work for you, though, huh?

And two guys translating meaningless bullshit does not make up for all the stuff that gets blocked.

For instance, there are no Zizek lectures on Youku.

Anecdotes work for you, though, huh?

I posited no anecdotes. The number of Chinese who used Facebook, Youtube and Twitter when they were unblocked in 2007/2008 was minuscule, and would be today as well. Here’s an anecdote for you: the Chinese I know today who use VPNs STILL prefer Weibo to Twitter and even Chinese I know who live in the United States prefer to use sites in their own language (SHOCKING!).

And two guys translating meaningless bullshit does not make up for all the stuff that gets blocked.

It’s not all meaningless, and those were two examples of many.

For instance, there are no Zizek lectures on Youku.

If that’s a huge problem for you, why not upload them yourself? What’s stopping you? Of course you’ll first have to subtitle them for Chinese to care.

Yeah, it’s a language issue. That’s why Youtube is so popular in Japan, right? Or did you think that the major American and other sites were monolingual?

They’re using them in the US because the largest community of chinese speakers is FORCED to use it. Not because of any superiority of the software (there usually isn’t), but because Chinese government policy has shaped the Chinese language internet and kept it separate from other languages.

From that perspective, the Great Firewall could be seen as economic protectionism…it just happens to make it easier for the chinese government to control messages they don’t like.

And should I HAVE to duplicate the effort of millions on Chinese sites?

WHY ARE YOU DEFENDING THIS?

edit: “I posited no anecdotes. ”

“Fall_Ark is a popular weibo account with 30,000+ followers who basically only translates Reddit memes into Chinese. There’s also a Weibo account who posts popular Youtube videos to Youku. ”

Yeah, it’s a language issue. That’s why Youtube is so popular in Japan, right? Or did you think that the major American and other sites were monolingual?

You seem to be ignoring the fact that Chinese didn’t use Youtube even when it was unblocked in 2007/2008.

Not because of any superiority of the software (there usually isn’t)

There is. Weibo is by far superior to Twitter (embedded pictures and videos, comment system). Youku doesn’t have upload length limits like YouTube does.

“Fall_Ark is a popular weibo account with 30,000+ followers who basically only translates Reddit memes into Chinese. There’s also a Weibo account who posts popular Youtube videos to Youku. ”

This is not an anecdote since it is representative of the majority. Those were simply examples of numerous other very popular accounts that permeate Weibo and Youku. Yours was an anecdote as your friends’ opinions certainly are not in line with the majority of Chinese.

Anecdote = cherry picking unpopular ideas and presenting them as representative.

WHY ARE YOU DEFENDING THIS?

See my first sentence. It’s disingenuous to say that most Chinese are desperate to access the western internet. It’s simply not true. There are many that want access in academia, true, but the majority don’t care. It’s not that I don’t wish for a free and open Chinese internet, it’s just that I reject emotional pleas that ignore the real facts about the Chinese internet.

And you seem to be making excuses that run contrary to counterexamples elsewhere.

And it’s still an anecdote, and if it is in fact representative of the majority, THEN THE MAJORITY WANT FOREIGN CONTENT. With free access to it, a lot more of it would get translated. See user dubs and subtitles of popular videos on youtube into other languages.

And you seem to be making excuses that run contrary to counterexamples elsewhere.

I apologize that you disagree with my opinion, but I am not a mouthpiece for any organization so don’t worry so much about what I think.

Also, keep in mind where these counterexamples are coming from. My opinion is based on my extensive experience living in China, speaking Chinese to locals, reading daily what is happening on Weibo and Youku, and in general keeping up with the Chinese internet culture. I get paid to translate and report on what’s hot and trending on the Chinese internet, so whether or not you agree with me doesn’t really matter. I feel confident in my understanding of what goes on inside the GFW and a lot of other China scholars are in the same boat.

Again, I’m not saying that I think China’s internet should be censored, I’m just saying that the average Chinese citizen is not itching to make a Facebook account.

THEN THE MAJORITY WANT FOREIGN CONTENT

Yup, but they want it packaged and delivered to them on the sites they know. They don’t want to go searching for it themselves. Same reason people use Reddit.

First of all, let me preface this by saying that I am Chinese. I’m fluent in Mandarin Chinese. I grew up in the states, visiting China almost every year to stay with relatives that live here. I moved here two years ago, moved back to the states to finish my degree, and then moved back to China.

The point of writing this post in a western perspective is because that is the audience this post is intended for. Why would I say no Baidu, no Youku, etc? The implication is that SOPA could potentially set a precedent for legislation that can threaten the sites that Americans are used to using. The point is to convey how it feels to go from having access to these sites to not having access to them. You’ve missed the point entirely.

You’re right, I shouldn’t have said state-owned. They are heavily state influenced though, with regular meetings with the state directing their actions. They aren’t state-owned literally, but in spirit they are.

Have you ever used QQ Exmail? It is absolutely atrocious compared to Gmail. Youku and Tudou are both more cluttered and obtrusive than Youtube, and certainly moreso than Vimeo. Same goes for Weibo. Again, this is about viewing these things from an American perspective, and it’s really hard to call opinion in my quoted statement “a lie”.

The Chinese government takes a hard stance on piracy but does little to actual impede it. The implication here is that restricted internet doesn’t correlate with reduced piracy, which is what seems to be what the proponents of SOPA believe.

I work in the internet industry here in China, so these are things I have to deal with and consider everyday. I have an entirely native Chinese staff, and we discuss these things regularly.

The “clutter” is a thing with Asian websites in general. Major East Asian web sites in general have from 2-3 times as many distinct interactive areas per page as American ones do. It’s true in Japan as well, and in especially in Korea. There are exceptions, of course. Amazon is just as nuts in the US as it is elsewhere, and is comparable to Asian retailers.

The point of writing this post in a western perspective is because that is the audience this post is intended for. Why would I say no Baidu, no Youku, etc?

Because you’re describing a scenario that most Chinese don’t care about, so it’s not comparable. Your description of the Chinese internet to Westerners is scary because it removes the sites they use daily. Chinese don’t use these sites and never have even when they were unblocked in 2007/2008.

The point is to convey how it feels to go from having access to these sites to not having access to them.

Can you give an example of a site in China that has suddenly gone offline to the dismay of most of the population? I can’t think of one (though I may be missing an example).

Have you ever used QQ Exmail? It is absolutely atrocious compared to Gmail. Youku and Tudou are both more cluttered and obtrusive than Youtube, and certainly moreso than Vimeo. Same goes for Weibo. Again, this is about viewing these things from an American perspective, and it’s really hard to call opinion in my quoted statement “a lie”.

Using QQ mail is like using hotmail and complaining about it. I don’t find Youku or Tudou any more “cluttered” than Youtube, and considering they all offer pretty much the same services, find it hard to believe they’re worse. In some ways they’re much better in that there is no upload length limit. And as I said before, Weibo is by far more user friendly than Twitter is. You’re right, your opinion is not exactly a “lie” but what is dishonest is saying they’re “shoddy.” Those sites are generally constructed very well and are not sloppy in any sense of the word. In general I disagree with your portrayal that these sites are entirely shanzhai copies of their American counterparts. They may serve the same purpose, but they certainly aren’t poor reproductions in the way that a GooApple phone is a crappy iPhone.

The Chinese government takes a hard stance on piracy but does little to actual impede it. The implication here is that restricted internet doesn’t correlate with reduced piracy, which is what seems to be what the proponents of SOPA believe.

The big difference being SOPA would exist entirely for the purpose of stopping piracy, whereas the GFW only exists to harmonize China. If China wanted to stop piracy (online), they probably could. Taking down mp3 baidu would be a good start, as would taking down Xunlei.

I apologize for questioning your “credentials” (China familiarity and Mandarin ability), it’s just far too often I come across people on Reddit who go on about China in length but have very little actual information to back up their claims.

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