Has a great thaw begun? On February 21, netizens reported that Google+ has become accessible in China without a user’s having to scale the Great Firewall. Accounts seem to differ on whether Youtube is now accessible in China as well.
Writing on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, a magazine called The Founder (@创业家杂志 ) tweeted a short introduction to Google+ and reported that “Netizens in China can now log on to Google+. Those who are interested should try out Google+.” @anyonecancook tweets, “Yesterday I discovered that I could access G+ without scaling the wall. I thought I had time-traveled.”
@Kennne is excited about the prospects of using Google+: “Google+ was unblocked. Rather than being a political junkie in microblogs on China’s ‘Intranet,’ would be better to take a look at the outside world.” DaysofSteve is of the same mind, “Great! Once the real name registration is introduced [on microblogs] we will be on Google+! Let’s register as soon as possible.” @往事灼痛眼眸 is less rosy: “The CCP has unblocked G+. It seems to be a sliver of hope but it’s a mirage. G+ is pretty ‘harmonious’ overall. Does the Party dare to unblock Twitter and Youtube?”
Did the powers that be unblock Youtube, or not? It’s unclear from netizen tweets. @五百年前的穿越 offered new discoveries: “Google+ is accessible without ‘scaling the wall’!!! Everyone please add me to your circles. Youtube seems to exist in this world too now.” @Guimaomao tweets: “Another piece of good news, Youtube was unblocked too. Twitter and Facebook are still no-gos.” @Vibin沈炜斌 did not have such luck with Youtube, writing, “Google+ is now directly accessible, but not Youtube!” Some say Youtube is accessible from mobile handsets only, while others believe Youtube remains blocked.
Netizens with sharp noses believe they have detected the smell of diplomacy at work. @Guimaomao asks, “Did Xi sign something while he was in America?” @maxgoodman also sees the connection, exclaiming, “Wow not bad. Ever since President She [Xi Jinping] visited America and watched a NBA game, I get the feeling that the ‘Great Wall’ would be lowered.” These conjectures are rooted in history. The New York Times’ website was unblocked in China in 2001 after a meeting between the Grey Lady’s editor-in-chief and then-President Jiang Zemin.
Optimists say this could just be the beginning of a thaw in China’s Internet. @晨小曦爱摄影 and other netizens are already looking beyond Youtube: ”Google+ is finally here. Is the Celestial Dynasty starting to unblock [the sites]? Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, are you far off?”
In related news, the name of Zhao Ziyang (赵紫阳), the Communist Party leader who opposed the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, has suddenly become searchable on Baidu, China’s most popular search engine. Zhao died in 2005 after a 15-year house arrest. On February 21, a search for his name yielded 1,050,000 results on Baidu. The same search yielded about 2,660,000 results on Google. Zhao’s name remains a blocked search term on Sina Weibo.