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David Wertime

The Great Firewall (And The Plot) Thickens: Rumors of Foreign Site Blackout in China

One netizen reported seeing this screen while attempting to access Hotmail from within China. The message says it is "unable to show" the requested page.

The Chinese Internet (or is it Intranet?) drama continues. Just two days ago Weibo, China’s premiere social network, proved it’s still alive and breathing. Now, if netizen chatter there is to be believed, the Chinese Internet has started acting downright Orwellian. 

Many netizens from within China’s mainland are reporting that they can’t access any foreign websites at all, even those normally accessible from the mainland, at least not without the help of a VPN (Virtual Private Network), a tool normally used to scale China’s “Great Firewall.” @月光博客, a blogger based in Shenzhen, tweeted on Sina Weibo, “[I don't know whether] it’s a problem with my own network or something else, [but] at present … I can’t open any foreign sites, including Yahoo, Hotmail, Delicious. This is crazy.”

Using the (now restored) “comment” function, netizens quickly responded with reports of their own frustrated attempts to access sites based on foreign servers. Netizens from the cities of Changsha, Dongguan, Guizhou, Wuhan, and others reported similar problems accessing the above sites, as well as Amazon, Bing, and the New York times. @伪不期而遇 wrote, “I want to freak out.”

But netizen chatter suggests the blackout is only partial. Some questioned whether the problems occurred with all browsers, with @飘云大虾 writing, “I’d like to know what browser you all are using!” @moonwave said all of the sites in question could be visited via “https.” One source in Shanghai has reported no problem accessing foreign sites including New York Times, ESPN and CNN via smartphone or PC.

Not surprisingly, netizens were perturbed by this latest development. @爽爽的每一天 demanded to know, “Have we turned into Iran, or North Korea?” @庄周梦蝶注 exclaimed, “The Celestial Dynasty is special!” while @moneyos muttered that in such a “dynasty,” “it’s infinite imperial graciousness to [even] allow you to send a Weibo tweet.” 

What could the reason be for this latest block? There may be no reason at all. TLN has reported before (see here and here) about apparent glitches that briefly lowered China’s Great Firewall. This may be a glitch that has raised it.

Some netizens saw something more sinister at work. @H–N proffered this hypothesis: “I think it’s related to the [recent] Anonymous attacks, already many sites have been shut down.” But @熊猫正在烧香 appeared to think it was related to China’s recent crackdown on “vicious rumors” online, writing darkly, “It’s probably the reason that everyone knows about”–that is, the government could again be reminding netizens “who’s boss.”

[NB: Thanks for TLN reader @Xumushi for bringing this to our attention.]

 

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David Wertime

David is the co-founder and co-editor of Tea Leaf Nation. He first encountered China as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2001 and has lived and worked in Fuling, Chongqing, Beijing, and Hong Kong. He is a ChinaFile fellow at the Asia Society and an associate fellow at the Truman National Security Project.
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  • ailang

    Yes, I had this problem on my smartphone this morning while attempting to check NHL scores on NHL.com. Interestingly, my gmail was fully functional but google itself was blocked. My usual barometer to determine whether it’s a network issue or a firewall issue is baidu; it was working. Since both google and Nhl.com are working now, I wonder if there is something else going on here. 

  • ailang

    Yes, I had this problem on my smartphone this morning while attempting to check NHL scores on NHL.com. Interestingly, my gmail was fully functional but google itself was blocked. My usual barometer to determine whether it’s a network issue or a firewall issue is baidu; it was working. Since both google and Nhl.com are working now, I wonder if there is something else going on here. 

  • Ma Xiu

    Last year when I was in Nanjing I purchased internet service for my apartment. At the time of purchase did I know that there were different service options. Option A) regular access to the internet; Option B) access to only Chinese websites for a seriously discounted price and a free cell phone. True story.

  • Ma Xiu

    Last year when I was in Nanjing I purchased internet service for my apartment. At the time of purchase did I know that there were different service options. Option A) regular access to the internet; Option B) access to only Chinese websites for a seriously discounted price and a free cell phone. True story.