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My Experience with Internet Censorship in China - Do We Live In An Iron Cage?
A reader's letter to editor

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I reside in Canada and I recently copied via email, an interesting article I saw on Boxun Net, to several old colleagues in China. One of these colleagues used the MSN Instant Messenger and I asked him whether or not he received this letter. He replied that he hadn’t. I have experienced Internet censorship before, so I decided to check the article carefully. The article was actually about education and seemed harmless enough. In contrast to previously blocked articles, this one really did only discuss the education system. There was absolutely no mention of "Tibet", “Falun Gong,” “human rights,” “Jiang Zemin” or other sensitive words. Then, why was it still being blocked?

I resolved to determine the reasons for its blocking. The steps to do this are actually quite simple. One begins by simply dividing the article into two parts and sending each part separately. One continues dividing and sending this way until one can see which words or phrases are being blocked. I still had an old account with a Mainland domain name and I sent the message to this account to do this test. In the end, it took me three hours to divide and send the two thousand-word article. I was left with what appeared to be the list of “key words” that resulted in the blocking of my message.

The list was this:
1) Jiang
2) Tortoise son (an obscene phrase in Chinese)
3) Tolerance
4) Private property

The original article used those words in the following contexts:
1) . . . Zhejiang Pedagogic University
2) . . . that migrant laborer cursed, “Tortoise son, what a cold day. . .”
3) . . . why can't they be more tolerant towards each other …
4) . . . school’s source is not their private property, what they. . .

I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw this! I had been aware of blocking being done with key phrases, but with this kind of key word blocking, the number of emails going missing must be enormous. But this is the truth of the matter.

I guess the word “Jiang” reaches right in to Jiang Zemin’s core, because sometimes I have received letters that use “Jiang XX,” “Jiang core,” “Jiang thief” and others in order to avoid the blocking. The second term is simply an obscenity and is of no consequence. The third word, tolerance, also upsets Jiang. Whenever he hears the word Tolerance, he thinks of Falun Gong. No matter its context, tolerance is forbidden. I don’t really understand why the words “private property” are blocked, but changing them to “” passed the blocking. No matter how I altered the words “Jiang” and “Tolerance” with particles or spaces, nothing worked. Finally, using other words with similar sounds, the message got through. I also found that messages over 2000 words and in HTML format were blocked by the system.

A friend of mine who recently graduated from an American university and went back to China said, “China is very free. We can see the CNN website, but CNN News is too biased, so we mainly watch CCTV and Phoenix TV.” This left me speechless. The propaganda machine has obviously done its job very well if words like “Jiang” and “tolerance” cannot be used in communication and its people still think that the news is free of governmental interference.
"Controlling the speech of the people is more important the controlling the flooding of a river" was a charge leveled by the Communists against the Kuomintang. But the actions of the KMT pale into insignificance compared to those of today’s Communist Party.

It is said that there is a dish called “Grilled Duck Palm,” where a live duck is put on an iron plate smeared with sauce. The plate is heated gradually and soon the duck’s feet are cooked but it is still alive. Similar to the story of the boiling frog, the duck is unaware of its predicament until it is too late. Today’s society is like the duck and it must wake up before it is too late.

Until recently, I could not understand why some Falun Gong practitioners in China tapped into the TV system to air Falun Gong-related videos. I now feel that such actions are almost imperative and are even righteous and upright. I send my respect to all the brave people who dedicate themselves to breaking the blockade!

1) The email server that I used is which is said to be the largest domestic internet provider with free email.

2) Several emails recently sent to China have disappeared and a check on the blocking revealed that the suspect words were “bird flu.”

3) All the emails sent were compressed with WinZip and then password protected. If the password was disclosed in the main body of the email, then it would pass the blockade. It is also said that using encryption to zip emails violates the law, because the authorities are unable to check the contents. What a wicked logic!

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