What it’s like to use the Internet in China

November 8, 2012

As China's once-in-a-decade leadership transition begins, the usual censorship, slowdowns and other Chinese Internet glitches appear to have escalated, with users reporting slower-than average load times and poor access to foreign sites such as Google. But that hasn't stopped China's netizens from picking apart their leaders' statements on social media.


Vincent Yu / AP

During a speech at the opening session of the 18th National Party Congress on Thursday, Chinese President Hu Jintao said, “Neither will we follow the old path of closed door and ossified politics, nor will we take to the evil way of changing our flags and banners.”

That quote was immediately re-posted on China's immensely popular Weibo network, where chatter about the leadership transition has continued to proliferate, despite bans on words like "national chairman."

Many users, whose thoughts were compiled on the Ministry of Tofu site, felt the quote portrayed an overall reluctance to consider reforms:

"I listened to the leader’s speech for 20 minutes today. I can tell you my feeling is: I did not get a single word!! Tax policy, employment, food safety or housing prices, none of these was mentioned."

"It has poured cold water head-on over all the expectations for political reform. The door to changes has been shut."

"When the nation overlooks its people, the people will overlook the nation."

"A voluntary top-down reform initiated by the leadership seems to be, after all, naïve fantasy… But it is pretty imaginable."

"Art of speaking. They tell you that they don’t go this way or that way, and they just won’t tell you what way they really go."

Outside of Weibo, however, an uptick in Internet monitoring has led to reports of spotty access to a range of other Web sites.

CloudFlare, a company that provides Web performance and security services, told the Wall Street Journal the company’s engineers and consumers have reported increased difficulties with traffic out of China for the past few months. Several VPNs, or private networks that allow Web surfers to circumvent Chinese Internet filters, said they also have noticed an uptick in blockages and interferences.

A spokesman for Witopia told the Wall Street Journal the recent disruption is “one of the most severe” the company had ever seen.

Chinese Internet censors have been scouring Weibo for mentions of the leadership transition, leading its users to instead refer to the Congress as "Sparta."

Reuters explains why:

Sparta in Mandarin, "si ba da", sounds like the colloquial reference to the 18th party congress, "shi ba da", which is censored on Weibo.

Earlier Thursday, a number of journalists, activists and political cartoonists also received warnings that their Twitter accounts were compromised.

David Bandurski, a researcher at the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project, provided the Wall Street Journal's China Real Time with an e-mail that read: “Twitter believes that your account may have been compromised by a website or other service not associated with Twitter. We’ve reset your password to prevent others from accessing your account.”

However, USA Today later reported that the Twitter hack is a worldwide problem, so we don't know for sure whether China-oriented Twitter users were targeted more than others.

 

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Max Fisher | November 8, 2012