In this Aug. 19, 2013 file photo, computer users sit near a monitor display with a message from the Chinese police on the proper use of the Internet at an Internet cafe in Beijing, China. (Ng Han Guan/AP)

It was a brief moment of excitement and freedom, swiftly crushed.

Many Chinese web users were in high spirits Sunday night when they discovered they could suddenly access Google and Instagram without having to jump China’s censorship system known as the Great Firewall.

Both websites are blocked in China, along with Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and many others. Anyone who wants to access them has to use virtual private network (VPN) services, many of which cost money and all of which tend to slow down browsing speeds.

Only a small minority of Chinese Netizens bother, most instead using an array of officially approved Chinese search and social media services.

But some, especially English speakers, prefer life outside the Great Firewall. At 10:06 p.m. on Sunday night, one user posted a screenshot of google.com.vn with the words “without VPN.” News swiftly spread, and users began recording their experiences.

"Google temporarily accessible. My friends are all talking about it. It seems everybody is psyched, doing all kinds of searches,” the user gongxinhua1 wrote on Twitter (above).

One posted the search results for the phrase “China’s best actor” – with the top result a book by that name about former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao: Not the sort of thing that Chinese search engine Baidu is likely to highlight.

Another posted the search for June 4th in Chinese – the date of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy protesters.


A screenshot of a Google and a Baidu image search for "Tiananmen Square," taken at the Firewall Cafe in New York on February 26, 2016. (Courtesy Joyce Yu-Jean Lee).

Chinese tech websites reported that access may have become possible because Google had introduced a series of new IP servers. That would not explain, however, why some users reported that Instagram was also available.

“It feels weird searching for things without a VPN,” one user wrote, while another said surfers should “enjoy while you can: Who knows what is going to happen in the morning.”

Li Yue, a Shenzhen-based IT engineer, was quoted by the South China Morning Post (SCMP) as believing for a moment that free speech had returned to China.

But others soon realized this was an illusion, complaining they still couldn’t access many of the links a Google search threw up. Gmail also remained blocked.

The last post we could find celebrating the access was timed at 1:09 a.m Monday morning.

By 1:16, a user reported the services were again blocked. “We should remember this short period of happiness,” the user wrote, according to the SCMP.

In about two hours, the builders of China’s Great Firewall had apparently identified and bricked over the hole.

Largely, anyway: On Monday afternoon China time, google.co.kr still appeared to be working.

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