Zhejiang University of Science and  Technology       Hangzhou

Note to Foreign Students, late 2014

Before you came to China, you were aware of censorship by the Chinese government.   You likely knew that Youtube,  Twitter,  Facebook, and some blog site hosts – blogspot, among others – were blocked by the Chinese government.    You understand that the CCP is so desperately afraid of the Chinese people that it cannot tolerate information from the outside – or inside - that is too “dangerous” to Party longevity.

In 2012, both the New York Times and any news sites operated by Bloomberg were blocked by the Chinese government, in retaliation for reporting on the fabulous family wealth of wen jiabao and xi jinping.    All of their sites are still blocked, including economic information and opinion from Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize winning economist.

In the last three months, we have entered a new phase of blocking unlike anything in the past ten years.    Google was intermittently blocked over the last two years, for their refusal to submit to censorship.   But that blocking applied only to the use of the search engine.

Now, gmail accounts are generally blocked – not always, and not all, but enough to make reliable communication impossible.   I have heard that other American email servers – Hotmail and  Yahoo – are at least occasionally blocked.   My AOL – America Online – service is not blocked, but extremely slow – can take hours for an email to go through.   The meaning of this is that, again, reliable communication is not possible.  You never know when your email is going to go through, and you don’t know if you are being sent emails that you do not get.   I can not have confidence that my students are getting emails I send with readings, ppt, and notes.

For teaching purposes, the blocking of web sites and servers is a bigger problem.    I need access to academic and professional articles, for both my own research and to give to you.  

Quite a few of my attempts to get articles in the last month have been blocked or are so slow –taking hours to load – that the effect is to stifle research.   

I have a workaround from a Chinese student, that seems to get Google access through Hong Kong, but this is also slow and not very reliable, and still fails to get access to many academic articles or sites.

It is now difficult for me to teach here.   I spend hours trying to send emails or get information, and that is just not acceptable.

The crackdown on communication is part of a current government strategy to accomplish several things – replace western communications suppliers – Apple, for example – with Chinese products (see, for example, Replace foreign products with Chinese)

and assist Chinese internet companies – Alibaba, Huawei, others – to become dominant providers inside and outside China, as well as protect the Chinese people from the deadly ideas coming from the west (America) that are designed to destroy China and the Party.   No joke.  These are ideas like freedom of speech, civil rights, and freedom of the press  (see “Document No. 9,”  Communist Party Central Office, spring 2013, if you can get it - Document No. 9 translation).

 I want you to understand that the blocking, like that of gmail, does not need to be perfect to do its job.   What is desired, more than the censorship itself, is to create a climate of uncertainty that encourages people to not bother looking, or to waste just enough time that they fail to accomplish what was intended.   Students give up trying to communicate.  Teachers give up trying to teach.   Researchers give up trying to understand.   Then, the Party is the only voice.

There have been temporary crackdowns on communications in the past.   You may expect very severe crackdowns in the month before June 4,  2015, as the Party tries to erase discussion of the June 4, 1989 murder of students by the army in Tian'anmen Square.

But this current crackdown is different.   This is not temporary.  It will last for several years, in my opinion, and will probably get worse.    You can get a Chinese email address to help communications, but you cannot get better access to web sites for information.   If you buy a VPN – virtual private network – then your access might be pretty good for some time, but the government has gotten pretty good at shutting those down as well, and you don’t know when your VPN will suddenly fail to work.

There is no reason to think that access will become easier in the next few years.   The government and Party have made it clear that internet access will be controlled more, and openness is not part of the strategy.    One can think of this as a policy of  “China for Chinese.   Foreigners go home.”

That is what I am suggesting that you consider, and advise friends back home who might be thinking of coming here next year and after.    China is a wonderfully interesting place, with lots to teach you.   But you need to consider the stupidity of the blocking in the calculation of whether you should study or work in China.

In the meantime, while you are here, I strongly urge you to not get angry about the blocking.    Authoritarian regimes understand anger and hate, and are not worried about that.

What authoritarian regimes everywhere do not understand, and cannot tolerate, is laughter.   I strongly urge you to laugh, loudly, consistently, and often, at the stupidity of a government so afraid of its own people that it cannot afford to let them see Youtube.


William D.  Markle, Professor


Some resources, if you can get them -

Document 9: A ChinaFile Translation.  China File.  http://www.chinafile.com/document-9-chinafile-translation

Perry Link. Censoring the News Before It Happens. China File.  July 10, 2013   http://www.chinafile.com/censoring-news-it-happens

Zeng Jinyan.  This Family Nightmare Is The Price Of Political Expression In China - “Daddy’s ‘Friends’ Are Actually Plainclothes Cops” ChinaFile, September 23, 2014.  http://www.chinafile.com/reporting-opinion/viewpoint/daddys-friends-are-actually-plainclothes-cops