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Skypecast: Isaac Mao on China's crackdown

I spoke to Isaac Mao in Shanghai via Skype to get some clarification and detail about how the latest regulations requiring bloggers to register in China are actually being implemented – and interpreted.

The conversation was exremely interesting. As usual, the situation on the ground is complicated and full of ambiguity.

You can listen to the 32-minute (15MB) interview with Isaac Mao here.

The major takeaways:

  • The regulation requiring websites (including blogs) to register does not seem to apply to sub-domains. Which means that people with blogs on Chinese blog-hosting services like Blogbus and Blogchina (which are the Chinese equivalents of Blogger & Typepad) , are completely fine as long as the hosting companies themselves have registered, which they all have done or are doing.
  • So the only Chinese bloggers who are affected by this regulation are ones who have set up blogs independently on their own server space.
  • What does this mean? It means that actually, blogging will be alowed to flourish and proliferate but in a more controlled way. Because the blog-hosting companies are required to police and filter the blogs they host for questionable content – including politically sensitive content. So if you really want to speak freely on your blog you need to have one on your own server not controlled by a centralized host. It is those harder-to-control blogs (which also require more technical know-how to set up and run.) that are now required to register.
  • Isaac says some bloggers are trying to register or plan to do so – with varying degrees of success depending on how they approach the registration office, whether they call their blog a "blog" or a "website," etc.  Many others are doing nothing and waiting to see what will happen.
  • He knows about the case cited by Reporters Without Borders in which a blogger's site was rendered inaccessible (that blogger has remained anonymous).
  • Some blogs have successfully registered, however, and are now displaying a registration number. One example is here.  The registration number is on the right-hand top corner: # 京ICP备05002004号.   When you click on the number you get this Ministry of Information Industry page, with information about registering websites. (However you can't access any further information to confirm whether or not the blog linking through to this page is genuinely registered… )

Adoptablog
How can people outside of China help Chinese bloggers who want to retain their ability to speak more freely? Adopt a Chinese blog on your server. In order to do this, you need to have a blog on your own server space, not one hosted on Typepad, Blogger, or similar. Interestingly, rather than having a centralized website that will broker and match up interested volunteers with Chinese bloggers in need of help, they're doing the matching through Technorati tagging. So Isaac says: if you're interested in helping Chinese bloggers, write a post on your blog expressing your willingness to help and tag it as “” with this code:

<a href="http://technorati.com/tag/adoptablog" rel="tag">adoptablog</a>

That will automatically enable Chinese bloggers to find you through this page.

Technical note: I called Isaac using Skypeout, which enables me to call a regular phone number via Skype. (We tried doing it Skype-to-skype but there was serious breakup and delay, probably due to a busy network at mid-day in China.) The whole half-hour conversation set me back about one whopping Euro in my Skypeout account.

The conversation was recorded directly onto the hard drive of my IBM Thinkpad using Hotrecorder. A $15 premium version enabled me to convert the audio file to “.wav” format. Did little trimming and normalizing in the free program, Audacity, then exported it to MP3, then uploaded it onto the blog.

The quality was not perfect – Skype emits a high-pitched buzz that I couldn't eliminate and Isaac's voice on the phone had a bit of an echo, but it's perfectly audible, especially if you listen through headphones.

TECHNICAL APOLOGIES: Sorry to those of you who had to click over from the original link. We're still sorting things out technically. I failed to format the enclosures properly in my original post, then the software wouldn't let me fix the situation once the post was published.

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  • http://amediadragon.blogspot.com Jozef Imrich

    ‘The dissident does not operate in the realm of genuine power at all. He is not seeking power. He has no desire for office and does not gather votes. He does not attempt to charm the public, he offers nothing and promises nothing. He can offer, if anything, only his own skin — and he offers it solely because he has no other way of affirming the truth he stands for. His actions simply articulate his dignity as a citizen, regardless of the cost.’
    -Vaclav Havel.

    Havel’s philosophy keeps many Chinese officials awake at night. A time will come sooner rather than later when even the Chinese, Cubans et al will discover Solomon Burke’s song. As Solomon sang in his Grammy winning CD, Don’t Give Up on Me – “None of us are free, if one of us is chained, none of us are free.”

    Hope dies last … hang in there!

  • http://amediadragon.blogspot.com Jozef Imrich
  • http://farreast.com JFarr

    Off Topic – I have been teaching English in China for the last 3 years.
    When I read your by-line I want to ask if there is a way for you to make
    blogspot blogs – it is the Iraqi blogs I am most interested in -available
    to us in China?

    The url I mentioned above is not yet online. I just registered it –
    it was just cool to have one to enter:). I’m hosting on godaddy in the US-
    wonder if I will have to register?

  • Rebecca MacKinnon

    JFarr,
    Blogspot blogs are blocked in China. In order to access them you need to use a proxy server. When I was in Beijing last fall I was able to access blocked sites through: http://anonymouse.ws/anonwww.html

    If that doesn’t work you need to do something a bit more elaborate:
    - Go to Google and do a search for “proxy servers”
    - You will get a long list of sites offering regularly updated lists of new proxy servers. Some of them will be blocked by Chinese ISP’s, but not all of them will. So you need to find one you can access.
    - Once you find a list of proxy servers that looks like it is being regularly updated as new proxy servers come into use, choose one that is NOT in China and preferably one using Port 80 (I found when in Beijing last Fall that port 80 proxies worked better for some reason.)
    - Then you need to go into your browser settings and configure your Internet Exporer, or Firefox, or whatever you’re using, to access the web through the proxy server you’ve selected. In IE you go into “tools” then select “internet settings”, then go to “connections”, then, depending on whether you’re using dialup or a high-speed LAN, click on the “settings” button for either the dial-up or the “LAN” connection. Check on the option that says “use proxy server”, then you’ll be allowed to enter the proxy’s IP address and port number. In firefox you go to “tools” then “options” then click on “connection settings” then you will get to a box where you can enter the proxy information.
    - The first proxy server you plug into your browser may or may not work – the Chinese government blocks them too! You may need to try several before you get one to work. Once you find one that does, it may work for a couple of days, or it may get blocked within an hour or so and you’ll have to start all over again…

    This is a huge pain in the you-know-what, but that’s the Chinese government’s intention.

    You may also want to ask your internet-savvy Chinese friends about using proxies and how to access blocked sites. A lot of Chinese students are very good at doing this. Good luck.

  • TypicalVoter

    I’ll vote red any day!! Security before freedom!!

  • BH

    Rebecca…

    Bless you…drives me nuts I can’t read some things on the net here.

  • Pingback: Global Voices Online»Blog Archive » China Update: more on blog registration and censorship

  • Pingback: Austin Arensberg » More on the struggle of blogging in China

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