Yes, I was “Shanghai’d” in more ways than one.
A week ago, I wrote a brief announcement saying I was going on vacation, spending a few days in Shanghai, China. The announcement is still available at http://bit.ly/2p9lcpZ. I also stated that, “I probably will publish a few new articles in this newsletter during the week but not as many as usual. Also, that is true only if the Great Firewall of China cooperates.”
Well, the Great Firewall of China did not cooperate. I was held incommunicado. I was unable to publish any new articles for the past week.
The Chinese government does not allow its citizens or visitors to the country to have free and open access to the Internet. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of web sites are blocked. “The Great Firewall of China” blocks access to anything the Chinese government believes might be critical of anything in the Chinese government. The “Firewall” is a combination of legislative actions and technologies enforced by the People’s Republic of China to regulate the Internet domestically.
Anyone within China is unable to access anything from Google (including Gmail, Google Maps, or other Google services), Facebook, YouTube, the Chinese version of Wikipedia, Twitter, Instagram, most non-Chinese news services (the New York Times, Bloomberg, BBC, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and many more), almost all Chinese-language news services from other countries, Archive.org, Amnesty International, and dozens of email providers. In fact, my primary email service is also blocked.
You can read more about “the Great Firewall of China” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Firewall and at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Websites_blocked_in_mainland_China.
I was in Beijing about six months ago and encountered the same blocks. However, I was prepared at that time. I already knew that it was easy six months ago to bypass the Great Firewall of China by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). I am a privacy fanatic and always use a VPN when traveling with a laptop and even on my desktop computer at home. I never, ever connect to the Internet without a VPN simply because I don’t want anyone to spy on me. The VPN worked well six months ago when I was in Beijing and I was able to access everything I wanted. “The Great Firewall of China” was a non-issue at that time.
Shortly after leaving Beijing, I read about a new edict from the Chinese government. All Chinese Internet service providers were ordered to start blocking VPNs so that citizens and visitors would not be able to access “forbidden” web sites and services. I wasn’t sure if that would be successful or not. Also, I really wanted to return to Shanghai. (I used to live in Shanghai more than 30 years ago and wanted to go back and see all the changes.) I made the airline and hotel reservations.
I’ll skip the details and give the bottom-line results: VPNs are now blocked. Period. With the VPN in my laptop turned off, I could access many web sites but not my email service or any of the web sites listed earlier. As soon as I turned the VPN on, everything was blocked. I couldn’t access anything on the Internet.
Without email, I couldn’t communicate with my relatives. I couldn’t receive news about press releases and various announcements from genealogy-related companies and organizations. I couldn’t even read the (uncensored) news of the day. In short, I didn’t receive anything that I could write about.
Other than those problems, I had a great time in Shanghai. I got to re-visit dozens of places where I used to spend time. I saw many, many changes. I found a happier, well-fed, and more prosperous people than what I had seen in the early 1980s. When I left Shanghai in 1985, the country was poverty stricken. In 1985, there were no privately-owned automobiles. Today, China has thousands of multimillionaires and even a few billionaires. Today, Shanghai, Beijing, and most other Chinese cities have huge traffic problems as thousands of privately-owned Mercedes, Lexus, Cadillac, Toyota, Nissan, Volvo, Porsche, Chrysler, and even Maserati automobiles are clogging the streets. I even saw a Ferrari stuck in slow-moving traffic in a Shanghai residential neighborhood.
Yes, Shanghai, Beijing, and the rest of China are now prosperous. I am glad I went back to see it. But I don’t think I will ever go back again.
If you live in a country where your government allows free and open access to all sorts of news, ideas, and thoughts, be thankful for the freedoms you enjoy. Government censorship is an evil thing.
On a personal note, in the past two days, I have slept for maybe six hours or so. The 12-hour time zone difference is a killer. I also picked up a rather serious head cold. I’m going to bed.