Note: This is cross-posted from the old Imagethief blog. The original post is here.
Imagethief is as annoyed by the Great Firewall (or Net Nanny or what-have-you) as anyone who lives in China and uses overseas social networks. One of the great joys of my pox-afflicted Christmas vacation was having one of my annual bursts of unfettered Internet use. After months of sipping my Internet through the narrow and frequently blocked swizzle-stick of Chinese “broadband” it’s always refreshing to turn the VPN off and draw my Internet through the big-bore bubble tea straw of an American or Singaporean ISP.
Still, say what you will about the GFW, it does provide those of us who live in China with one of our most enduring parlor games: Who’s blocked? Why? Who goes down next? What’s accessible again? What does it all mean? Buy? Sell? Hold? Stockpile turnips? Trying to read the tea leaves of the GFW is the Kreminology of 21st Century Beijing, especially for us nerdy blogging types.
Most of the time, as misguided as it might appear to us bourgeois foreigners, we can at least discern the rationale for GFW decisions. Apple highlights an album dedicated to Tibet on iTunes, so they get slapped for a while. Yeeyan starts translating foreign news a little too freely so the great, sweaty thumb comes down on them like the Monty Python foot of censorship. Microblogs outside the control of the big media groups looking a little too much like group organizing tools? Adios, muchachos. Sorry about all those venture capital deals. In its own way, the GFW is a window into the fever dreams of the Chinese government, albeit a small window in serious need of a spritz of Windex and a roll of “Brawny” paper towls.
But I have to confess I am totally mystified as to why this week the Chinese authorities decided to block the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Yes, there are most certainly entries in IMDb that are counter to Chinese doctrine (“Seven Years in Tibet”, etc.), but you’d struggle to find them through the updates on development of the sequel to “The Hangover” and such. All of that “hurt-the-feelings-of-the-Chinese-people” stuff is also available in more practical and influential form on any number of other sites such as iTunes, Google and Amazon.
If anyone has a good explanation for why this happened, I’d love to hear it. Is it personal? Perhaps it’s because a search for “Tiananmen” yields plenty of misguided Western propaganda while shamefully omitting China Film Corporation’s feel-good National Day picture of the same name*? Who knows. Simply by virtue of its impenetrability and apparent capriciousness, this move puts the GFW dangerously close to self-parody territory. What’s next to be blocked in the interest of the correct guidance of public opinion? Hello Kitty? ESPN? Funny-or-die? The mind reels.
*This was last year’s lightweight counterpart to the more serious but less watchable “Founding of a Republic.” Imagethief really wants to know what the deal with the girl with the accordion was. She’s on the poster foreground, but in the film for all of about ninety seconds, thus constituting the sum-total of the sex appeal as far as Imagethief is concerned. This, although scant, was admittedly ninety seconds more sex-appeal than “Founding of a Republic” had.
Also blocked, for the first time as far as I know, is Imagethief. Puts me in good company, along with Danwei.
Apparently blocked only in Beijing. Imagethief, it seems, is suitable for the decadent financiers of Pudong, but not for the refined sensibilities of Zhongnanhai. I don’t know what to think.