The Great Firewall of China has blocked The Economist
April 20, 2016 1:48 AM   Subscribe

After leading with a cover story criticizing Xi Jinping (otoh) The Economist has been censored in China; Time too and now Medium.

also btw...
  • No Exit in China - "In the 18th century after a passing breeze caused him to lose his place in a book, a Chinese scholar named Xu Jun wrote this short poem: 'The clear breeze is illiterate, so why does it insist on rummaging through the pages of a book?' Though this couplet was seemingly harmless, the Manchu-ruled Qing Dynasty (1645-1911) executed Xu in 1730 for seditious thought. The Qing, invaders from the Manchurian steppe whose dynastic name meant 'clear' or 'pure', were acutely sensitive to the insinuation that they were illiterate barbarians despite adopting the trappings of Chinese civilization."
  • China Plans A Single, Chilling Response To The Panama Papers - "Ruling groups will tell the Chinese people that the Panama Papers are a Western invention aimed at making China weak and dependent on the West... China increasingly backs up its wrath by taking something away, which it can easily do as the world No. 2 economy keenly pursued by states and companies almost everywhere."
  • The Panama papers embarrass China's leaders - "The files show that nine of the country's most prominent families—including a relative of President Xi Jinping—own or have owned secret offshore companies, mostly based in the British Virgin Islands. Official media have largely kept quiet about this and censors have removed any mention of the scandal online."
  • Is China recovering? - "In Q1, increases in total credit exploded to CNY7.5tn, up 58% yoy and equivalent to 46.5% of nominal GDP – one of the highest ratios ever. Credit growth accelerated to 15.8% yoy to end-March, the quickest pace in 20 months."
  • 4-star admiral wants to confront China. White House says not so fast - "The military's top Pacific commander is pushing for a muscular response to stall China's island-building project."
  • Why do Chinese fishermen keep getting arrested? - "Overfishing and pollution have blighted China's inshore fisheries. Stocks are severely depleted: in the South China Sea, with a tenth of the global fish catch, inshore (coastal) fisheries have just 5-30% left of the stocks they had in the 1950s. Chinese fishermen are driven farther offshore and into distant waters. China's government encourages this... the habitual presence of big numbers of Chinese boats in disputed waters congeals into facts on the water that become harder to dispute."
  • Disney's Animated Film 'Zootopia' is a U.S. Propaganda Tool, Chinese Professor Says - "Having succeeded as 'invisible propaganda' by 'blurring the background and concealing its viewpoint... Hollywood has always been an effective American propaganda tool. If we are at the mercy of Zootopia and other films, how can our cultural territory not become eroded?' reads the commentary... Zootopia has received rave reviews in China and performed well at the box office. It has raked in over 1.46 billion yuan ($230 million) in Chinese cinemas in the roughly one month since its debut, becoming the highest-grossing animated film ever in China."
posted by kliuless (24 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Impressive post! Going to take a while to digest all this. I'd heard rumblings that the Chinese government was heating the tongs regarding internal dissent, didn't know they were expanding their firewall against foreign media as well.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:28 AM on April 20, 2016

The Straits Times article is pretty funny, covering the full range of "it's not a personality cult, it only looks like one", "here are some dictionary definitions, I don't think they match", "if it is a cult, it might actually be orchestrated by his enemies" and "at least he's not as bad as that other guy" arguments.
posted by effbot at 4:43 AM on April 20, 2016

Uncle Xi is trying to change things too quickly. I predict a sudden disruption of his power.
posted by rmmcclay at 4:54 AM on April 20, 2016

Actually Medium has themselves blocked Chinese users for ages with their CloudFlare settings (trac).

If you want to access Medium over Tor, like many Chinese users must do for much of the web, then you must preface the url with or similar. There is a Tor Browser extension that does this automatically, but I'm not going to link it so early in the thread since it's not considered secure yet.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:57 AM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

At dinner one night, my thesis adviser said "Yeah their kids will all be horribly corrupt" in reference to the Chinese communist party actually doing a remarkably good job as building up the economy, etc. We knew about all the lower level corruption then, but maybe not quite the scale of it, or it hadn't entered the conversation. Anyways, it took less than a decade apparently, not even half a generation.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:14 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

kliueless, thanks for the post and thanks for the link to and the GreatFire Analyzer
posted by Mister Bijou at 5:41 AM on April 20, 2016

They have not quite fully caught on to capitalism otherwise they would simply buy the Economist.
posted by srboisvert at 5:42 AM on April 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

"The west has fiscalised its basic power relationships through a web of contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings and so on. In such an environment it is easy for speech to be 'free' because a change in political will rarely leads to any change in these basic instruments. Western speech, as something that rarely has any effect on power, is, like badgers and birds, free. In states like China, there is pervasive censorship, because speech still has power and power is scared of it. We should always look at censorship as an economic signal that reveals the potential power of speech in that jurisdiction. The attacks against us by the US point to a great hope, speech powerful enough to break the fiscal blockade." - Julian Assange
posted by jeffburdges at 6:09 AM on April 20, 2016 [10 favorites]

Huh. I don't know that I necessarily agree with Assange, but it's certainly a thought-provoking observation.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:25 AM on April 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

Definitely sounds like Assange before he became a Kremlin apologist/media-outlet. Checking the Wikileaks twitter lately, it seems to directly mirror RT in what it will and will not cover (a strangely strong anti-Ukraine focus, all the while attempting to portray Putin as the great guy he is). They also go out of their way not to mention Xi Jinping and blame the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests as being a tool of the US government.
posted by enamon at 6:36 AM on April 20, 2016

CloudFlare has posted numerous times about their attempts to engage with the Tor project and their issues with it. To describe the problem as CloudFlare blocking Chinese users directly is incredibly inaccurate, at best.
posted by yerfatma at 6:42 AM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Tor has an extremely long history of successfully engaging with CDNs, police, etc., yerfatma, sure some hiccups, but normally it all gets sorted out. Akamai, etc. handle Tor traffic just fine.

It's surely Tor that opened discussions with CloudFlare numerous times, not the other way around. As I understand it, these conversations go well so long Tor folk are speaking with CloudFlare's techies, who like Tor just fine, but supposedly anytime anything needs approval by the CEO, CTO, etc., then their own tech people's reforms get shot down. I'd suspect the management were familiar with one domain, specifically email spam prevention, and applied exactly the same methodology elsewhere.

At this point, it's likely that CloudFlare does not even know if they've clients who benefit from their more aggressive blocking, as they did not adapt along the way like their competitors Akamai, etc., which makes it dangerous for them to simply adjust quickly.

It remains true however that CloudFlare created this problem by blocking Tor, and should be criticized for censoring the web for everyone who needs Tor, including Chinese users.

There many ways forward now, thanks mostly to public pressure on CloudFlare, but most seem kinda slow. Imho, the single most interesting route is simply to make the web more asynchronous using first archival services like, and later more secure peer-to-peer caching. In this way, Tor could largely bypass CloudFlare and help reduce the threat of correlation attacks, although caching attacks become another thread then.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:25 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Huh. I don't know that I necessarily agree with Assange, but it's certainly a thought-provoking observation.

This is almost literally what Noam Chomsky said in Manufacturing Consent three decades ago, only then his claim was that the US had really propagandistic control of the consensus views because elections still matter here, while Europe had much freer speech because they were systematically much less able to achieve change.

It's predicated on the idea that there's a way that the owners of media control the content. In the age of Fox News and talk radio, I think we know better: the audience controls the content by preferring some sources over others. You can find almost any viewpoint expressed in the West, especially on the internet.

What's more, we're seeing good evidence that the owners of capital don't control the outcomes. Our free speech is still frequently disruptive of those in power (even if in ways that we might not like here on Metafilter, like the non-elite-sanctioned rise of the toupee-Voldemort who just won the NY state GOP primary.)

The trouble I've always had with Assange and Chomsky on these themes is the background assumption that Americans are somehow being tricked, that we're good people with bad information. Here's my suspicion: we mostly know what we're getting, and we're mostly supportive of our country's brutal foreign policies, multiple stupid invasions, and rampant domestic inequality. That's because we're mostly assholes.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:28 AM on April 20, 2016 [19 favorites]

It's surely Tor that opened discussions with CloudFlare numerous times, not the other way around.
... At this point, it's likely that CloudFlare does not even know if they've clients who benefit from their more aggressive blocking

No. I don't want to make a derail out of this, but your biases are showing. Tor's great, doesn't mean CloudFlare is a bad actor.

posted by yerfatma at 8:24 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

The whole Tor/CloudFront thing is interesting but a derail. It's misleading to say "Medium has themselves blocked Chinese users". Technically what is happening is CloudFront, a service Medium uses to distribute their content, does not work for Tor users because of a longstanding set of technical problems.

The deliberate blocking we're talking about here is China's Great Firewall blocking news outlets that are critical of Xi Jinping. The primary access path for 1.3B people has been blocked by a deliberate political process.

The Panama Papers connection in China is fascinating. All Weibo searches for the word "Panama" got blocked the day after the news broke. In general China's strategy of simply suppressing all criticism of certain sensitive people seems insanely dangerous. At some point it's going to blow up, isn't it?
posted by Nelson at 8:35 AM on April 20, 2016

The problem with CloudFlare is their use of reCAPTCHAs when Javascript is turned off. The reCAPTCHAs they tend to use (or, at least, that they used the last time I tried it) are impossible for humans to solve. Letters and numbers are indiscernible and it makes filling out a form to get to a site next to impossible. Switching to a different CAPTCHA system would make Cloudflare once again usable for Tor users.
posted by enamon at 8:36 AM on April 20, 2016

To be fair, the US does have a lot of involvement in opposition movements around the globe. (Not that this diminishes the legitimacy of people's desire for freedom).
posted by mikek at 9:00 AM on April 20, 2016

At some point it's going to blow up, isn't it?

'Some point' in the West has gotten us Late Captialism, so I don't know. I guess it comes down to what you mean by 'blow up': destruction of ruling power structure or precipitous drop in quality of life for the masses? If your point is that this can't go on forever in this exact fashion, then, yes.
posted by eclectist at 9:21 AM on April 20, 2016

Tough call. Eliminating the Economist might actually be a social benefit to the world.
posted by JackFlash at 9:22 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

> ...the world No. 2 economy...

Is that true any more? The IMF and CIA World Factbook rank it above the EU as of 2015; the World Bank ranks it second but only as of 2014.
posted by ardgedee at 9:32 AM on April 20, 2016

Eliminating the Economist might actually be a social benefit to the world.

Er, why?

While you can argue with its free-market economics, its politics are pretty left-liberal.
posted by fordiebianco at 10:04 AM on April 20, 2016

While you can argue with its free-market economics, its politics are pretty left-liberal.

Only in the funhouse mirror that is the contemporary american political landscape.

The Economist is solidly of the classical liberal technocratic centrist mold.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:04 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm okay with the Economist in the sense that they actually write knowledgeable analysis. Is it biases? Absolutely. It's still better than mindlessly parroting PR flacks.

Amusing : How economists rode math to become this era's astrologers

There is a history between Tor and CloudFlare going back years, yerfatma. I donno any details, but the I gave summarized as best I could from the limited information I have, including CloudFlare's recent statements.*

These comments from CloudFlare only appeared recently after the CAPTCHA became unsolvable and people started complaining more loudly, protesting outside their offices, and distributing hacker laptop stickers saying Fuck CloudFlare. It seemingly signals a change though, so that's good.

* We know that CloudFlare blocks Tor exists based in part upon observing spam to honey pot email addresses they witnessed being harvested over Tor. Just think about that : If you post an email address publicly, then it'll wind up in exactly the same spammers databases because the spammers only need to scrape your site once. It makes absolutely no sense to block people from even reading the web because they might be harvesting emails.

It's true comment spam might be an issue, but all CloudFlares competitors handle that more delicately, like by limiting POSTs differently from GETs, etc. Also, those the numbers they post have no bearing on the conclusions they draw. In particular, their chart suggest only around (1033 exits) log(0.35) (t/10min) = 470 (t/10min) comment spammers operating "human-like but 24-7", where t is their time interval. If t = daily, that's 2 out of I think 2 million Tor users. I think it's so few spammers because larger sites shut this down by giving flags the benefit on anonymous comments from Tor.

posted by jeffburdges at 4:53 PM on April 20, 2016

One Million People use Facebook over Tor
I notice they do not mention how many speak Chinese or Persian.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:37 PM on April 22, 2016

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