It’s widely known that China runs a pretty tight ship – to put it mildly – on what its citizens get to see online, especially that content which exists outside of China. YouTube has been blocked for some time and although Wikipedia was blocked for a while, it’s gradually become more available. However today Chinese authorities have come down like a tonne of bricks on a number of services including Twitter, Flickr, Bing, Live.com, Hotmail.com, Blogger and a number of other sites. And that’s no joke, given that we’re talking about the Great Wall of China here.
Since many of the sites don’t actually have Chinese versions, it’s hard to know how many people will be affected by this, but for those brave and resourceful business people, entrepreneurs and social commentators with strong links to the world outside China, it’s a crushing blow.
Having traveled to China last year I have a number of contacts there now who have all now confirmed the shutdown (all agreed to be named in this post). The shut-down is almost certainly related to the date. The Tiananmen Square Massacre happened in June 4, and the lead-up to any date like this is usually a time when the Firewall is tightened. The API to Twitter, used by clients like TweetDeck, Twhirl and Seesmic Desktop, has also been affected. [Update: News is coming in that the Twitter API has not been affected as badly as the Web site, making API based Twitter applications better placed in China].
Kaiser Kuo, a Chinese-American writer and consultant in Beijing working with Youku told me via direct message after the system shut down completely using a VPN (which, like proxies, are commonplace in China) that “My only surprise in this matter is that it took ‘em so long.”
Ryan McLaughlin, an ex-pat Amercian writer and web designer/developer based outside Beijing, said [updated:] that VPNs, which many Chinese use to get around the Great Firewall, are not being affected by the shutdown. He also blogs “Undoubtedly the blocks are in an effort to curb online commentary and the dissemination of information about the , which on celebrates its 20th anniversary.”
Mimi Xu, a China/San Francisco based product dev and entrepreneur who Tweets as MissXu, summed it up: “The 3 web services I cant live without – Twitter, Flickr, YouTube – are all blocked in China. Cheers, motherfuckers!”