Update: Access to Google from China was quietly restored on Saturday.
Beijing is pulling out all the stops in its quest to keep the 18th Party Congress “harmonious,” so that the country’s leaders can properly pursue the ongoing process of reform and opening up. So far this year, that has also meant blocking Bloomberg and the Times’ brand-new Chinese language site. And as of today, according to reports and tests from China, that also means blocking all Google.com sites. It may be temporary – the government has offered no statement, and it likely won’t – but it’s a giant step in China’s ongoing quest to firm up that Great Firewall and keep its netizens inside Chinanet.
According to GreatFire.org,
1. The subdomains www.google.com, mail.google.com, google-analytics.com, docs.google.com, drive.google.com, maps.google.com, play.google.com and perhaps many more are all currently DNS poisoned in China. Instead of the real IP addresses, any lookups from China to any of these domains result in the following IP: 126.96.36.199. That IP address is located in Korea and doesn’t serve any website at all.
2. This means that none of these websites, including Google Search, currently work in China, unless you have a VPN or other cirumvention tool.
3. Using a DNS server outside of China doesn’t help. A lookup of www.google.com to 188.8.131.52 is also distorted, by the Great Firewall.
4. So far you can still access other country versions of Google such as www.google.co.uk.
You can see for yourself at the site’s URL tester.
Among the hundreds of sites blocked by China’s internet nannies, Google’s YouTube and Blogspot sites are already blocked, along with Facebook and Twitter, which were blocked before they could attract a large number of users. Google.com has only been blocked rarely before, but searches for sensitive terms, like “Tiananamen” or “Tibet” result in either scrubbed results or connection errors. And two years ago, after a little kerfulffle over Google’s hacked servers in China, Google decided to leave the Chinese mainland’s search market altogether. When you visit google.cn now you’re directed to the company’s Hong Kong site.
What’s different now is that English Google (google.com) and Gmail are being blocked. As it is for people in many countries, Gmail is an essential, daily tool for many of China’s urban elite and intellectuals, despite suspicious account hacks in recent years. And Google Search, according to Alexa, is the fifth most used website in China, and second only to the Chinese search engine Baidu.com for users. With millions of daily users going to Google.com and Gmail, this kind of blockage is unprecedented in China, says GreatFire, “Never before have so many people been affected by a decision to block a website. If Google stays blocked, many more people in China will become aware of the extent of censorship. How will they react? Will there be protests?”
Users on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, where the cynicism over the Party Congress is already laying on thick, are already incensed about the Google block. One demographic already driven batty by China’s internet regime are China’s foreign correspondents, officials and businesspeople – not exactly the kind of people Beijing should want to infuriate. “Mr Xi, Tear Down This Firewall!” read the title of an editorial Bloomberg fired out this morning.
Keep in mind that for all the efforts toward “grassroots democracy” and corruption, China’s reform-minded officials make no mention of censorship. That first Fight Club-esque rule is obvious: censorship may be any government’s most powerful weapon. China Internet researcher Rebecca Mackinnon calls it networked authoritarianism, a kind of subtle and persistent type of control that’s become a popular model for other regimes around the world too. Despite a range of tools to fight the firewall, the weapon is getting more powerful. Over the past year, strange occurances on China’s internet indicate that Beijing has been upgrading its arsenal.
Internet users in China will have a lot to say about this, provided they can get around that increasing ring of restrictions. But what’s the rest of the free Internet going to say?