« January 2008 | Main | March 2008 »

February 24, 2008

The Connection Has Been Reset

The Connection Has Been Reset

Many foreigners who come to China for the Olympics will use the Internet to tell people back home what they have seen and to check what else has happened in the world.

The first thing they’ll probably notice is that China’s Internet seems slow. Partly this is because of congestion in China’s internal networks, which affects domestic and international transmissions alike. Partly it is because even electrons take a detectable period of time to travel beneath the Pacific Ocean to servers in America and back again; the trip to and from Europe is even longer, because that goes through America, too. And partly it is because of the delaying cycles imposed by China’s system that monitors what people are looking for on the Internet, especially when they’re looking overseas. That’s what foreigners have heard about.

They’ll likely be surprised, then, to notice that China’s Internet seems surprisingly free and uncontrolled. Can they search for information about “Tibet independence” or “Tiananmen shooting” or other terms they have heard are taboo? Probably—and they’ll be able to click right through to the controversial sites. Even if they enter the Chinese-language term for “democracy in China,” they’ll probably get results. What about Wikipedia, famously off-limits to users in China? They will probably be able to reach it. Naturally the visitors will wonder: What’s all this I’ve heard about the “Great Firewall” and China’s tight limits on the Internet?

February 23, 2008

China, in New Role, Presses Sudan on Darfur

China, in New Role, Presses Sudan on Darfur

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Amid the international outrage over the bloodshed in Darfur, frustration has increasingly turned toward China, Sudan’s biggest trading partner and international protector, culminating in Steven Spielberg’s decision last week to withdraw as artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics.

And it may be working.

China has begun shifting its position on Darfur, stepping outside its diplomatic comfort zone to quietly push Sudan to accept the world’s largest peacekeeping force, diplomats and analysts say.

It has also acted publicly, sending engineers to help peacekeepers in Darfur and appointing a special envoy to the region who has toured refugee camps and pressed the Sudanese government to change its policies.

Few analysts expect China to walk away from its business ties to Sudan, but its willingness to take up the issue is a rare venture into something China swears it never does — meddle in the internal affairs of its trading partners.

“China in my view has been very cooperative,” said Andrew S. Natsios, the former special envoy of President Bush to Sudan. “The level of coordination and cooperation has been improving each month.”

February 17, 2008

The Pyrotechnic Imagination

The Pyrotechnic Imagination

Cai Guo-Qiang says his favorite artistic moment is the pregnant pause between the lighting of the fuse and the detonation of the gunpowder. “There is a pressure in it to be preserved, and then it explodes,” he says. “This moment belongs just to the artist and the work.” On a breezy afternoon last September, in a large A-frame shed at the Grucci fireworks plant on Long Island, he was setting the stage. With the help of his wife, Hong Hong Wu, he cut a long green fuse into segments, then laid the pieces carefully on eight contiguous panels of handmade Japanese rice paper.

After three young female assistants placed stencils in the shape of an eagle’s wings, head and beak onto the panels, Cai, a onetime serious student of martial arts, moved gracefully as he sprinkled different grades of gunpowder, some custom-made for him. “I don’t know what the result will be, even though I preplan,” he told me, speaking through an interpreter in Chinese. “It is like making medicine — a little of this, a little of that, watch it and taste it a little and see how it is working. My work is like a dialogue between me and unseen powers, like alchemy.” (In Chinese, the word for gunpowder is literally “fire medicine,” an allusion to the eighth-century Chinese alchemists who accidentally invented it while searching for a magic elixir.) The assistants lifted the stencils, and Cai scattered and rubbed gunpowder in the white space that had been covered. Then the women put the stencils back on the panels, and he tossed on more gunpowder. The entire process was repeated for another image, this one of a pine-tree branch below the eagle’s claws.

A lean man who styles his hair in a brush cut with the sides buzzed, Cai (his full name is pronounced “sigh gwo chee-yang”), who is 50, wore his usual attire of a T-shirt, chinos and sneakers. He issued instructions in a very soft voice and beamed occasionally in a beatific, childlike smile. With a knife, he scored some of the green-coated fuse segments. “The reason I cut lines on the surface of the wrapping is to slow down the fuse,” he told me. “I spend so much time preplanning how to lay the fuses so as to have control and play against the power of the powder and the fuses. But when it gets to a high tide, it doesn’t always happen as expected, even if preplanned.” Wu tore other fuses, slower ones with a covering of brown paper, and Cai scattered the pieces of fuse where the black powder was densest. “If I wanted to depict the tree just as a tree, I could paint it,” he continued. “I want to find the power direction, the energy source that moves through the tree.” He considered the bird to be more problematic than the branch. “I want an eagle with a feeling of lightness, like floating in the air, and the tree at the bottom is very powerful. But it is difficult. It is easier to use gunpowder to make a powerful explosion than to show lightness.”

February 10, 2008

Olympic Kow Tow

Olympic kow tow as British athletes are forced to sign contracts banning criticism of Chinese regime

Past shame: The England team give Nazi salutes at the 1938 Berlin Olympics, a memory which critics do not want to see recalled in China.

British Olympic chiefs are to force athletes to sign a contract promising not to speak out about China's appalling human rights record – or face being banned from travelling to Beijing.

The move – which raises the spectre of the order given to the England football team to give a Nazi salute in Berlin in 1938 – immediately provoked a storm of protest.

Yesterday the British Olympic Association (BOA) confirmed to The Mail on Sunday that any athlete who refuses to sign the agreements will not be allowed to travel to Beijing.

The BOA took the decision even though other countries – including the United States, Canada, Finland, and Australia – have pledged that their athletes would be free to speak about any issue concerning China.

To date, only New Zealand and Belgium have banned their athletes from giving political opinions while competing at the Games.

February 04, 2008

Great Firewall of China Faces Online Rebels

Great Firewall of China Faces Online Rebels

WUHAN, China — As an 18-year-old student with an interest in the Internet, Zhu Nan had been itching to say something about the country’s pervasive online censorship system, widely known here as the Great Firewall.

When China’s censors began blocking access to the popular photo-sharing site Flickr, Mr. Zhu felt the moment had come. Writing on his blog last year, the student, who is now a freshman at a university in this city, questioned the rationale for Internet restrictions, and in subsequent posts, began passing along tips on how to evade them.

“Officials in our country claimed that Internet censorship is done according to the law,” Mr. Zhu wrote. “If so, why not let people know about this legal project, and why, instead, ban the Web sites that publicize and examine those legal policies? If you’re determined to do this, you shouldn’t be afraid of criticism.”

Mr. Zhu’s obscure blog post and his subsequent activism is a small part of what many here regard as a watershed moment. In recent months, China’s censors have tightened controls over the Internet, often blacking out sites that had no discernible political content. In the process, they have fostered a backlash, as many people who previously had little interest in politics have become active in resisting the controls.