Saturday, December 20, 2008

Yuan Watch : Grey Lady blocked by Great Chinese FireWall

(James Fallows reports that access to the New York Times has been blocked by the great Chinese FireWall. Link to his blog to your right.


* Is the site blocked because of this big story today by Jim Yardley, about the economic perils China faces after 30 years of growth? Maybe .... but I have heard far worse prospects routinely discussed here at conferences, on Chinese TV shows, and by Chinese government officials in recent weeks. So that doesn't seem to make sense.(

* Is it blocked because of this story, by Edward Wong, reporting on the death sentences issued for two Uighurs convicted of killing 17 people in an attack on a police/military station in the far nothwestern town of Kashgar just before the Olympics? This could well be the problem. The threat of separatism in the mainly-Muslim northwestern Xinjiang region is an extremely sensitive topic in China. As Wong points out, his story carries several details of the action that differ from official Chinese government accounts.(

* Or is it blocked because of this unbelievably fatuous passage in yesterday's column by David Brooks: "Chinese people work hard because they grew up in a culture built around rice farming. Tending a rice paddy required working up to 3,000 hours a year, and it left a cultural legacy that prizes industriousness." Yes, culture matters; and yes, the structure of Chinese education, family patterns, and still-dominant agricultural life makes a difference in how people behave (not to mention the legacy of the Cultural Revolution, the years under Mao, the one-child policy, and so on). But to write something like that with a straight face suggests that one has never seen actual Chinese people at work (or ostentatiously not working) or thought about how many factors account for the wild variations in work ethic, purposefulness, scholastic aptitude, basic honesty, devotion to duty, etc among people who all supposedly share the rice paddy legacy. I would give some credit to the Chinese firewall minders if exasperation with this sort of talk were the reason for the shutdown. In fairness to Brooks, in the column he might have just been paraphrasing an argument by Malcolm Gladwell.(

I don't know. But this is a more heavy-handed step than I remember seeing in the past two and a half years.

UPDATE: From a friend who knows the nuances of high-level Communist Party maneuvering far better than I do, this hypothesis about what's going on:

I suspect that while the reason behind this blocking is not yet clear, the process--and thereby the motivation--might be a bit less obscure. That is, given that consensus drives policy decisions here, it is very likely that different parts of the bureaucracy weighed in and officials each had a gripe with the NYT coverage of some or another issue. Collectively, they were able to push through a directive to block it.

The people here overseeing foreign journalists also know that there will soon be a new contingent manning the desks of the NYT bureau here. Those officials want to send a clear signal that they expect more positive ("objective") coverage of China.

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