China´s censorship is well known in Europe and the States. But much to my surprise, I am writing this post from Beijing where tonight I tried but consistenlty failed to experience censorship. I tried everything I could think of. I did searches in Google on all the taboo subjects in China, for example Tiananmen Square, Tibet Independence, Falon Gong, both on my Blackberry and the internet connection at the hotel and….no censorship. There were tons of results extremely critical of the Chinese government in my searches. Moreover I had been told that in China you could not access the Wikipedia, but I can get it without any problems. Now let me clarify, I am sure that there is censorship in China but it is probably in Chinese and that I cannot check. Or maybe I got the uncensored GPRS and the uncensored ISP. I don´t know what´s going on but everything I try works: blogging, flickring, skyping, googling, yahooing, netvibing where i have tons of blog feeds and of course foning (we already have our first 100 Chinese foneros). I was also surprised to see that in China you can buy SIM cards for phones and GPRS data services without disclosing your identity. I did this yesterday. You can also use Skype without difficulty and surf anonimously in tons of internet cafes. The same is not true in Japan for example where last week I was denied the purchase of local mobile phone service as I was told that it is not available to foreigners nor can you buy it without disclosing your identity as you can in Spain. And surprisingly me an my 11 year old son were thrown out of a video arcade because my son was supposedly underage (there was no gambling). And yesterday in South Korea I found out that South Koreans have to input their full names and national ID numbers before being allowed to surf on many sites including Google (who I understand is fighthing this government request). This unusual practice makes it such that it is hard to surf without being followed. And in America where most of the China criticism is based there´s significant censorship with the “obscenity” loophole as defined by the FCC (telecom regulator). When I watch TV in America (rarely) I find that the obscenity censorship is very much a practice. In Spain for example there are many TV and radio shows that would be defined as obscene in America regularly being aired.

Comparing all countries my opinion is that Spain, where I live is the least censored country that I experienced, nothing much is censored neither based on ideology or morality. Same is true of most of Europe. The rest of the world, America and Asia included would score worse in an openness index.

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter:

No Comments

teleken on April 14, 2006  · 

Martin what a commit your are making to your
Dream of Fon,I am impressed.I wish you the
best an i hope other Isp can see the Value
in your Plans. In my own small way i am sportive
of fons goals and when time permits i will help
promote fon more.Keep you chin up your doing a
Great Job.

3.0 rating

David Oliver on April 14, 2006  · 

Here in China you can use sites like do searches on topics like Tiananmen Square, Tibet etc. It will show you the search results but then it won’t let you access the actual websites. My experience is also that after trying to do a search on Falun Gong more than once I am blocked from using Google for about 5 minutes. is hosted locally and produces different search results from, for a comparison try using I have also heard that Skype gets blocked but have never encountered this myself in Shenzhen in southern China.

While there is definitely censorship in China people who are resourceful can quite easily find a way around it to get the information that they want. Personally I haven’t been able to access Wikipedia for the last few months and sometimes CNN goes blank when there is a story on China – probably when something critical is being said.

The Chinese have done a good job of mastering the art of propaganda, for example state owned TV will happily provide coverage of riots and democracy protests in other countries giving the impression of openness but will project in a very different light, or more usually not cover at all, similar events in China.

However in many ways China is a much more open society than some western coutries, especially for us foreigners for whom many of the local rules don’t seem to apply. 🙂

3.0 rating

Diego on April 14, 2006  · 

Hello Martin,

Another example of censorship: I just read that AOL is filtering any e-mail that links to where there is an open letter to the company asking them not to charge for “certified email delivery”.


3.0 rating

Karl-Friedrich Lenz on April 15, 2006  · 

I think that with the new Surveillance Directive Europe actually has surpassed China in the level of Internet freedom restriction.

I also think that this Surveillance Directive is quite relevant for your FON project. For example, you need to decide who is supposed to store the logfiles (the FON mothership or individual Foneros) and if you want to enable anonymous prepaid access or not.

Especially the latter question will be crucial for getting a large boost of support for the FON project from the over 50.000 European opponents of the Surveillance Directive.

3.0 rating

Ellen Wallace on April 15, 2006  · 

You’re right that part of the difference is that you are not searching in Chinese. In Chinese makes it clear that the results are censored. There are limitations to what you can do – for example, we’ve asked friends to check my Blogger blog as well as a couple others, and they don’t seem to work in China, which jives with what I’ve been told about Blogger being banned. The same appears to be true for blogs hosted by blog companies. Clearly, there is censorship, but it’s done pretty openly. I’ll be intersted to see if this shifts if people in China start using their cell phones more for the Internet.

My son has spent the past three summers in China and we’ve used Skype, but there are occasionally problems – notably with his Chinese sim card, which he sees as one of the great benefits of being there! Easy to buy, cheap and easy to use. He’ll be traveling through China this summer, has a blog about it and we’re trying to find sane methods for posting to his blog from remote corners of Anhui Province, for example. Interesting challenge.

Looks cold in Beijing, judging by your photos.

3.0 rating

Martín Varsavsky on April 18, 2006  · 

#2 David,

I have been told that somehow they don´t censor hotels in which mostly foreigners stay like mine. Maybe that explains why I am not able to experience censorship. In any case my view is that even from the government point of view I cannot see how blunt censorship may work. American and European governments have found ways to give incentives and disincentives to large media companies that unfortunately produce even better results than the crude methods of the Chinese governments. In any case the best way to get good press is having a good story to tell. And this country having lifted 400 million people out of poverty has a good story to tell. At least a one third of the way good story to tell.


3.0 rating

David Oliver on April 20, 2006  · 


You may be right about the hotels, I don’t have enough experience of hotels in China to comment.

I agree that even though many Westerners criticize the Chinese government – and there are many inequalities and problems in Chinese society – they have made some impressive achievements, most notably lifting a lot of people out of poverty.

Censorship of Internet and media in China is an issue for foreigners and a small segment of well-off, open minded Chinese. It means very little to the average guy in the street who is more concerned with economic issues, unless censorship refers to there being a coverup of an injustice or corruption at the local or provincial level.

3.0 rating

till on April 20, 2006  · 

Just wanted to add that hotels are indeed a lot different from Internet access at home.

For example, when you surf the web from a hotel in Dubai, you may Flickr also. Regular people may not. 😉

3.0 rating

Leave a Comment

Español / English

Subscribe to e-mail bulletin:
Recent Tweets