So a writer from The Gazette, a popular Montreal newspaper, was in China recently. And he was awed by the same things that most writers who haven’t been to China recently are awed by: the shiny skyscrapers, the intoxicating energy, the pirated DVDs. But the writer’s trip to China also coincided with the “most exciting Quebec election in decades,” and he desperately wanted to follow the news from back home. And thanks to this thing called “the internet” he was able to … in Beijing. In Shanghai, he claims, it was a different story. Here is a snippet from the story, entitled “Don’t try reading The Gazette online in fashionable, ultra-modern Shanghai“:
Or so I thought until two days later, when I flew to Shanghai and my Quebec lifeline was suddenly shanghaied.
On first sight, Shanghai is even more modern than Beijing, an endless vista of fashionable skyscrapers and boulevards, linked by an airport train that goes an astonishing 450 kilometres an hour. But the city is so cosmopolitan that China’s communist government doesn’t trust the population with outside information.
My room had Internet service, but the authorities controlled what sites I could access – and that didn’t include The Gazette. Or the Globe. Or La Presse. Or anything else I ever read.
I spent each night trying to find a glimmer of Quebec news, but every site I tried just blinked and buzzed for five minutes before reporting “not available at this time.”
OK, fair enough. But how did we read this story? By accessing The Gazette … from Shanghai. Maybe we don’t live in the ultra-modern part? Let’s try the other “blocked” newspapers he mentions:
The Globe and Mail.
Now, we don’t doubt the veracity of the writer’s claim. He very could have found himself unable to access these sites (and many others) from his perch in Shanghai. And we don’t deny the existence of The Great Firewall. But here’s another fact that most cyber conspiracy theorists often forget to to consider: The quality of many internet connections in Shanghai sucks … hard. We hope the writer left his hotel room and tested the above sites at one of Shanghai’s many WiFi hotspots (or just searched Google News) before drawing his conclusions and publishing them in a major newspaper. And what were those conclusions? Here you go:
I spent my last days in China pining for any tidbit of post-election news and puzzling over the menace that Quebec Internet election coverage posed to the new China. Why was The Gazette considered subversive reading?
Was the rise of Dumont viewed as a danger to the idea of China’s one-party system? Did Chinese rulers fear Quebec’s neverendum debate might give ideas to Tibet separatists?
More likely a government computerized censor is programmed to block all sites with dangerous words on them – like “elections” or “political parties” or “voting” or “democracy” or “news.”
China is racing ahead of us in many ways but it’s still far behind in some things that count most.
Again, fair enough. And, maybe, just maybe, the “Shanghai-specific Quebec newspaper ban of 2007” was lifted just before we successfully accessed The Gazette, The Globe and Mail and La Presse. But while we’re sure many people throughout the world cared deeply about the outcome of this very important Quebec election, we doubt among them were many Chinese government officials or Tibet separatists.