Xinhua recently posted a cheery little article fondly reminiscing about that time when the Chinese state cut all internet access, text messaging, and international phone calls within Xinjiang province in 2009. The 10-month black-out was apparently great fun, when “young people who [normally] surf the web all day, left their homes to hang out with friends in restaurants, drinking beer and feasting on mutton kebabs.” The reality, as Far West China’s Josh Summers points out, wasn’t all just beers and chuanr.
According to Xinhua:
Some parents became strong advocates of the “No Internet” policy. A middle-aged woman recalled that time as simple and calm. “I did not have to worry about my son’s net addiction,” she said, adding that her son was more willing to participate in outdoor activities.
“Simple and calm” don’t quite match the reality, as Far West China writes:
I remember the phone call that I received from the US Embassy in Beijing the week after the riots. They were relieved to finally connect with me not just to ensure my safety but because, according to the lady I spoke with, “your mom won’t stop calling us”.
It was about a month into this communications blackout that my wife and I decided to travel to the neighboring Gansu province, the closest available internet connection. We had to receive permission from the local security office in Karamay before we were cleared to leave. […]
Once we arrived in Gansu we quickly realized that we weren’t the only people with this brilliant idea. Gansu’s “internet tourism” numbers soared during the summer of 2009 and any hotel that didn’t offer a free internet connection missed out on big profits. Unlike us, however, most of these “internet tourists” were Chinese businessmen whose businesses had taken a serious hit following the communications cut. Han, Uyghur, Hui, American – nobody was exempt from the blackout. […]
A whopping 6 months after all communication was cut everybody in Xinjiang received a late Christmas gift on December 29th – the internet had been restored! The news naturally spread like wildfire.
No…wait. Hold the celebration. It was only two websites that had been restored – People’s Daily and (surprise!) Xinhua, both government-run news portals.
Two weeks later everybody was buzzing about internet restoration but again, it was only two more websites (Sina and Sohu). Oddly, even these websites were severely censored versions of the original.
Josh’s piece is worth reading in full, and is a great reminder that 1) Xinhua is full of sh*t and 2) Life without a solid internet connection is hardly life at all.