Shanghai – Life behind the great firewall of China…

When you connect to the Internet in China you don’t get the real Internet you get a government controlled version, which limits access to sites that are offensive to/or go against the political views of the Chinese government. This is known as the Golden Shield Project or by its lovable nickname, ‘The Great Firewall of China’.

The Golden Shield Project is an estimated $800m project of the Chinese government to not only control online content but use modern technology to monitor the movements and activities of their people.

In simple terms as a visitor this means that they block a bunch of websites, for anything about human rights for example Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org), anything that mentions Tiananmen Square, the Dalai Lama and a whole bunch of other stuff, they particularly don’t like anything with user generated content that allows their people to express their views to the world or for their people to see what the rest of the world is up to.

In practical terms this was annoying for me because, it meant all the following are blocked

If you want to see a more thorough list (and you aren’t inside China), then there is a nice article on Wikipedia here.

In truth though the firewall represents little or no challenge to circumvent, not only due to the amount of proxying sites available, but also if you have access to machines outside of China you can easily VPN or SSH your traffic via them circumventing the problem.

The blocking isn’t just IP based either, they also do some nasty DNS poisoning, which causes you to be misdirected to another site rather than the one you intended, again this wasn’t a problem for me as I run my own DNS server on my laptop, but in general a little irritating.

You can’t help but feel then that the Chinese efforts to control Internet access are more than a little futile…

Shanghai – am I really in China??

…is the question I am asking myself right now…

I am in Shanghai, a city of some 18 million people, the biggest city in China and in the top 5 largest in the world, the answer should be obvious.

However, here I am sat in Starbucks (one of two in this building alone, an one of five that I can think of within a couple of minutes walk), sipping on my ‘Venti Cappuccino’ reading the Wall Street Times (Asia edition), looking out across the shopping mall at a McDonalds full of Chinese eagerly stuffing their faces on whatever crap it is that McDonalds sell in the morning, I begin to wonder…

McDonalds and Starbucks in Shanghai

This one of the many many shopping centers along the Nanjing Road, Shanghai showcase shopping experience, it runs 5km East to West through the center of Shanghai. The array of shops is staggering with pretty much every brand (so many Rolex dealerships I have lost count) you care to mention and a string of car dealerships including Mercedes, Porsche, Maserati and Ferrari.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the prices would be cheaper, it being China and all, and to an extent it is, however my cappuccino has set me back 31RMB (about £2.20), and the nice new Samsung LCD screen I am about to buy for home is exactly the same price in the shops here as back in blighty.

So who is buying this stuff?? Westerners? I don’t think so, unlike Hong Kong, when you see another non-Asian here, its still a case ‘oh look someone white like me’, they are generally pretty easy to spot as well due to clearing the surrounding populace by a clear foot. The other day I took a walk the entire length of the Bund, a 1.5km river side walk, it being Chinese new year it was packed with tourists, 1000s of them, during the entire walk I never saw another non Asian, not one!

It is the Chinese, the door is open to western capitalism and they are embracing it as fast as they can, and best of luck to them.

I suspect however they are lining themselves up to a serious class divide issue, there are people paid a minimum amount to do every job, meanwhile people at the other end of the scale are getting very rich.

Shanghai for example is clean, really really clean, you never even the smallest bit of litter, cigarette butts, or even chewing gum, why not? Well thanks to having  plenty of people and not being hindered by such idiocies as minimum wage, they throw manpower at everything, from street cleaners, to traffic assistants on every junction, and not just one, sometimes 3 or 4 people per road junction just to ensure you make it across the road!

 Traffic assistants in Shanghai

There are lots of fine examples of throwing manpower at the problem, the hotel I am staying in for example, okay its 4* and its costing a mighty £48 per night, all week though I haven’t had to open the door to the hotel, 24/7 they have at least 4 people manning the doors! When you go into a restaurant its often the case that the staff outnumber the customers, the same in shops, this Starbucks has 5 staff on at the moment.

I am quite a fan of Shanghai, its lacks the outright outright debauchery and exuberance of Hong Kong, however in its place comes an air of refined proud elegance.

To answer my original question, I am physically in China, however I suspect this far from reflects the real China… I suspect if I travel even 1 hour from Shanghai the picture will be very different…