Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Internet silence

Alison and I wanted to explain our lack of posting--it's not due to our lack of desire or time, but instead secondary to the Chinese government's aggressive and successful internet crackdown. For about a week, they blocked our VPN (virtual private network), the program we use to access the internet in its unfettered glory. We didn't realize how much our lives here depend on the VPN until we weren't allowed to watch the latest shows on hulu, update our blog, friend-stalk on facebook, and watch the (occasionally) hysterical youtube videos my dad sends me. But for now, we've returned to being a step ahead of the Communists...

The reason for the internet shutdown is simple and scary--the government is terrified that the uprisings in Africa and the Middle East will translate over to riots/rebellions here so they've banned all related media. They do have good reason for this fear as there were enormous protests last year in Xinjiang (out west, where we went in October) and the year before in Tibet, but it's been very odd, almost surreal, to be living here while this is going on. For example, a month ago, when you googled "Egypt" it went to the wikipedia page and a few weeks ago Sarah and I were talking about Libya, and our colleague was like, "Libya? A lot of Chinese workers just returned home and didn't finish their projects." ...without any idea of why the workers were repatriated.

Last Friday, it became clear that the government is not perfectly preventing "rebellion" when we discussed the Jasmine Revolution in our weekly department meeting. (To get some background about the so-called Jasmine Revolution, I'd suggest reading this article in the NYT, found here). These meetings are always lead in part by Dr. Qiao, who talks about research accomplishments/future projects, and in part by this elderly women, who launches into diatribes about the most. random. things. ever. Examples range from cleaning your desk correctly, not being animals with the toilets, bringing your own shampoo to use CICAMS showers. But last week, she launched into a heated lecture about how it was unacceptable for any CICAMS student to join the protest that occurs each Sunday, as doing so would destroy Beijing and undermine China's growing status on the world stage (Keep in mind, this is being translated as it's entirely in Chinese so I only got snippets.)...and, also, that she, as Communist Representative for the hospital, wanted to guarantee that her colleagues were proud Chinese citizens. As it turns out, though the government is aggressively shutting down services prior revolutionnaries used to coordinate meetings (twitter, linkedin, etc), expat-Chinese students are able to go to these websites and are sending the information about the location of the weekly "protest" in Beijing to their friends here. Thus far, there have been more policemen than protesters, but I'm really interested to see how this plays out the next few weeks--I think there's too much money being made right now here to have any widespread movement, but as soon as the government stops producing the 300,000 jobs each year for college students to keep up with demand, major changes could be made.

In lighter news, we had a fantastic trip to Chengdu, minus me getting attacked by a monkey (truth!), and will post on this soon. Janice is visiting the terracotta warriors and comes back to Beijing in a few days, and we're excited to have another weekend of more local adventures ;)

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