Is Bikwil Banned in China?
[ Issue 36 ]

’Is Bikwil Banned in China?' holds a lot of interest for Emily Bronto

Bikwil is delighted to ask ’Is Bikwil Banned in China?’

Is Bikwil Banned in China?

Michael LaRocca answers a question first posed in Issue 34

Here's the view from inside China.

Not only is Bikwil banned in China, but I am punished every time I try to access it.

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Is Bikwil Banned in China? — Michael LaRocca

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[ The above question was first asked and partially answered in Issue 34 (November 2002), in the Web Line column. The following analysis “from the inside” clinches the argument. The author Michael LaRocca and his wife Jan Bond are Bikwil subscribers who teach in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China. ]


Not only is Bikwil banned in China, but I am punished every time I try to access it.
Let me explain.

As was mentioned in Bikwil 34, the New York Times website is inaccessible from China. But a friend emailed me a rather informative article from that newspaper that explains how we are punished in China. Any site we try to access after trying to access a banned site loads incredibly slowly and often times out. This effect lasts for about five minutes. I suspect that Chinese government computers somewhere are busily gathering those URLs as well. Those URLs are probably filed for future investigation.

I suspect this is how they learned of sites that were being used instead of Google when Google was banned. Google was banned because of its cache feature. Google returned about a week later, but without the cache feature.

The problem with the cache feature, which people Down Under can use, is that it stores the content of every site that comes up in a Google search. This includes banned sites such as Falun Gong, Taiwanese independence, and Bikwil. Thus I could have gone to Google, searched for Bikwil, and viewed the cached copy of this forbidden content.

There are a number of sites that receive their results from Google and include the cache feature. Comet Search comes to mind. It is now banned in China. Others that are part of the Google family, such as Google.ICQ.com, are still live but without the caching feature.

Bikwil 34 also mentioned that AltaVista has been banned. I suspect this is permanent, but that nobody really misses it. I quit using AltaVista long before it was banned because its results are often irrelevant. The ban annoyed me slightly because I was trying to list my “novelist” site on AltaVista, so I found a Search Engine Submission service to do it for me. Try running an AltaVista search for “Michael LaRocca” and you should be bombarded with my fiction. None of which is banned, I might add. At least not yet.

The reason that AltaVista was banned is because of its ability to translate websites into other languages. Why is that a problem? Well, let’s say you have the URL of a banned site such as Bikwil. You go to AltaVista and tell it to translate this site from German to English, for example. Of course the site isn’t in German. It doesn’t matter. You will be able to view the “translated” Bikwil in English, and it’s banned! So AltaVista is out. We can NOT have people viewing that nasty ole Bikwil!

I noticed that Google now has a translation feature as well. I wonder if it works in China. And if so, I wonder how long that'll be the case. It won’t translate PDF files, the significance of which I'll explain below, but offering the ability to “translate” HTML files is a slippery slope as far as China is concerned.

I can, however, still visit my writer site http://freereads.topcities.com/indexspanish.html. It has a link to Translate.com. I can type Bikwil’s URL into there and see it “translated” from “Spanish” to “English”. Once the Chinese government discovers that trick, they’ll close the loophole. Don’t tell them about it.

Speaking of sites I’ve written, one of them was banned. I teach English here in China, so I wrote an educational site for my students. Whatever they asked for, they got. Ways to learn English, my family tree and life history, and photos I’ve taken here in China. Pretty harmless stuff, right? Wrong.

My students asked for a link to VOA, Voice Of America, to help them improve their English. That’s been banned over here. I did a bit of research, and I found a site that received its news from VOA and reprinted it. I linked to that site. This action may have gotten me banned in China.
Or perhaps it was the fact that I linked to other news sites which weren’t banned at the time, but which were banned later. CNN, BBC, Miami Herald, Washington Post, New York Times. I chose these sites because they were listed in my students’ textbooks. But they're banned, and I am guilty by association. Maybe that’s what got me banned.

Upon discovering this, I got myself a new URL. I uploaded the old site to the new site, minus the possibly offensive links. The new site is at http://michaeljan.topcities.com/. Then I had a friend back in the US change the old website so it would forward all visitors to the new website. To date, I haven’t been banned for doing this. Visit the site if you want. It's not nearly so offensive as the infamous Bikwil 10, which I’ve read by proxy.

I have a neighbor who is a real computer expert. We were talking about banned websites in general, not Bikwil in particular, when he suggested that maybe some of the sites we think are banned really aren’t. Maybe China’s computers are just using out-of-date DNS tables, or no DNS tables at all. As I’ve noticed that I can never access any new site I read about, he had my interest.

Every Internet “hub” is located in a major city, usually on a campus. When I log onto the Internet and try to visit Bikwil’s web site, my request is routed up the road to China Telecom in Hangzhou, then from there to a campus in Shanghai, and then probably to Beijing and then to Sydney or Melbourne. The DNS table translates the address (http://www.bikwil.com) into a series of numbers. Without those numbers, my request can’t be processed.

So I wondered, can I get into Bikwil with the DNS numbers?

Absolutely not. You are banned! Blocked! Verboten! You naughty Bikwil people! You’re probably hiding the leader of Falun Gong AND bin Laden in your basement! And that Chen Shui Bin guy too! You shall be punished for existing, and I shall be punished for knowing about it.
But again, I’ve read the infamous Bikwil 10. Wagner!

Bikwil 34 mentioned proxy servers. I’m able to access Bikwil’s site through a number of proxy servers, but it’s painfully slow. Two to five minutes per article, and you’ve published a lot of articles over the years. What I wanted was to snatch the entire Bikwil 10 PDF file in one shot, so that I could read it at my leisure. This led to a new problem.

Many proxy servers are limited in their bandwidth. Meaning, graphics are stripped and large files are inaccessible. Such as the infamous Bikwil 10 PDF. 622 KB. Now I could’ve asked the editor to email it to me, and of course he would have. He’s been snail-mailing me the magazine, and China Post has been letting him do it. But darnit there was a principle involved here! I wanted to get the Bikwil 10 PDF myself.

Of the 27 proxy servers I tried, 2 were successful. I won’t name them because you don't need them, and there’s no reason to tell the Chinese government who they are. But they're there. So HA!

Incidentally, the Miami Herald has been blocked since before I arrived here in February 2002. Why is this important? It means I can't read Dave Barry's humorous column. I told Dave that it’s all his fault, and that Beijing fears he'll write a scathing expose about the condition of China’s toilets.

Indeed, the China Daily has written many pages about the deplorable state of China’s toilets, and about how they plan to upgrade them before the 2008 Olympics. They’ve built some new five-star toilets, and are rating the existing toilets. I don’t even want to think about what a one-star Chinese toilet would be like.

(I could say it’d stink, but I’m above such bad puns.)

However, Dave Barry hasn’t seen fit to answer me. Or perhaps he did through his column, which I can’t access without the nightmare of a super-slow proxy server. I used to read him via Google cache, only one month behind, but I can’t do that now.

Seriously, I have no idea why Bikwil has been banned in China. But I know that if I search for it on Google, that’s now part of Bikwil’s website description. “Banned in China.” And hey, anyone who’s been banned in China can’t be all bad. If they ban me (not my website) in China, I’ll probably come on over to Australia and log onto Bikwil’s website every day I’m there.

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