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Will Green Dam block everything?

the-big-brother-is-watching-you.jpgLooking through Green Dam’s list of Falun Gong related vocabulary is quite a surreal experience. (See Danwei and ESWN). It begins, predictably, with dozens of FLG terms and the special police unit in charge of suppressing the cult. But if you grab the cursor on the right of the screen, scroll down and stop at random, you quickly find a lot of words not usually associated with subversion.

“Compassion” (仁爱) for example. True, this is one of the three main tenets of Falun Gong, but it’s widely used in other contexts. A censored Baidu search for 仁爱 brings up 3,350,000 results which include a number of hospitals and the Renai College at Tianjin University.

The vocabulary list gets a lot stranger than that, though. How about “television station” (电视台)? I beg your pardon? Then there’s “police” (警察), “People’s Court” (人民法院), the “Great Hall of the People” (人民大会堂) and the “National People’s Congress” (全国人民代表会). And let’s not forget that deeply dangerous word “kilometer” (公里).

Much as I would love to believe that Green Dam is so crap it will shut down the entire Chinese internet, if that were true, I think someone might have noticed this slight drawback by now. Obviously, the software must look at how these words are put together, though how “Germany” (德国) figures in this, I’m not really sure.

But however it works, these things always have unintended negative side effects. After the riots in Tibet last year, the government mobilized the nation’s media to guide public opinion. It also blocked access to web pages with various combinations of Tibetan names written in English. So, one of our reporters was dutifully filing her daily uplifting report from Lhasa and sent the script back to Beijing by email to be edited. We couldn’t open it. The government’s internet censorship software had clearly decided it was some form of separatist, riot-inciting, Dalai Lama-loving, anti-party screed.

Fortunately, I’d already put Freegate and Ultrasurf (proxies created by Falun Gong, partly funded by the propaganda wing of the US State Department) onto our computers at work which enabled us to open the email, edit it and send it back to be recorded. Rather ironic that CCTV9 was able to complete its report criticizing Public Enemy No. 1 with the help of software from Public Enemy No. 2.

(This post has rather too many sensitive keywords and I’m a little nervous about hitting the publish button. Will it block access in China to my entire home page? Not yet. But can it be read on a computer that has Green Dam installed on it? If anyone out there has been brave enough to download the program, perhaps you could let me know.)


  1. David wrote:

    I tested out Ultrasurf last week and I found it unusual that it was connecting to the US State Dept during startup. I looked around and couldn’t find any explanation as to why that was happening. Could you please tell me where you found out that Ultrasurf, Freegate, and the US State Dept are affiliated? I’m really interested in that.

    Monday, June 15, 2009 at 3:57 am | Permalink
  2. rob wrote:


    My reference to the State Department was an oversimplification. The money actually comes from the Broadcasting Board of Governors which is a separate government agency. Nevertheless, it still has close links to the State Department and the Secretary of State (now Hillary Clinton) is one of the board members.

    A few details on financing can be found in this document which says:

    The U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), has promoted Internet freedom in China by focusing on its Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) websites, which are regularly blocked by Chinese authorities. In 2001, the BBG provided $100,000 to Safeweb Inc., a government contracted company that had also been briefly funded by the CIA, to provide proxy servers to help Chinese Internet users access prohibited information. However, within a year, Safeweb’s technology was reportedly unsuccessful in protecting user identities.

    Since 2003, the IBB has primarily funded Dynamic Internet Technology (DynaWeb) and UltraReach, which have each developed software to enable Chinese Internet users to access VOA and RFA websites (see table).

    The table lists funding from the BBG/IBB for DynaWeb (Freegate) and UltraReach (UltraSurf) for three years up to 2005:

    2003: $497,300
    2004: $806,326
    2005: $685,000

    2003: $3,000
    2004: $21,000
    2005: $42,003

    Given the large increase in users of UltraSurf, I would expect its funding to have risen considerably since 2005, but that’s just a guess.

    Monday, June 15, 2009 at 4:59 am | Permalink
  3. David wrote:


    Monday, June 15, 2009 at 6:02 am | Permalink

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