Looking 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.)