Friday, October 17, 2008

Blogging activism on the ground

Despite the benefits that, blocked or not , foreign web services offer to Chinese netizens, it is still the hundreds if not thousands of domestic commercial blog, microblog, social network and video- and photo-sharing services and BBSes and message boards that define the internet as the majority of Chinese netizens experience it. For comparison, you might ask yourself when was the last time you visited a website that was not just blocked nationwide, but in a different language?

So, for better or for worse, it is understandable that things like banned keywords and rampant content deletion tend to be more of a concern for your average Chinese internet user than being equipped with the latest, fastest, circumvention tools, helpful as they are. Over time, if you look at internet censorship as a pervasive infection, the internet's culture of curiosity has been somewhat of a natural immunity, and an antidote as well.


Blog host rejecting your post? Try breaking up keywords with a couple slash marks


Or turn a post into an image, something with no detectable text

There are numerous such methods people have gradually adopted to deal with domestic "deletion-style" censorship, according to their needs: cross-posting, text modification, self-censorship. One particularly innovative blogger in this regard had been Zhou "Zuola" Shuguang. Zhou has consistently maintained that his sole goal is to achieve fame—

"I always knew this day would come, and it could have come earlier. Having my blog blocked just means I've finally become famous. At least I've got the GFW's attention. This is my honor. There were also many newspapers and foreign media outlets which interviewed me. I've actually become “famous overnight”! I'm one lucky pig this Year of the Pig, everything I'd wanted is happening."

—and as such his citizen journalism live-blogging activities have always revolved around several high-profile incidents, from being one of the first at the scene of the Chongqing Nailhouse to being on the streets of Xiamen for the largest publicly-organized protest in China since 1989, to traveling to the far north and interviewing victims of one of the largest ponzi schemes in Chinese history (leading to his first arrest) and, most recently, to Beijing to help other bloggers investigate claims of a "black" extrajudicial prison in downtown Beijing with high school students and petitioners being held inside.

In each of these cases, preserving the information has been a key issue that Zuola has not just raised, but resolved; from Nailhouse photos stored on Picasa to photos of the anti-PX environmental protest resulting in Flickr being blocked, one service in particular that Zuola has made heavy use of is the Google Doc, such as with his Tibet coverage, compiled in its entirety from home (that also being the condition under which Hu Jia worked for nearly two years):


For his coverage of the "black" prison in Beijing, Zuola has for the first time tried using Google Knol, opting for a more community-based blogging style:


For comparison, here is what Zuola's 'information activism' looked like during the Xiamen and Yilishen incidents:



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