Censorship in China

Blocking of coding site has Chinese programmers up in arms

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2013, 3:23pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 January, 2013, 12:12am

Chinese censors might believe the Great Firewall is their best tool to block everything online that might threaten state security from outside. However, the wall has in fact become a powerful accelerator of social unrest within the country.

The latest group of mainlanders angered by the GFW is the software developer community, as their favourite code-sharing site, US-based GitHub, has been blocked since Monday afternoon.

It is still unclear why mainland authorities blocked GitHub, but the reaction to its blocking was strong enough to trigger a massive outcry from programmers, the most severe since Google closed its Chinese search service on the mainland in 2010.

Kai-Fu Lee, a former president of Google China and now the chief executive of his own venture capital firm, condemned the censorship of GitHub last night on Sina Weibo, the Chinese Twitter-like social media site.

He said the blocking of the coding site would make it harder for Chinese programmers to connect with overseas IT communities and would end up damaging their competitiveness and limiting their vision.

“GitHub has neither ideological nor anti-government content on it, there was no reason to block a site like that,” Lee said in the post, which has spawned more than 70,000 retweets and 15,100 comments in 15 hours.

However, Thomas Yao, founder of a popular Chinese GitHub-like site, disagreed with Lee, accusing bloggers of stupidly straying from site’s intended technology-based content and discussions, and thereby causing the site to be blocked.

“The main reason for the blocking of GitHub was that some blogs that use the site’s service contained sensitive content,” said Yao in a tweet on Wednesday morning.

Software developers countrywide are debating how the community should deal with the issue.

Feng Dahui, a programmer and an influential blogger, in a noon Sina Weibo post asked whether or not the IT community should support the bloggers who posted sensitive content on the site.

“There are about 1,000 of them and they are accustomed to posting sensitive content no matter where they go, and have previously caused the blockages on Twitter and Google+. What do you think about this?” Feng asked.

On Sina Weibo, one programmer even called on his fellow IT professionals to launch a strike.

Many others, including journalists and netizens from other professional circles, blamed GitHub’s problems on a recent general increase in censorship on the mainland.

Zuo Zhijian, a Guangzhou-based journalist, retweeted Lee’s post right after it was posted, adding that the block on GitHub had parallels with the trouble caused by mainland censors recently at the Guangdong-based Southern Weekly newspaper.

“As journalists, we should support [the programmers who are asking the censors to unblock GitHub] ... It is about the efficiency of Chinese programmers and would benefit the netizens these programmers serve,” Zuo said in his post.