Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 13, 2013

Hello, Although You Can’t Hear Me

I recently posted a blog entry about a visit by some high school students from China to our town in California. Those young people spent several weeks following a course of study intended to introduce them to western culture, including art, music and video. In that article, I reported on the music recital they performed: CLICK HERE to read it. It was a great experience to see them

I hope the kids also got a taste of some interesting foreign food (pizza? tacos?), some beach time, and other less-structured pursuits, but I don’t know about that.

One assumes when one posts a story to the Web — especially if it includes photos of the people involved, even in a humble blog like Under Western Skies — they would take a look and even share the link with their friends and family: “Hey, look at this article some guy in California wrote about our visit to the U.S.!”

In this case, that’s not so.

It only occurred to me a day or so after I posted that entry that none of those kids would ever see it. Granted, their command of English might not let them understand much of my idiomatic, casual writing, but at least they could look at the photos, wot?

Not so.

According to the administrative reports I get for this blog, not one of the 37,000 or so hits Under Western Skies has received in 3-1/2 years has come from even a single one of the 1.35 billion citizens in the People’s Republic of China. Nor, since blogging sites like WordPress are blocked by the so-called “Great Firewall of China,” can they ever read it, should they wish to do so. I’m not personally affronted. I’m in good company. China doesn’t simply monitor Internet traffic, it controls it with an iron hand.

China’s not an isolated country. In my own case alone, when I was in my corporate job, I sent and received email with colleagues there. And I traveled there, doing business with numerous people in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. I moved around on foot and on subways, buses, private cars, trains and planes among thousands of other people in those mammoth cities. I went for an early morning run around Tiananmen Square. Like everywhere one goes in the world, the people I met were pleasant and welcoming. Their government is fine with me going there to do business. Bring mo’ business is their rallying cry. Of course, had I engaged in some sort of political speech or started espousing the cause of Falun Gong or performed some other bit of ill-conceived foolishness, my stay might either have been cut short or prolonged indefinitely. In the words of Hunter S. Thompson, “Don’t burn the locals.”

But, the Internet is a scary place, and offers endless risk for improper ideas to float about. According to Wikipedia, the PRC’s position includes this statement: “Laws and regulations clearly prohibit the spread of information that contains content subverting state power, undermining national unity [or] infringing upon national honor and interests ….”

Obviously, that means that along with subversive ideas (and facts), a few photos of teenagers playing ukuleles in the sun of California get blocked, too. And everything in between. It’s ironic that some number of individuals took pains to get our young visitors here to learn more about us, then returned them to a world in which their access to information is tightly controlled.

There’s always a gulf between a government and the people who live in the place that’s governed. I always believe that humans tend to be human, when they have the opportunity. The government of the PRC is a mammoth engine that exerts extraordinary control over its citizens. Can they keep it up? Normally, my innate optimism about how information flows and change occurs would make me say, No.”

But those guys worry me.



  1. Good job, comrade Nixon.


    • Xie xie. You were there with me when I shot the header photo of ol’ Mao in Tiananmen Square!


  2. Our former minister, Pastor Dale Cuckow and his wife are the senior pastors of Shanghai Community Fellowship Church. I heard from them this week, and believe my the Cleveland address on their note that they are home briefly on leave. Their church is the largest international church in Shanghai, having over 2,000 attending weekly, plus another new large one on the other side of town. Perhaps I can get your blog to them in Cleveland- and it would be interesting to see if they can get word back to some of those high school students. It’s worth a try! I’ll let you know what they say. Loved the articles!


    • Donna,
      Thanks for your kind offer. I know that people from the school here are in touch with the students. As I said, China’s certainly not isolated or inaccessible in general. For example, a video of the performance I attended was shipped to them on USB drives, because, of course, the kids can’t access YouTube — it doesn’t exist, as far as anyone inside China is concerned. However, even if they know the blog is there, they won’t be able to see it online. WordPress is blocked inside China. So, it’s okay. Perhaps things will change some day. Thanks for reading.


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