I've recently been given the opportunity to visit China as part of an Alibaba event. When I first received the invitation, I had a conflict that prevented me from going. But they recently asked again and, as luck would have it, the conflict no longer existed.

So I said I'd be interested in going. I'm often up for visiting a foreign land, experiencing a new culture, seeing the sights, and meeting like-minded technology people. In recent years I've been to Korea, Japan, India, Taiwan, and so on.

But then I got to thinking about it a bit. There's been a lot of controversy about Yahoo's involvement in China and I'm not really sure how I feel about that. I probably don't have enough information to make a decision based solely on the facts (and it'd be hard to get said information). That convenient excuse has allowed me to somewhat ignore the issues until now.

I'm a little uneasy about it.

I was talking to my parents last night and my dad mentioned you can hit a web site to find out if your site is blocked in China. So a quick search revealed greatfirewallofchina.org, which will "test any website and see real-time if it's censored in China."

Guess what... My site appears to be blocked.

So a part of me now wonders why I'd travel half way around the world to visit a country in which my web site has been blocked by the government, assuming the testing methodology is reliable, of course. Even if it's not accurate, the fact that I'd even have to think about this leaves a bad taste in my mouth. They have a long and well documented history of censorship.

And, on top of that, it turns out that I have another conflict for the dates they'd like me to visit. Granted, it's a smaller conflict. But still.

What would you do?

Update: Thanks for all the feedback (public and private). That's exactly why I ask questions like this on-line. Like Mike Arrington recently said "What you get if you blog for a while is a sense of how valuable your readers are, and not because they view and click on ads." I get great feedback and a variety of things to consider. I'm off the fence now and planning to go. But don't let that stop you from voicing your opinion if you have one.

Posted by jzawodn at March 26, 2007 07:55 AM

Reader Comments
# Gen Kanai said:

Jeremy, I'm in Beijing at the moment and am looking at your site, so it's not blocked.

You should definitely visit China. Learning how the Chinese use the Internet differently than Americans do is just one of lessons to be learned.

on March 26, 2007 08:03 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Interesting. A couple months back I had some email from someone that led me to believe it was blocked (and that's probably why I thought to check that after my dad mentioned that).


It's too bad there's not simply a list published somewhere, ya know?

on March 26, 2007 08:09 AM
# Ken Norton said:

Don't go. I think you've already convinced yourself not to but just need to hear others say it.

on March 26, 2007 08:10 AM
# John Lilly said:

yep, i echo Gen's sentiments. we're staying in the same hotel currently, so not exactly differential data here.

but in my view (and mozilla's) there's too much richness here in what's happening on the Internet now not to engage and **at least** to understand what's going on.

137MM Internet users in China last year; 400MM+ mobile users.

on March 26, 2007 08:11 AM
# Fons Tuinstra said:

Also no problems to get you without proxy in Shanghai. No problem to have misgivings with Yahoo, but the situation in China is a bit more complicated (and fortunately mostly much better) than people expect. Not sure what event Alibaba has invited you for, but as a journalist, you should be prepared to have dinner with the devil, if necessary.

on March 26, 2007 08:15 AM
# Peter said:

Chomsky has visited locales where some of the most repressive regimes on the planet reside, but he usually goes with an explicit purpose of helping the people there to organize themselves to resist those ruling governments.

I don't know all the details of your trip, but I'd suggest that any Ayn Rand-type justification for your trip (e.g. "without my expertise creating wealth for the people of China during this trip, then they'd continue to suffer that much longer") is most likely just self-interest.

on March 26, 2007 08:27 AM
# Dom said:

I would tell them "thanks, but no thanks".

Yahoo (and Google and others) have made some pretty bad decisions in a bid to get a slice of the Chinese market, and even if you went on your own terms, you'd be seen as a Yahoo representative.

I don't think it'd do your reputation as an independent and resepcted blogger a lot of good to be representing Yahoo in China, but I guess you really have to examine where you stand yourself.

Remember, this is a lot more than a censorship issue for some people - it's life and death.

on March 26, 2007 08:30 AM
# Jeremy Cole said:

Absolutely go. Let them spoil you as much as they're willing. Try new things at every opportunity. You won't be disappointed.

on March 26, 2007 08:31 AM
# don loeb said:

you should go. to change things you have to have a good understanding of what's happening - and, that's hard to do from here.

on March 26, 2007 08:39 AM
# JH said:

I saw a clip of Al Gore being lambasted by Inhofe at the global warning hearing. At the end, Gore said to Inhofe "I'd like to sit down for breakfast with you and "... That's how you begin changing people's minds and behavior - by engaging, not by obstructing or opposing.

Sounds like a great travel opportunity. As long as you're careful not to let yourself be used in any propaganda-type way, I'd go for it.

on March 26, 2007 08:39 AM
# nebula said:

I am a chinese student in Beijing, i don't know what you're worry about,but I still wanna say "welcome to China!" You will see the situation here by yourself. I am sure it's better than expected.

on March 26, 2007 08:47 AM
# Pete Wailes said:

Hmm. I'd go, for the learning experience. And the fact that you'll be able to get an inside view into what you can do to help get into the market.

Just because your hands may be tied, doesn't mean you can't kick.

My view? Go.

on March 26, 2007 08:50 AM
# Peter said:

As long as you're careful not to let yourself be used in any propaganda-type way, I'd go for it.

You have to assume your entire trip will be used as propaganda - against you, against the U.S. government (a good thing!), in support of the Chinese government, etc. - that's just part of the deal. You could explicitly avoid shaking someone's hand and all that nonsense, but opportunists and your enemies will never stop harping on your 'communism', your 'opportunism', your whateverism. That's up to you whether you want to be intimidated out of traveling, but trying to 'not get used as propaganda' is not realistic.

End of the day, is anyone really going to care whether you go or not? Probably not, unless you say something outrageous that is not lock-step with Yahoo policies and the policies of the Chinese government.

on March 26, 2007 08:51 AM
# Ji Village News said:

Oh yeah, I think you definitely should go without any hesitation whatsoever.

Yes, censorship, along with many many other issues (poverty, income inequality, environmental problems, heavy-handed government measures, to name just a few), is a problem that needs to be addressed. But at the same time, I think most Americans would be surprised at the energy, diversity of ideas, and personal freedom that average people enjoy that was not imaginable even 10 years ago.

Mainstream media in the US gives grossly misleading reports about the rest of the world. China, with all its problems and challenges, is definitely moving to the right direction, in my humble opinion. Go and see for yourself and make your own judgment, and let's be friends with understanding and mutual respect.

Yes, democracy, freedom, non-censorship, and all that will come, but only on China's own terms. And yes, Yahoo, MSN, Google, should be engaged in China, for the good of everybody involved.

This is from a freedom and democracy loving Chinese living in Chicago area. Draw whatever conclusion as you like. After all, you asked for it :) And, if you have time, swing by my village in Shandong province, not too far from where Confucius was born and grown up, I will have my 97 year old grandma fix you some nice pork dish and noodles :)

on March 26, 2007 09:01 AM
# Aseem Bajaj said:

I was curious how the website (Great Firewall of China) works and I check the following URLs (to see if it's domain based or URL based):


Interestingly, all of them were found to be unblocked. I would guess that you tried one of the above options. So that makes me believe that the test results of this website are flaky. Unless, they changed it after reading your post. :D

on March 26, 2007 09:23 AM
# Nathaniel said:

I'd say it depends on what you're going there to do. To me, going or not doesn't indicate your support of China's policies on censorship--in fact, in your shoes, and as others have mentioned, I think I'd regard it as an opportunity to get a little better idea of what things are like. Too many issues today are being "fixed" by people with little to no understanding of a situation (I'm thinking specifically of US Government policies on the internet).

That said, it does depend on what you're doing when you get there. If you have to do anything while there that you're not comfortable with, I'd say go with your gut instinct. It's not worth sacrificing your integrity.

on March 26, 2007 09:29 AM
# Bill said:

You should go. What's to lose?

(BTW, what dates are you going to be there. I might be in Beijing in the summer for work related reasons.)

on March 26, 2007 09:42 AM
# Feng Qu said:

You should definitely go. There might be too much false information about China. The best way to find out is to go there yourself and figure it out.

Not sure about your schedule, but I will be in Shanghai from 4/13 to 4/15 and 4/26. If you need a local guide, ping me :)

on March 26, 2007 10:34 AM
# anders pearson said:

Having lived in China for a while back in 1997, I'm not sure I can understand your hesitation at all. China's an amazing place to visit. Yeah, the censorship sucks and the government has some policies that we might disagree with, but so does the US. It's really pretty irrelevant to a visit. The people that you'll encounter aren't the ones responsible and you'll probably gain a much better understanding of the subtleties involved by talking to them. It really sounds like you're letting the policy of a couple high-ups with sticks up their asses ruin your view of the other 1.2 billion Chinese people who have done nothing to you.

on March 26, 2007 10:40 AM
# Michael said:

Listen to JH. Isolating people who disagree with you will not help get said people to agree with you. There's a classic saying that free trade is the best way to break down barriers. China is a lot more free now than it was 10 or 20 years ago. A big reason for that is free trade with the West. If we had continued with the "these guys are horrible oppressive bastards so we won't deal with them" attitude, then China would probably be much more similar to North Korea.

That's why I think it's better if Yahoo and Google help the Chinese government censor search results. The alternative is that Yahoo and Google are blocked completely. It's better if information is allowed to flow, even if it obstructed greatly. Censorship always fails in the end anyways, censors are never as smart the people they are trying to censor (or trying to "protect.")

on March 26, 2007 11:13 AM
# Mike Macgirvin said:

I was alerted to the presence of greatfirewall... about a week ago and ran some similiar queries. Every one of my test cases was blocked - including a new one which I'm fairly certain has zero inbound links and has never been visited by anybody.

Add this to your other reader who reports that your sites are unblocked, and I'd have to seriously question the reliability of this service. Sounds to me like it's just a way to drive web traffic through a clever application of rand(0,1).

on March 26, 2007 11:29 AM
# Peeping Tom said:

Absolutely go. See things for yourself and make a decision on whether you will go back and/or do business with them. Enjoy yourself and expand your horizons.

BTW, what did you think of Taiwan? I was there last year and loved it but it was pure vacation for me, no work.

on March 26, 2007 11:31 AM
# Rasmus said:

I have been to China before, a couple of times, and I received that same invitation as you and will be going. I don't see visiting a country as in any way condoning their government any more than living in the US means you condone the current US administration. If anything it circumvents any government intervention because it puts you face to face with the people there.

on March 26, 2007 12:29 PM
# Andreas Gohr said:

As others said: go! You're visiting like minded technology people, not the Chinese government. I enjoyed my own trip to China very much. There happens a lot of shit over there, but the people you will meet, will probably be happy to have a chance to meet you. You don't have to agree with the government of the country you want to visit. With this logic I'd probably not visit the US either ;-)

on March 26, 2007 12:31 PM
# Jon Nichols said:

I've also never understood those who want to isolate these countries. Everytime we do that, we make things worse (Cuba, North Korea, etc.), but when we keep things open, even when we disagree with what they do, things improve.

What would possibly be gained by not going? You'd be worse off, having not visited an interesting foreign land, the Chinese people would be worse off, and your protest will certainly not change a thing.

I applaud Google and Yahoo! and their entrance into that market in the face of criticism. Boycotting it would serve nobody's interests, and only isolate the people of China more. Let's not make the Cuban mistake twice.

on March 26, 2007 01:04 PM
# Chris Lindgren said:

Will the trip add value to YOUR life? If yes then go if no then don't. Why punish yourself ,if you believe the trip will make you a better person? That sounds like martyrdom mixed with arrogance; you assume the Chinese people want you making a stand for them.

on March 26, 2007 01:12 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

To know whether or not it'd add "value" to my life sounds like arrogance, honestly. How can I claim to know that in advance?

If you think this is about "punishing" myself, I've clearly mislead you in explaining my thoughts. Luckily, I've made my mind up already. :-)

I'm not sure why you'd presume that I'm acting on behalf of a group I've never met. That's just weird.

on March 26, 2007 01:19 PM
# Darren said:

Man, all these smart people, and I don't see the phrase "human rights" once. Forget about Web censorship--consider the vast array of real-world ills the Chinese government has inflicted on its people over the last half-century (not to mention its environment).

Companies big and small (and Olympic committees) are frothing at the mouth over China, and conveniently forgetting their litany of ongoing human rights abuses.

Doing business with China is, by and large, endorsing their way of governance. Whatever you decide, keep that in mind.

on March 26, 2007 01:23 PM
# Andy Atkinson said:

I was able to visit my cousin living in Shenzhen last summer, and also visit Beijing and Xi'an. I had a nice time and recommend it. I found the internet connection speed to be poor and I was surprised by how many sites I visit regularly were blocked (like Wikipedia). That being said, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall and the Huashan mountain in Xi'an were some of the most impressive things I've ever seen. What surprised me most as far as censorship, was magazine articles torn out of newsstand copies of magazines. If you want to read more details about my China experiences, you can find several posts on my blog.

on March 26, 2007 01:59 PM
# Sam Newman said:

Hi Jeremy.

We have our own China office, and I have to say that the one thing that the one thing I took away from the visit was the passion of the people we have working for us there - and that's what as swung it for me. I want my company to be there because I want people there to have a chance to work for our company.


on March 26, 2007 02:23 PM
# Morgan said:

I think you should go, and I don't think you should worry about Yahoo's involvement.

2 or 3 years ago, people didn't talk nearly as much about the censorship in China as they do now. Yahoo and Google did nothing but good by both looking for new profits and by bringing attention to the situation.

People can act righteously indignant about it after the fact, but the real fact is they weren't doing jack to fix the problem, they just saw the news about Yahoo and Google and started acting upset.

Go and enjoy with a 100% clear conscience. Every visit from someone outside the wall makes it more difficult for the government to cover up what they're doing.

on March 26, 2007 04:14 PM
# Hooda Thunkit said:

I checked your blog with the cited site and got mixed results.

It appears that is is either available or blocked depending on which page you use.

IMO, the cited site is an unreliable one.

Have fun on your trip and enjoy yourself. And, by all means, try the local cuisine from neighborhood restaurants, not the famous (infamous) places. Eat where the locals do; you'll find the food and the company more interesting ;-)

on March 26, 2007 04:29 PM
# Bob Sacamano said:

China is awesome; build in some extra time to tour the country. You need a visa - don't wait to put things in motion. Two travel tips:

(1) If a well-meaning government official offers to upgrade your hotel to a nicer property/room level (as they did me), politely decline. There is nothing good that can come of this. Paranoia will destroy-ya, but, in China, it's good to be paranoid.

(2) I know you're not a candidate to do either of these things, but for the benefit of other readers... Do not ask the concierge to hook you up with hookers or blow. Much as many like to participate in the joys of both, legal trouble in China is something to avoid like the plague.

on March 26, 2007 04:33 PM
# Yoki said:

I'm probably going to be set upon by angry wolves for saying this but - take a look at the USA...

Holding prisoners of war for half a decade without charge

Foreign policy verging on the criminal

I'll stop there, but clearly, we could go on and on.I could have picked anywhere from Norway to Albania, US is just in the spotlight right now. The point is that anywhere you look, you'll find injustice.

Just go - China is one of the most vibrant and alive places I've ever been and you'd kick yourself if you didn't experience it right now.

on March 26, 2007 04:43 PM
# kasia said:

Visting a country is hardly equal to subscribing to the government's ideals and supporting the regime. You should go. I know you're smart enough to not allow yourself to be used as a propaganda tool, right?

on March 26, 2007 06:42 PM
# Bernard Farrell said:

Absolutely go to China. Don't forget that there are governments and there are people. How the government of the country behaves can often be completely different to how the people of the country behave.

I've visited China three times and each time I left wanting to stay longer. I hope to go on an extended stay in China at some stage in my future. It's an amazing country full of hard working, friendly people.

on March 26, 2007 07:13 PM
# zeal said:

I'm from Shanghai. It seems that your website isn't blocked by GFW.
Even if blocked, it doesn't mean u are not welcome. We all hate the GFW, but u know government is government, China will always be a beatiful country.

on March 26, 2007 07:45 PM
# John said:

You should go! China will soon be the largest Internet user base in the world. Go see what the future holds and how the Chinese use the Internet (a lot different than in the U.S.)

Go visit Shanghai, Beijing, etc. You'll have a blast!

on March 26, 2007 09:28 PM
# J Aaron Farr said:

I agree with the other commenters, take the chance to go to China. I've been living there for the last 3 months (see author link) and it's been great.

on March 26, 2007 11:52 PM
# jackie said:

You should go to China,it is a opporunity,I am a Chinese,I definitely say our Chinese are welcome you.

on March 27, 2007 05:37 AM
# wang said:

just go and expereince by yourself. nobody can literally give u "correct" advice since everyone, for more or less, are different to consider this. and it's as u said, u enjoy to expereince different cultures. as long as this trip won't put u anything in danger. why should u consider and being that suspicious?

on March 28, 2007 12:41 AM
# M. B. said:

I went to Shanghai last year for a week. It was eye opening. As far as blocked/not blocked, controversy, and the like - the learnings I had about the Chinese culture there far outweighed any personal or business reasons causing hesitatation. I lived in Seoul for a year, and have been to perhaps a few dozen cities of over 1 million people, but Shanghai was just astonishing. I'd definitely go again...and I'd try to make enough time to take the train to Beijing too for a few days.

on March 29, 2007 11:05 PM
# gogo407 said:

welcome to China
---=from nanjing

on April 1, 2007 01:03 AM
# Ding Deng said:

The upcoming Alibaba event in Hangzhou this May? I've heard something about that, and I also know that Alibaba is hungry for some MySQL experts...

Anyway, it's not a bad idea to spend a few days in such an amazing place like Hangzhou.

on April 1, 2007 07:33 AM
# YYPIG said:

I am in Guangzhou and your blog is not blocked here.

As a mainland Chinese, I hate Great Firewall, censorship and many things about our government. However, Internet does bring some kind of democracy in China because of its lack of centeral control nature. Many independent bloggers have written many great articles criticising the government in their own way.

I think you should come to China to see what is really going on here and how Internet giants, like Yahoo and Google, are having difficulties in China.

on April 1, 2007 11:55 AM
# diana said:

hi,i'm a girl from china. i understand what you were worried about. our country is controversial, but our people and our culture are definitely great. you should come, if you still have some expectation about life. i means, you will have lots of new stories here, maybe sweet, maybe interesting, maybe romantic, maybe harsh. who knows? just do it.
wish you goodluck.
it's not just our government. They shouldn't do that, but in some way i think your country's policy, maybe great, but it will not work in our country. we need time. China need time. please be nice.
maybe it's our responsibility to remove the misunderstanding between us.
contact me if you have some questions about china:

on November 13, 2008 10:56 PM
# said:

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on December 15, 2009 10:53 PM
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