Shanghai vs. Beijing, in One Image

My wife and I have spent the past several nights at a hotel in Beijing, and we've just arrived at one in Shanghai. Both of the hotels are very nice and welcoming, and on check-in each of them provided a special notice about communication problems guests might encounter during their stay. Here are the notices side-by-side. You probably can't read the tiny print, but there is an explanation below.


On the right, the notice in Shanghai: Because of sunspot and sun flare activity from late February through mid March, TV reception will be spotty during predictable brief intervals. For instance, today the interference was predicted between 12:25 and 12:39 China time.

On the left, the notice in Beijing: Because of the "twin meetings" of China's main political bodies this week and next, Internet service will be slow or blocked altogether, online web and video may not be available, and "international TV stations will also be restricted in all public areas during this time."

Two pieces of paper, two of the mentalities and forces at work in this moment's China. One of them is open, except as constrained by forces of the cosmos. The other is defensive and reflexively closed-down. I won't go on and spell out the implications, but this juxtaposition was too neat to resist.

On the general subject of closed-mindedness, I got this answer from a technical-virtuoso reader who is very closely involved in how the Chinese "Great Firewall" works:
Encrypted traffic, especially [a certain protocol] is being focused on. China operates like one big LAN as best they can muster. If they outright block all encrypted traffic they go off the grid and no one is willing to do business there. Their choice?  Randomly detect and disrupt encrypted traffic that has a high probability of being non-business traffic. If I were them, I would also be "white-listing" corporate data streams.

 So, China is like a company with an IT director bent on stopping anything but official corporate business from being conducted on their network. That's the way to think of it.... China is doing nothing to [foreign] servers directly, but is disrupting the protocols they all use.

Thousands of users can connect to VPNs with no issue in China, so it definitely varies regionally and by ISP.

It's fun to be back in Shanghai. And if you're at the M on the Bund Shanghai Literary Festival tomorrow (Friday), please be sure to see Deborah Fallows at noon. I'll be there on Sunday.

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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