Technological Resistance to
Censorship in Chinese Cyberspace

Xiaojie Cao
University of Auckland(bio)


While there is abundant research that focuses on how Chinese netizens’ online behaviours are passively affected by the internet censorship, the topic of how netizens actively manage to bypass restriction in their everyday online experience has been insufficiently covered (Yang & Liu, 2014). In fact, Chinese netizens, far from being passive self-censors, have long been trying to find ways to get around the censorship machine. This article concentrates on how Chinese netizens use technological means to challenge the censorship system, with netnograpy and cases studies as two main research methods. It firstly makes a general review of internet censorship and internet research in China, and then investigates hacking as resistance to censorship. The third theme is the first generation of censorship circumvention technologies that are programmed by Chinese dissidents (particularly Falun Gong). After a case study of the second generation of anti-GFW hacking and a detailed investigation into the new circumvention tools, this article concludes by suggesting that technological resistance in Chinese cyberspace has become much more scattered, small-scale, low-profiled, and quotidian, and that its political influence should not be overstated.

Keywords: Great Firewall, Chinese Internet, Censorship, Technological Resistance, Hacking


China started its internet project in 1986 and the first email was sent out on 14 September 1987 from Beijing to Germany, reading “Across the Great Wall, we can reach every corner in the world.” (Ironically, ten years later, a digital Great Wall was built, to prevent Chinese people from freely reaching all corners of the world.) It was not until 1995 that the internet theoretically became available for ordinary people,[2] despite the fact that the relative expense of computers and internet connections was still very high and internet access before 2000 was still confined to the elite strata in research institutes, state organizations, and foreign companies: penetration rates were below 2% (Taneja & Wu, 2014).[3] Since 1997 the population of Chinese netizens has undergone a stable increase (CNNIC, 1997-2015), becoming the biggest population of netizens in the world having surpassed the U.S. in 2008. The most recent record of this population is 649 million (which is 47.9% of the whole population of the country). The population of mobile internet users, emerging at the beginning of new millennium, has risen steadily since 2006 to a current population of 557 million (CNNIC, 1997-2015). This huge population, along with the changing dynamics of user structure (with more and more ordinary people getting online, and internet access no longer the privilege of the elite), has revealed some far-reaching economical, cultural and political effects on Chinese society. The reason why the Chinese authorities express an increasing emphasis on the internet (never-ending regulation and tighter censorship as one of many such expressions, see Endeshaw, 2004) is at least partially rooted here.

Description: C:\Users\Erin Rizal\Documents\nmediac\WordDocs\Technological Resistance to Censorship in Chinese Cyberspace %28final version%29_files\image001.png
Figure 1. Population of Chinese netizens (1995-2014)

SOURCES: CNNIC’s half-yearly national survey of China’s internet development (CNNIC, 1997-2015) and Qiu (2004)


Since February 1994, internet regulations have been created not only by state council but also by responsible departments at both state and provincial levels, by the four major national internet backbones (ChinaNet, GBNet, CSTNet and CERNet), and by internet companies themselves. Besides legislative and institutional methods, Chinese authorities also use technical methods to censor internet content, which involves various governmental bodies (at both central and local levels), commercial Internet Content Providers and Internet Service Providers. The most often used technical filtering methods include IP address blocking, DNS hijacking, website blocking and content filtering, among others, some of which emerged as early as in 1999 (e.g., Dong, 2012; J. Fallows, 2008; Farrell, 2007; Yang & Liu, 2014). The building of the Great Firewall (GFW) and other censorship infrastructure helps to produce a much more sophisticated censorship system (Stevenson, 2007; Taubman, 1998).

The project of building a virtual Great Wall, named the Great Firewall of China (the GFW), was launched by the Chinese authorities in 1996, only one year after the internet became publically available.[4] In 1999, it reportedly started to block foreign websites which were incompatible with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s requirements (Collings, 2001, pp. 187-188); and in 2001, its general infrastructure was finished and gradually matured.[5] It was around 2002 that the GFW implemented the keyword filtering system. Based on this system, censors could automatically monitor sensitive words, or articles containing these words, and thus get them blocked. Besides this keyword filtering system, the GFW also tries to either technically block or attack most (if not all) circumvention tools.[6] Other internet infrastructure such as the Golden Shield Project (started in 2001) has since been active, at least partially, on censorship tasks and functions as an indispensable supplement to the GFW.

Much research on Chinese internet censorship focuses on regulations, infrastructure, administrative and technical designs (e.g., R. J. Deibert, 2002; Harwit & Clark, 2001; Lacharite, 2002; Taubman, 2002; Zheng, 2008). An increasing number of scholars believe that China has successfully controlled the internet (Bamman, O'Connor, & Smith, 2012; MacKinnon, 2008, 2012). Various studies have found that in China tolerance of internet censorship runs relatively high, and ordinary Chinese people even show support for internet censorship (e.g., D. Fallows, 2008; S. Guo & Feng, 2012). Only a few scholars have touched on the resistance faced internet control in China, such as MacKinnon’s (2008) research on resistant BBSs and Deibert’s (2002) research on resistant activities from tech-savvy dissidents. But recent trends of technological resistance have not been fully investigated in the existing academy; also, the development of these circumvention technologies (as responses to the update of the GFW) itself has seldom been taken into consideration. Moreover, questions such as the effectiveness of anti-censorship technologies have rarely been answered. This article tries to fill this research gap. It applies a bottom-up perspective and uses netnography and cases studies as two main research methods. Three main issues are studied here: first, hacking resistance and its dimensions; second, organized hacking and the first generation of anti-censorship tools programmed by Chinese dissidents; and third, scattered hacking and the second generation circumvention tools. As a conclusion, this article suggests that technological resistance to censorship in Chinese cyberspace has become much more scattered, small-scalelow-profiled, and quotidian, and that its political influence should not be overstated.

Dimensions of Hacking Resistance

Hacking has a longer history as a resistant power in the Western context than it does in China. When it comes to Western hackers, scholars often mention some general terms such as freedom, free and open source software (F/OSS), liberalism, anarchism, or civil disobedience (Coleman, 2011; G. Coleman, 2013; Fuchs, 2013; Taylor, 2005). Hackers use hacking activities to express themselves. Sometimes code itself is speech (G. Coleman, 2013) while in other situations, hackers may also make use of street protests and direct offline activities (Jordan, 2001). But whether hacking activities really erode political power or not is arguable, since hackers may cooperate with the authorities as well (Norton, 2012). Furthermore, hackers are far from a monolithic group – they are diverse both in thoughts and in actions (Coleman, 2014; Goode, 2015). Although no public resource is currently available to identify how often, and on what scale, hacktivists participate in resistant activities in Chinese cyberspace, there is evidence that hacking is one form of technological resistance here (or in Coleman’s sense, “the weapon of the geek”).[7] Functioning as one of the main types of networked resistance in China, hacking resistance can be understood in terms of three dimensions.

A foreign dimension

Various circumvention tools created by foreign programmers circulate in Chinese cyberspace, such as Anonymizer, Tor (which has been blocked by the GFW), Circumventor, I2P (reportedly safer than Tor from the perspective of the GFW), Coral, Hamachi, Psiphon (Canadian-based, released in 2006), Relakks, JAP, GhostSurf, and Hotspot Shield. Most of these tools are open-source, and thus are freely provided for internet users behind national firewalls; some of them, such as GhostSurf, are only available commercially. The developers of Psiphon, besides releasing free tools, have also created a for-profit company that offers media companies (including Voice of America [VOA] and Radio Free Asia [RFA]) an opportunity to deliver digital content and advertising to internet users in repressive environments. Despite the fact that many of them are not intentionally targeted at Chinese netizens, these tools compete with those released by Chinese dissident developers (as shown later in the case of Tor and UltraReach) and have gained some popularity in Mainland China. In particular, they are much more popular among groups of foreigners in China. The daily operation of foreign companies in Mainland China depends on such circumvention tools, as well as on commercial VPN services which are cheap and technically easy to use.[8]

Foreign organizations such as Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto and Paris-based Reporters Without Borders have long focused on issues surrounding the GFW and information freedom in China. Citizen Lab is itself responsible for the anti-censorship tool Psiphon. With some research interests in the GFW, this lab has cast its influence on some Chinese hackers (Lemon & Gohring, 2006). Reporters Without Borders may not be directly involved in developing any circumvention tool, but it continues to publish reports on China’s internet censorship, an activity which gains both academic and public attention. These two groups have produced how-to guides for Chinese netizens to get around the GFW as well. Besides these two groups, there are other organizations involved in challenging the GFW, such as GitHub, a U.S.-based private company that provides online code repository hosting service. F/OSS projects can be freely hosted here, which helps some Chinese hackers to programme anti-GFW software. It thus seems unsurprising that GitHub was blocked by the GFW in 2013 and underwent a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack in early 2015 which reportedly originated from China (Perez, 2015).

Foreign hackers have also become involved in Chinese censorship and other political issues. An example is the recent case of the 2014 Hong Kong protest, in which the international hacktivist group Anonymous declared its support for pro-democracy students and started a cyber war against the Chinese authorities. Hundreds of phone numbers, names, IP addresses and email addresses from Chinese government websites have since been leaked online and some government websites have been shut down by these hackers (Cuthbertson, 2014). Such support from foreign hackers does make its political presence felt in China, and shows the power of technological resistance to the Chinese authorities. Anonymous China, a branch of Anonymous, has formed a virtual community on Facebook (, where it has not only archived its hacking activities in China, but also included much wider political issues such as environmental protection, human rights, and the Tiananmen Incident.

The control of domestic hackers

Hackers within the GFW have long existed and they have been known to the general public because of several famous hacking events: the attack on Indonesian websites after Indonesia’s anti-Chinese agitation in 1998, the hacking war on U.S. websites after NATO’s bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia in 1999, the incursion into Japanese websites after the Japanese right wing’s anti-Chinese gathering in 2000, and the cyber war between Chinese and American hackers in 2001 after an American spy aeroplane trespassed in Chinese national airspace and collided with a Chinese aeroplane (see Chen, 2001, pp. 1-52; Shen, 2007, p. 175). After the 1999 hacking event, China Youth Daily, a Beijing-based national newspaper, coined the name “Hongke” (“red guest” or “Honker” which is equivalent to the English idiom “white hat”) – to refer to this group of patriotic hackers. Patriotic hackers were technically accepted by the Chinese authorities because most of their activities were claimed to defend the interests of China and thus to match the authorities’ attitudes of “online nationalism.”

The convergence of Chinese hackers and online nationalism may differentiate hacker culture in China from that in Western contexts (G. Coleman, 2013, p. 19; Henderson, 2007, pp. 69-78). According to Henderson, patriotic hackers are represented by the Red Honker Alliance, and others such as New Hacker Alliance (with site server based in Shanghai), Student Hacker Union (based in Beijing), Yaqu163 (based originally in Beijing and then shifted to Wuhan), and Hx99 (based in Sichuan). Those Falun Gong, Free Tibet movement, Hong Kong activists, and foreign hackers who are responsible for attacks threatening China’s national sovereignty and challenging the legitimacy of the ruling party have received return attacks from the alleged patriotic Chinese hackers (Henderson, 2007, p. 109). Patriotic hackers reportedly invade various targets from governments to commercial companies, defence contractors, newspapers, think tanks, NGOs, Chinese human rights groups, and dissidents (Beech, 2013; Hvistendahl, 2010; Walker, 2011), but it is impossible to confirm these reports.

Unlike most of their Western counterparts, for whom anonymity is the top priority of their hacking activities, patriotic Chinese hackers are sometimes proud of being known to the general public. Wan Tao, one of China’s first patriotic hackers, who joined China’s first hacking group Green Army in 1997, was engaged in two famous hacking events; one involved crashing the email box of the Japanese Prime Minister’s website, and the other was a cyber-war with American hackers in 2001 (Hughes & Wacker, 2003, p. 145). Wan reportedly designed a software system in 1999 to help the police to find out who had written anonymous subversive posts on BBSs (Epstein, 2013). Many hackers like Wan strategically choose to follow the line set by the government and become “Honkers,” meaning that their hacking activities often are not penalized when caught.

Though these hackers may not threaten the censorship system after being incorporated by the authorities, they did function as a challenging dimension before that. Since hackers (including the patriotic Honkers who have been ideologically renamed) are fundamentally technological cowboys who believe in some kind of anarchism, and have the potential to act as dissenters and thus work against the authorities, the Chinese authorities have never publically accepted this group of netizens. According to Chinese law, hacking is definitely a criminal offence, and has been since 1997. The first publicized hacking trial happened in 1998 and resulted in the execution of one of two men for hacking and stealing from a state-owned bank in Jiangsu province. On 19 May 2009, several “script kiddies” launched a DDoS attack against a free video player, Thunderstorm, disabling the Domain Name Resolution services in over 20 provinces and rendering at least 100 thousand websites inaccessible. This group of hackers were soon arrested and thrown into prison. International commercial hacking activities have happened occasionally, such as the involvement of a group of Mainland Chinese hackers in a scheme to steal money from Taiwanese bank accounts in 2004, and the hijacking of German and American eBay user accounts in 2005 (see Henderson, 2007, pp. 86-87; Ye, 2014). Cases like these have shaped the Chinese authorities’ attitudes to hacker culture – although they have tried covertly to utilize some talented hackers for political purposes, they have never publicly legitimized this culture. It should also be noted that the Chinese authorities have never completely controlled domestic hackers (see the fourth section of this article for more discussion).

Dissident hackers and their resistance

Although the Chinese hackers discussed so far place less emphasis on free access to information, freedom of speech, F/OSS or “code as speech” than their Western counterparts, they undoubtedly share the spirit of resistance which has cast a hidden, yet wide, influence on Chinese cyberculture. Precisely speaking, when it comes to dissident hackers, hacker culture may fundamentally show a spirit of resistance. Take the anti-CCP hacker organization “Fangong Heike” for example.[9] On 2 June 2014, two days before the politically sensitive anniversary of the Tiananmen Incident, the website of the Information Center for Social Sciences of Renmin University of China was hacked by this organization and the slogan “Chanchu gongfei, zhaoxue liusi” (Wipe out the CCP, rehabilitate June 4) was added to its homepage. This organization targeted not only websites of official institutions such as local governments and universities, but also those of cable TV stations, each time adding anti-CCP campaign messages to their broadcasts. A recent case in which this hacker group may have been involved happened on 1 August 2014, during the evening news time: Wenzhou cable TV was infiltrated and their viewers found anti-CCP messages on their screens.

Hacking as resistance can also be seen in the activities of quasi-religious organization Falun Gong. After being denounced as “cult group” and repressed by the Chinese authorities in July 1999, Falun Gong has since been very active in spreading anti-CCP propaganda. During prime time on 5 March 2002, the eighth-channel Changchun municipal cable television network in Northeast China was hacked by practitioners of Falun Gong; for nearly one hour, Falun Gong propaganda replaced state propaganda on the television screens and two videos were broadcast into more than 300,000 households (Zhao, 2003, p. 209). The targets of Falun Gong’s hacking activities vary, from China’s cable television networks in various cities, to the Sinosat state satellite and disrupted television channels at both national and provincial levels (see People's Daily Online, 2002).

After the GFW tightened its control on the Chinese internet, and information originating from Falun Gong became difficult to reach for Mainland Chinese, Falun Gong started various small internet companies to promote circumvention tools (a theme that will be discussed fully in the coming section) to help Chinese netizens to access uncensored information. Various detailed “technical references” are provided on their websites to aid practitioners (or the general public) to breach the Chinese censorship system (Ownby, 2008, pp. 201, 205-206). Some Falun Gong members possess considerable computer skills, and they have been active in hijacking government websites. They have sometimes also directly involved in challenging the censorship activities of Chinese authorities. For example, in the case of “Green Dam Youth Escort” in 2009, the programmers of Freegate developed software called “Green Tsunami” to neutralize the influence of that censorship software.[10] As a vigorous resister to the Chinese regime, Falun Gong never hesitates to show its hostility to the CCP.[11] Almost all Mainland cable television programmes and/or websites hacked by Falun Gong have been left with hostile messages against the CCP. Similar things happen with its anti-censorship software; in the introduction pages of Ultrasurf (see the coming section for more discussion), it claims that “The tool was originally designed for internet users in Mainland China.” Moreover, Falun Gong organization has close relationship with some Western media (such as VOA and RFA) which are blocked by the GFW; it also has received U.S. funds for hacking activities (see the coming section for more discussion). These facts have undoubtedly invited the Chinese authorities to place an even stricter control policy over the internet in the name of causes such as internet security or sovereignty – the CCP has been very politically sensitive towards interference in China’s domestic affairs from big powers such as the U.S.

Hacking makes technological resistance in Chinese cyberspace a complicated phenomenon. As discussed in this section, as well as the coming section, technological resistance seems not to have been limited to internet censorship per se; it sometimes originates from a broader socio-political background (particularly in the Falun Gong case).

Organized Hacking: Circumvention 1.0

A brief history of the first generation anti-GFW tools

Based on the open-source Freenet project, some overseas Chinese hackers started a Freenet China project in 2001, which proved ineffective, because pro-government programmers joined this network as well. Afterwards, one of the project’s creators, Bill Xia, started another project, DynaWeb, under the company name of Dynamic Internet Technology (DIT). DIT was founded in 2001 (with Xia as its president) and was aimed at providing solutions for internet service needs in repressive environments. Emphasizing its early relationship with the U.S. Government on its “About” page, and clients which include Epoch Times (a globally published newspaper of the Falun Gong organization), VOA, RFA and Human Rights in China, DIT obviously stands against the Chinese Government. There is no straightforward information about its financial status. But since two of its three products, Freegate and DynaWeb – both are proxy services, are freely provided for users (the third product is a mass mailing service), there is a strong suspicion that it survives mainly on support from its clients. According to the website of Global Internet Freedom Consortium (GIFC), DynaWeb reportedly supports more than 50 million web hits per day on average from Chinese users alone, and Freegate is still active in cyberspace and has gained users in China and beyond.[12] Although the GIFC tries to emphasize these successes on its website, signs show that its products (targeted at Chinese netizens) might have decreased in influence.[13]

In 2001 a Canadian-based organization, Garden Network for Freedom of Information was launched, and has since released three tools – Garden, G2 and Gtunnel. After 2007, Gtunnel replaced the previous two tools and has since functioned as the organization’s only product. According to its own words, hundreds of thousands of Chinese people are using Garden Networks tools daily; but again it is hard to confirm the number of its users. This organization is self-defined as not-for-profit, and donation is its main financial source (with a “You can help” donation link on its website Garden, together with two other tools, DynaWeb and Ultrareach, both of which were launched in 2002, became the main tools in the early days for Chinese users, and gained the title of “The Three Musketeers” in the cyber underground.









HTTP proxy

Freenet China



HTTP proxy



Garden Networks

HTTP proxy




HTTP proxy

Garden G2


Garden Networks

DNS resolution




HTTP proxy


c.a. 2004-













Garden Networks


Table 1. The First Generation Circumvention Tools Used in Mainland China
SOURCE: Various sources on websites of these tools, news coverage and beyond.


Triangle Boy emerged even earlier than these three tools. It was developed by SafeWeb, a U.S.-based software company which was acquired by Symantec on 15 October 2003 and later stopped support for this tool. This company reportedly not only had a financial relationship with International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB, the parent company of VOA) but was also sponsored by a CIA project to provide anti-censorship software for Chinese netizens (Hughes & Wacker, 2003, pp. 72, 154). However, by the end of 2002, the Triangle Boy project was completely blocked in Mainland China. UltraSurf was launched in 2002 by UltraReach Internet Corporation, a Falun Gong internet company (Ng, 2013, p. 40). It enabled users to circumvent internet censorship and firewalls by using a HTTP proxy server, and also employed encryption protocols for privacy, such as the provision of digital certificates for their products to protect their customers from being cheated by fictitious products.

These tools use two main technologies – proxy servers and VPNs. Proxy servers such as Freegate and Ultrasurf can conceal the physical addresses of users and create anonymity for them. Common types of proxy servers include HTTP proxy, CGI proxy, POP3, FTP, and SOCKS, among others. Alternatively, a VPN can create a private and encrypted channel for the user to communicate with internet servers outside the GFW, and it is “faster, fancier and more elegant” (J. Fallows, 2008) than a proxy server. A slight technological shift exists in the first generation circumvention tools, from proxy servers to VPN (as shown in Table 1). This shift is actually a technological response to the update of the GFW.

The political dimension

Chinese hackers with Falun Gong backgrounds have been very active in programming anti-GFW tools. SafeWeb might not have a direct relationship with Falun Gong; however, the other four organizations, especially DIT, UltraReach Internet Corporation, and World’s Gate, may share some common interests (e.g., as part of Falun Gong organizations) and have a vague relationship with one another. In fact, the companies of Global Information Freedom (GIF), DIT, UltraReach Internet and Garden Networks for Freedom of Information formed a loose alliance in 2006 as the Global Internet Freedom Consortium (GIFC) (GIFC, n.d.). An interesting contradiction on the GIFC website may be good evidence for these companies’ relation with Falun Gong. In a report (GIF, 2007) which announced that it had overcome a temporary setback of increased GFW censorship, GIFC defined the software of FirePhenix and GPass as World’s Gate products; while on its webpage “Our Solutions,” GPass was on the product list of DIT and FirePhoenix of UltraReach Internet Corporation. Although on the websites of these small companies there is no information to publically confirm that, it invites a reasonable inference that DIT, UltraReach Internet Corporation and World’s Gate either have overlapped personnel or belong to the same parent. This suggestion has been supported by other news coverage (Pomfret, 2010), including the assertion that Bill Xia himself is the president of DIT and at the same time a follower of Falun Gong.

It is interesting that most of these small internet companies aimed at creating a freer Chinese internet are physically based in North America (particularly on the West Coast of the U.S., where a huge number of local hackers gather as well). Hacker culture there is relatively more mature and the idea of a free internet has been widely acknowledged there for a long time. For the overseas Chinese dissenters (be they religious or political), such a technology-friendly environment provides plenty of moral and technological resources for their development of anti-censorship software. This, however, does not mean that these dissident Chinese hackers have positive interactions with local Western hackers; conversely and interestingly, they seldom interact with each other at the technical level.[14] The only such interaction publicly available so far has happened in 2012, between Tor and UltraSurf, and it was not a positive interaction but an embarrassing quarrel (see Appelbaum, 2012; Ultrareach Internet Corporation, 2012). Tor checked nine claims by UltraReach and its advocates and found that nine were all “false, incorrect or misleading.” It further pointed out that “it is possible to monitor and block the use of Ultrasurf using commercial off-the-shelf software” and recommended against the use of this tool since “the vulnerabilities presented in this paper are not merely theoretical in nature; they may present life-threatening danger in hostile situations.” UltraReach responded promptly, but insisted that the UltraReach tool was designed according to a different philosophy from that of Tor, and that Tor’s “unsubstantiated attacks” were primarily an attempt to lobby against funding for the UltraReach project.

The quarrel between UltraReach and Tor reveals differing stances between Chinese dissident hackers and their Western counterparts. First, unlike their Western counterparts, Chinese dissident hackers emphasize more on closed-source software rather than F/OSS. Most of the above tools are closed-source, partially due to the tense, fraught relationship between circumvention tools and the GFW. These small companies claim that if these tools were open-source, China could easily update its censorship mechanics accordingly. The price is that these tools often receive critiques (as criticized by Tor in UltraReach’s case) about issues relevant to safety, privacy, security and anonymity; for example, the users may risk being monitored further: maybe not by the Chinese authorities, but by the creators of these tools.[15] pretty diverse bunch“technical orientation” (Coleman, 2011). However, Chinese dissident hackers seem to have utilized hacking activities and circumvention tools purposely as part of their larger religious and/or political agenda. Third, dissident Chinese hackers are bedeviled by ideological contradictions. Although they are against the Chinese authorities, they at the same time try hard to get funds from the U.S. Government and other organizations (Pomfret, 2010).[16] Since the GFW started to censor widely in about 2001, various news organizations such as VOA and RFA that at least partially targeted Asian countries (China in particular), became unavailable in Mainland China. This is the background to the fact that VOA and RFA have since been very active in funding Chinese dissident programmers to develop anti-GFW tools.

From this point of view, first generation circumvention tools are products of a much more organized and centralized movement, and they serve – from a technological perspective – a much larger religious and/or political purpose.

The influence of these tools

These tools are targeted at Mainland Chinese users, but some, such as Freegate, also attract users beyond China and have become popular in other authoritarian states such as Iran and Syria. In 2006, about 100 thousand Chinese netizens were estimated to use circumvention tools such as Freegate, UltraReach and Garden Networks to surf online daily, an estimation made by the creator of Freegate (Bill Xia) and impossible to confirm (Fowler, 2006). Ultrasurf had reportedly gained a population of 80,000 users in Iran, China and Vietnam by the end of April 2011 and in some extreme cases, such as during periods of social unrest in Tunisia and Egypt, the programmers of these tools needed to limit the sharply increased access from these areas to avoid overloading the system (Applebaum, 2011).

However, developers have seldom mentioned the exact number of users of their circumvention products. If they have spoken publically about this, they have been inclined to either use indirect metaphors or to make announcements in a very vague way.[17] The exaggeration of their products’ challenge to the GFW might be explained as a marketing strategy for funding purposes. The majority of Chinese netizens seem to have little interest (if any) in bypassing the GFW, not only because of the financial and political risk of being caught, but also because most of the time, there seems to be no need to do so – entertainment and information within the GFW seem to be enough for their daily needs. Indirect data have explained the low popularity of circumvention tools. For example, a report in 2010 suggested that the tools provided by GIFC were employed by “at most 5 percent of internet users even in places such as China or Iran where the Web is tightly controlled” (Pomfret, 2010). According to a series of four surveys (see Table 2) conducted by the Research Center for Social Development, CASS, the percentage of Chinese netizens who used proxy servers significantly declined over the first decade of this century, particularly between 2003-2007.[18] Anecdotal evidence further suggests that while many Chinese netizens (especially university students) were aware of proxy servers and knew how to use them, the percentage of people using proxy servers daily to access blocked sites was relatively small (Dong, 2012).



2000 (N/A)



















Table 2. Proxy Server Users in Mainland China (%)

SOURCE: Survey report of Internet use and its influence: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Changsha (2000)(as cited in MacKinnon, 2008); Surveying Internet Usage and Impact in Twelve Chinese Cities (October, 2003); Surveying Internet usage and impact in five Chinese cities (November 2005) (L. Guo, 2005); Surveying Internet Usage and its Impact in Seven Chinese Cities (November 2007) (L. Guo, 2007, p. 106)

These tools do have some critical impact for a small group of Chinese netizens (citizen journalists, dissidents, activists and public intellectuals in particular). Proxy servers have gained popularity mainly among students and hackers (J. Fallows, 2008). Foreign business, retailers and vendors of technological products, academic institutions, as well as individuals, are the main consumers of VPNs.[19] Users of these tools might increase significantly in extreme cases such as during periods of social unrest and other emergency events (e.g., SARS in 2003) (Elgin & Einhorn, 2006). The diverse usage of these tools has paved the way for the new generation of circumvention tools.

Scattered Hacking: Circumvention 2.0

Hacking resistance functions as a challenge to the Chinese authorities. But similarly to their Western counterparts, Chinese hackers are also far from a monolithic group – they are diverse both in thoughts and in actions. – they are diverse both in thoughts and in actions as well. Since about 2007, a new type of hacking has emerged in Chinese cyberspace. The hackers of this type not only engage in releasing new anti-censorship tools which are widely distributed, various, mixed and dynamic (these tools could be defined as second generation), but also launch scattered, unfocused, individualized, and quotidian attacks towards the censorship machine (the GFW in particular) as revealed by the theory of the hacking movement the Xixiang Jihua (the West-Chamber Project, the WCP).

The West-Chamber Project

The West-Chamber Project, the only anti-GFW hacking project with its main participants physically located in Mainland China so far, started in July 2008 and ended in 2010.[20] The name of this project was provoked by the classic Chinese novel The Story of the Western Wing, within which the hero and heroine are two lovers who climb over the wall and engage in clandestine sexual activity.[21] It metaphorically refers to the software helping ordinary netizens to reach censored materials. This hacking project planned to provide domestic netizens free information and uncensored websites. The announcement for this project reads like this:

As technologists, we need to do something crazy. If we take no action, we will suffer what the bad guys have done. It would be a shame! The GFW becomes mighty and dreadful only because we have not stood together and against it. Now we should stand out and fight; otherwise, we will be mocked in the future by our children who will say “Hey old men, why haven’t you resisted it in the first place?” [my translation] (Development Team tek4, 2008; as cited in GFWREV, 2010c)

The hackers started a blog, GFW Jishu Pinglun (Technical Reviews on the GFW), on an international host server and constantly revealed their hacking activities towards the GFW and their involvement in opposing the Green Dam Youth Escort, and they also covered the history and function of the GFW.[22] The screen names of participating hackers were also published, including tek4, KLZ毕业 (KLZ Graduate), iGFW, nust-, 店长 (Store manager), r007, r008, t00ls, em777, eviloctal, ZWA, Tor project, i2p, and会長 (Chairman).[23] This blog posted its first article with an English title, “Hello World,” on 23 October 2009, and up until 21 March 2010 when the project team was disbanded, a total of thirteen articles were published (with seven articles in 2009 and ten in 2010). These articles have received limited feedback, with the number of responses shifting from nil to over a hundred (some of which are either advertising or meaningless information). But these articles were widely re-posted by other overseas Chinese websites, which increased their general influence.

A new anti-GFW theory

Based on loopholes in the GFW found by previous research (e.g., Clayton, Murdoch, & Watson, 2006), as well as more general research (e.g., Ptacek & Newsham, 1998), the WCP has developed an interesting resistance theory of “shooting at the GFW.” This means generally that the more attacks on the holes in the wall, the easier it is for users to get around this system; moreover, scattered, dynamic, mixed and distributed means are better. Following this theory, the project team tried hard to mobilize more ordinary netizens to participate in activities challenging the GFW.[24] It would be fair to argue that the WCP still might not have been able to mobilize enough netizens, but it seems that they have done much better than Chinese dissident hackers. The reason why Chinese dissident hackers have failed in challenging the GFW (and promote closed-source software rather than open-source software) is that, at least partially, they could not mobilize enough talented netizens to become deeply involved in the hacking process.

There are three dimensions of this resistance theory and its practical approaches. First, niche technological resistance has been applied. Compared to those well-organized, centralized and collective attacks against the censorship machine, niche attacks would have less chance of being felt by the Chinese authorities. The censorship machine of course can easily recognize such attacks, but these scattered and small-scaled attacks might not be worthy of reporting to higher levels of authorities – the censoring instructions come from higher levels of authority and not from the censorship machine itself, which is just an executive body of instructions from the former. With scattered (such as using technology of p2p), small-scaled, various, mixed and dynamic characteristics, the second generation attacks might be tolerated by the system; through tiny and everyday forms of resistance, huge changes may eventually arrive (see GFW Blog, 2009).

Second, the WCP development team believes that the design philosophy of the GFW is that “better is worse.” In other words, the GFW will not try to fill up every loophole in its system; in the contrast, it survives together with these loopholes. The only criterion is to keep both the number and size of the loopholes at an acceptable scale from the perspective of the GFW (and this might be partially because of the funding issue).[25] The team acknowledges that resisters against the GFW, and the GFW itself, have formed an ironic relationship, within which both parties try to maintain a dynamic balance. On the one hand, the GFW seems to have potentially left some room for the tech-savvy to breach the wall; on the other hand, in many situations the anti-GFW resisters have appealed to hackers not to push the wall too hard, and thus could avoid enraging the censors, and decrease the possibility of the entire internet being cut off as their last resort.[26] An ideal dynamic relationship between the GFW and its resisters could be formed if the resisters at the weaker end of the spectrum pretend to be weak and let the GFW become intoxicated with small successes in its blocking activities.

A third dimension of this resistance theory is that, although at the current stage the authorities and the GFW are located at the top of this ecosystem and the ordinary netizens at the bottom, ordinary netizens still can successfully resist their superiors – successful insofar as they access uncensored information whilst avoiding the risk of being caught – by utilizing individualized, scattered means of resistance. According to this theory, the only issue resisters must bear in mind is that there is no way to find a perfect, one-off solution with which to circumvent the GFW, since the GFW itself is continually being updated. Resisters have to keep on learning this system and updating their methods of resistance accordingly. The WCP team concluded its program by calling for more netizens to get involved in the process of challenging the GFW in its last article:

These articles are trying to show a learning process and methods of the GFW as well as an interest of reverse engineering the GFW. Readers like you are better off being not only a receiver of these messages but also a positive thinker and actor. If one out of a hundred people start to think about the GFW issues, one out of a thousand starts to do research about it, and one out of ten thousand starts to make the principals into practice, things might get changed eventually. If all the readers are just passive receivers and engage nothing in challenging this system, the GFW will become even stronger and mightier and that will be a disaster for all of us. [My translation] (GFWREV, 2010b)

The calling for more talented netizens to participate in the resistance towards the GFW has been echoed by other ordinary hackers. For example, a user with the screen name “Laomao” published on his/her blog Wo blog gu wo zai (I blog therefore I am) an article entitled “Guanyu Qiang de Jishu Taolun” (Technical Discussions on Firewall), which invites “those who have interests in programming” to engage with shooting at the technical loopholes of the GFW and eventually put an end to it (see Laomao, n.d.).[27]

Fundamentally speaking, the WCP only tried to point out the loopholes of the GFW and the possibility of taking advantage of these holes; it did not directly produce any new or real circumvention tools. Besides acknowledging the value of existing tools (which are low cost and have shortcomings), it invited more volunteers to focus on technologies of “private SSH and VPN,” since these technologies represent the future of anti-censorship tools. In terms of inviting more netizens to practice the theory of “shooting at the GFW,” the WCP has crucially influenced anti-GFW practices.

New trends of technological resistance

Some first generation circumvention tools are still available in Mainland China, but most of them have been blocked completely by the GFW. Various new tools, partially provoked by the WCP, have been created and circulated since, particularly those tools compatible with smart phone systems (e.g., Android) and other existing programmes.

Fqrouter is one such free anti-GFW tool for Android mobile (smart phone/tablet) users in China. According to its website (, several public proxies are built into this tool, which can work on mobiles running Android without needing ROOT permission. But when ROOT permission is given, this tool can additionally function as a “router.”[28] The name “fqrouter” combines the acronym of Chinese phrase “fan qiang” (circumvent the firewall) and “router.” Started in 2013 by a hacker with the screen name Qin Fen, this tool utilizes a technology that can theoretically transform any Android mobile running it into a router. Although it may result in slower surfing speeds and require more frequent battery charges, this tool has functioned stably so far, with its longest streak of downtime only lasting 11 days in December 2013. The creator has made clear that while he or she did welcome donations they would not go to the creator’s own pocket but rather to two public host servers (which help to promote this tool). Users are encouraged to report any problem with this tool, to circulate it as widely as possible and, most importantly, to contribute with their source code (see fqrouter, 2013). A virtual discussion group for this tool has since been set up at Baidu Tieba, a popular BBS service hosted by Baidu. It is interesting that this kind of discussion of anti-censorship measures could be tolerated by the censors.[29] At the time of writing, there have been 18,375 followers and 42,182 individual posts in this group (Baidu Tieba, n.d.).

Another tool, fengye xiangjiao (the Maplebanana-proxy), which is also known as the Onion-project or Smartbanana, was developed by an anonymous hacker named “ring-hacker” (see Onion-project: fengye xiangjiao, 2013). This tool simplifies the codes of GoAgent, Wallproxy and Gsnova, and makes these circumvention tools more compatible with the open-source browser Firefox. So too do many others including VPN Gate (designed by Japanese researchers and targeted mainly at Chinese netizens, see Nobori & Shinjo, 2014), GoAgent, Shadowsocks, landing (Lantern), Gfanqiang (not updated since 2013), and Greatagent (originally named Wwqgtxx-goagent) which have also become available for ordinary Chinese netizens.

Tools like these reveal some new trends in technological resistance in Chinese cyberspace. Firstly, while organized means and activities of technological resistance may still exist, scattered, individualized and decentralized means and activities have become relatively more popular. Secondly, the second generation tools are more likely to be open source, and their users may contribute to the source code as well. Thirdly, these new tools are potentially designed for solving the problems of existing third-party programmes and are compatible with such programmes (as revealed by the aforementioned tool of Maplebanana-proxy). Fourthly, these new tools are more likely to be made using cheap and readily accessible technology, and hackers themselves do not seem worried about funding (as was the case with dissident hackers of the first generation). Fifthly, most of the second generation tools are originally developed by a single hacker rather than a group of hackers (though in some cases volunteer hackers may be involved in the process later on), and they develop these tools “simply and purely” based on their interests. Last but not least, besides using various social networking platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to circulate their products, these hackers may also use more centralized platforms, such as Beauty Garden (Meiboyuan, and the Project Hosting of Google Code (which aims at “providing a free collaborative development environment for open source projects”), to discuss anti-censorship issues and develop tools. These platforms (most of which are outside the GFW) have become virtual homes for hackers.

In general, many hackers of the new generation, including the team of the WCP, tend to believe that technological resistance against the GFW is an ongoing struggle, for while the GFW is very good at attacking resistant tools, ordinary netizensmust keep on adapting new methods to get around the firewall. The main problem of this model of imbalanced interaction between resisters and censors lies in the fact that as the GFW becomes mightier and stronger, it will become technologically and economically harder for netizens to break through the wall. This worry becomes even more significant in light of two increasingly common viewpoints. One is that “You might think you have successfully broken through the wall, while in fact you are still in the wall” (Yu Zhou, Duan, & Li, 2010) and the other is that “Our difficulty is not that wall but the decreasing number of users of circumvention tools” (Diao, 2014). Hackers could undoubtedly find ways to adapt themselves to this system, but it is part of a much larger problem that technological methods alone – circumvention tools included – cannot fix.


Technological resistance in Chinese cyberspace has undergone a nuance shift from organized, centralized and collective to much more scattered, small-scalelow-profile and quotidian. Such resistance does function as a challenge to the GFW control system,and enables users to access and share freer information. However, we should not overstate the influence of such resistance. First, though ordinary netizens may also involve in technological resistance (by means of such as becoming consumers of circumvention tools), this kind of resistance is mainly conducted by a small group of tech-savvy netizens. Second, there is no sign of the GFW becoming less powerful; by contrast, it seems to be more powerful than before. The second generation hackers strategically launch scattered, small-scalelow-profile and quotidian attacks and tools to challenge the GFW system – which is impossible, to date, for the GFW to block completely. At the same time, however, they try to avoid enraging the censors and emphasize theirco-existence with this control system – which determines that such small-scale, scattered resistance may not be able to fundamentally challenge this system. From this point of view, this new kind of resistance seems to have become a part – albeit an unharmonious part – of the authoritarian control system.


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[1] Xiaojie Cao is a PhD candidate in Media, Film and Television of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Auckland. His current research interests lie in cyberculture, internet governance, Chinese internet, censorship and resistance. He can be contacted via email ( The author thanks Dr Luke Goode for his comments on the draft paper. Two anonymous reviewers, editors of this issue, as well as Dr Jonathan Lillie, have provided valuable feedback.

[2] The question of the exact time of China’s first connection to the internet remains open. Some scholars argue that the starting time was in 1993 (Kalathil & Boas, 2010), others argue that China first established a connection to the internet in April 1994 and about 23,000 Chinese were estimated to have restricted internet access at that time, all government officials and select academics (R. J. Deibert, 2002; MacKinnon, 2008). Here I choose 1995 as the time when ordinary Chinese people were allowed to go online, which has been confirmed by other resources such as J. L. Qiu (2004).

[3] In the early days of the internet development, for those who could not financially afford personal computers, internet bars became a good alternative (Yongming Zhou, 2008). A computer in later 1990s China could cost $1,000-1,200 dollars. An ordinary family earned only around $600 dollars per year at that time (according to 1996 government figures); furthermore, in 1999, the monthly cost for an internet connection (totalling 60 hours) was about $29 dollars, plus the phone line connection fee which was 50 cents per hour (cited from Collings, 2001, pp. 192-193).

[4] Building on the Great Wall of China started twenty-eight centuries ago. After several dynasties’ reinforcement, it finally became a defensive shield of stone and brick snaking forty-five hundred miles across the tops of mountains along the northern border of China. Designed to help keep out Mongol and other invaders, it functioned successfully for many years and then became nothing more than a symbol. It is commonly agreed by scholars of the Chinese internet that the concept of the Great Firewall of China (GFW) originated in Geremie Barme and Sang Ye’s article (1997), according to which the project of the GFW started in 1996. This date is confirmed by Thornton (2010, p. 180), though some suggest 1995 as the starting year of this programme (R. J. Deibert, 2002).

[5] But according to an official interview with Fang Binxing in 2011 by Global Times, a Beijing-based nationalist tabloid which is affiliated to People’s Daily, the GFW project was officially claimed to be launched in 1998 and it was not until 2003 that it really started. This same interview also mentions that Fang used six VPNs on his computer at home, by which he could test the GFW system, and notes that what happened between the GFW and the VPNs is “an ageless war” (Huanqiu Shibao [the Global Times], 2011).

[6] As discussed later, much anti-GFW software would be blocked by the GFW (sometimes) shortly after its invention and circulation. For example, some anti-GFW programmers believe that the GFW has employed a group of human censors to collect the updated information of TOR’s bridges from its official websites so that the GFW is able to block TOR promptly (see Biancheng Suixiang, 2012).

[7] From Biella Coleman’s perspective, hacking is “the weapon of the geek” (a utilization of James Scott’s concept of “weapons of the weak,” see Scott, 1985) and hackers “don’t necessarily have class-consciousness, though some certainly do, but they all tend to have craft consciousness” (B. Coleman, 2013).

[8] Some circumvention tools are even circulated among foreigners via USB drive. For example, in 2008, a group of German programmers reportedly created what they call the Freedom Stick, a self-contained version of the Tor browser on a USB drive that the group distributed to German journalists heading to the Beijing Olympic Games (Daily Herald Tribune, 2008).

[9] Fangong Heike is physically located outside Mainland China. It not only hosts a website ( and archives its hacking activities in Mainland China on it, but also forms virtual communities on social networking sites such as Twitter (

[10] In 2009, Chinese authorities declared that all new computers sold after 1 July 2009 should have pre-installed the filtering software called Green Dam Youth Escort or the setup files on an accompanying compact disc. This software was claimed to filter out pornographic images and violent information and thus could protect youth from harmful content; however, it was soon widely suspected that this was nothing more than a new way of monitoring individual user performance (Faris, Roberts, & Wang, 2009). This mandatory act was ultimately unsuccessful (R. Deibert, Palfrey, Rohozinski, Zittrain, & Haraszti, 2010, p. 278).

[11] Falun Gong has claimed to be resistant to Chinese censorship, but it is ironic that in the first place, when this group received criticism from its opponents, it “urged the Chinese government to use its powers of censorship to muzzle the opponents” (Zhao, 2003, p. 215).

[12] Information comes from the introduction of these products on the website of GIFC. GIFC has a close relationship with some U.S. officials, with the help of who it receives funds from the U.S. government (see MacKinnon, 2012, pp. 188-191). From a technological perspective, Freegate has a significant update which can enable those who share sensitive information through emails by simply attaching it in the email and the email will be encrypted automatically; once the email is successfully sent out, the user just needs to click a button and the trace of usage will be cleaned immediately.

[13] For instance, its latest success in mass mailing, which was selectively shown on its website, happened in 2005 (ten years ago!). DIT expressed pride because its mass mailing project was mentioned in a testimony for U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on April 14, 2005 – “We send millions of emails a day, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive to the VOA and RFA language services - news summaries and information on local Chinese and international news.” (DIT, n.d.) DynaWeb has encountered a similar fate: although it was not officially denounced, the fact that its latest updated was done on 15 April 2005 shows that the report that DynaWeb was blocked by Chinese authorities in May 2006 should be somewhat convincing.

[14] Some dissident Chinese hackers such Bill Xia may talk about the GFW and internet censorship in China via media outlets, or publish relevant academic articles. But publically available data shows that they seldom interact with local Western hackers at the technical level.

[15] According to the Spy Files leaked by WikiLeaks, 32 companies (including UltraReach Internet Corporation) of the U.S. have been involved (WikiLeaks, n.d.). This invited a wide scepticism among Chinese users that using the tools created by this company could reportedly create the risk of being monitored.

[16] To fund U.S. efforts in support of Internet freedom, Congress in the 2008 financial year appropriated $15 million, most of which has been spent or is obligated. Another $5 million was appropriated in the 2009 financial year. Finally, Secretary Clinton’s January 21 speech mentioned an additional $15 million for the 2010 financial year. The U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors’ International Broadcasting Bureau also supports counter-censorship technologies and has committed approximately $2 million per year to help enable internet users in repressive regimes to have access to the VOA and other U.S. governmental and non-governmental websites and to receive VOA email newsletters (Figliola, Nakamura, Addis, & Lum, 2010). An ironic fact is that some American technology companies such as Cisco, at the same time, have been busy selling censorship technologies and products to the Chinese authorities (Burkart, 2014; Nobori & Shinjo, 2014).

[17] Such as at the end of Bill Xia’s essay about China’s internet censorship (2008), which implies with the metaphor of “cat and mouse” that “2008 is the year of the Rat in the Chinese lunar calendar, so things are looking pretty good for a little rodent that chews holes in walls; 2010 will be the year of the Tiger. There is no year of the Cat in the Chinese zodiac system” (p.119). On the “About” page of DynaWeb, it says things such as: “DynaWeb was launched in March 2002 and visitors have been increasing ever since then. Access log shows that more than 90% of visitors are from China directly or through proxy.” And UltraSurf describes itself like this: “Originally created to help internet users in China find security and freedom online, Ultrasurf has now become one of the world's most popular anti-censorship, pro-privacy software, with millions of people using it to bypass internet censorship and protect their online privacy.” Even some ordinary users themselves have realized the bias of Falun Gong’s website such as that “Many news/comments on that website are not objective, only Opposition for the Sake of Opposition” (see Biancheng Suixiang, 2010).

[18] It needs to be noted that, in the original sources, figures for 2005 and 2007 do not add up to 100%. I emailed the corresponding author Guo Liang for some clarifications and he replied that it was because of some “missing data” (since participants might refuse to answer relevant questions, which was quite common in surveys) (L. Guo, 2015). Particularly in 2007, the figure added up only to 87.9%, so the finding that 5.5% netizens “always” use proxy server may not as credible as that in previous surveys. The other issues is that, since the entire population of Chinese netizens has undergone significant increase over the last two decades (22.5 million, 79.5 million, 111 million and 210 million respectively in 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2007) (CNNIC, 1997-2015), the exact population of proxy server may have increased (2.25 million, 10.494 million, 9.99 million and 11.55 million respectively in the above years). We should note that this table does not suggest anything about the user population of the second generation circumvention tools (which issue will be discussed later).

[19] Scholars may apply VPNs to update their databases of recent international research in their fields, particularly since Google Scholar became unavailable within the GFW. VPNs are somewhat tolerated by the Chinese authorities, and this could be understood as part of the strategies of resilient control. VPNs are very cheap in China, and cost only about $40 per year in 2008 (J. Fallows, 2008). Other resources show that on, various circumvention tools have been sold, some of which are as cheap as ¥10 per month (less than $2 dollars) (Su, 2012). However, Taobao seems to have forbidden the selling of VPNs on its platform, since search keywords of “VPN”on its website elicit the response that, “According to the relevant laws, regulations and policies, the results of this search cannot be displayed.”

[20] It ended not due to censorship reasons but as planned. The Development Team did not plan to exist for long, and it ended when the tasks had been finished. “For the tek4 team, there is no continual plan to go on with this programme, neither is plan to data migration. Any development continued and migrated belongs to all others who are interested in it.” My translation. For the original text, see (GFWREV, 2010b).

[21] This book was written by the Chinese writer Shifu Wang (1260-1316). Part of it was first translated as “The Romance of the Western Chamber” by George T. Candlin in 1898; in other English translations it is variously entitled “The Romance of the Western Bower” or “The Story of the Western Wing.” Here I use the translation of “West-Chamber” which was originally used by the hackers of this project.

[22] Its website seems to change according to the surfer’s physical location. For example, I accessed it on 31 October 2014 in New Zealand, its websites shows with a domain suffix of “” (; while if accessed elsewhere, it might change accordingly to a new one.

[23] Screen names reveal something (such as interests, favours, aesthetics or identities) about the hackers. While there is no way to get in touch with these hackers to confirm, we can interpret them as: 1) “tek4” might have something to do with the tools of Ryobi Tek4; 2) the “KLZ” in KLZ Graduate is a common phrase used in the game World of Warcraft; 3) iGFW might refer to a Chinese hacking website (, and with “i” meaning “love” in Chinese, iGFW thus ironically means “love GFW;” 4) “nust-” could be understood as the acronym of Nanjing University of Science and Technology (a Chinese university); 5) “eviloctal” refers to a self-claimed grassroots website (; and 6) “Tor project” and “i2p” are two foreign circumvention tools.

[24] On its blog, suggestions are given to ordinary netizens who encounter problems with internet connection (e.g., internet being entirely cut off, slow surfing speeds which have been technologically manipulated by the censors) as follows: 1) Learn how to use the 56K phone modem and get connected even when the entire internet is cut off; 2) update one’s knowledge of dial-up network from various telnet forums; 3) learn how to connect with satellite internet and update one’s knowledge of this technology; 4) those who are physically located in Shenzhen could think about how to become connected with Hong Kong via technologies of microwave communication and/or atmospheric laser communication – using whatever means possible to set up international communications gateways – and so on (GFWREV, 2010a).

[25] Refer to the discussion of “goagent”, available at a Github repository issue page (2014).

[26] In 2009 after a riot in Xinjiang Autonomous Region (in Northwest China), the internet there was shut off for almost a year. Only some websites of official news portals and governments could be accessed during this period of time. And in March 2012, when social media carried rumours of an attempted coup in Beijing, the government temporarily shut down some of the internet’s micro-blogging services and detained six people (Epstein, 2013).

[27] This article, together with his/her blog, is not accessible at the time of writing; however it has been re-blogged by other hackers’ virtual communities such as the “GFW BLOG.” (see Laomao, n.d.)

[28] According to fqrouter’s website, being a “router” means that not only the Android mobile running fqrouter is able to access restricted websites, but also this mobile can “share” the free internet to other devices. There are a number of ways to share free internet to other devices via fqrouter: 1) WiFi in => fqrouter => WiFi out (i.e. WiFi repeater); 2) Pick & Play; 3) 3G in => fqrouter => WiFi out (Android built-in); 4) 3G/WiFi in => fqrouter => usb out (Android built-in); 5) 3G/WiFi in => fqrouter => Bluetooth out (Android built-in); 6) LAN in => fqrouter => WiFi out (some set-top box). Be noted that WiFi repeater is a unique feature, but it requires hardware/driver support; Pick & Play scan the devices in your LAN, and forge the default gateway to redirect their traffic via fqrouter. Another article about this tool is available at Biancheng Suixiang (2014).

[29] Again, as argued in the previous section, this may be because of scattered and individualized resistance is much more tolerable for the authorities.



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