Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Rolling Up the Welcome Mat

I know I've only lived in China for about 20 months, so I'm definitely no expert, but based on the things I've experienced and the things I've heard from those who have been here longer, I'd say the official position of the Chinese government to foreign nationals coming to work here is in a cooling period.

Why do I say that? Things like the decline in the percentage of citizens displaying English proficiency, the de-emphasis of English on China's standardized college-entrance exam, the increased requirements for obtaining work visas, the increased rhetoric against foreign capital flight, and--above all else--the heightened enforcement of Internet restrictions.

My understanding is that, in the past, The Great Firewall of China was quite porous, and no one really had a problem with that. Most everyone knew you needed a VPN and most things worked with VPNs. It was quite easy for foreign nationals to set one up and quite difficult for citizens, so a two-tiered system was in place, where foreigners could do what they wanted online and nationals couldn't, and that was pretty much okay.

This year, though, doing anything online has been much more difficult. VPNs completely fail, or else they say they are working but you get directed to Chinese-language home pages of the websites you're trying to visit. Partly at the request of China, commercial services have begun restricting access via VPNs, so when China fails to stop me from watching Netflix, Netflix finishes the job for them.

Knowing that virtually nothing can be done from within China without a VPN, my school (a state-owned school) has provided a VPN service for us to use while at work. For the past six weeks, it's the only way I can reliably e-mail anyone. But even this service has "problems" loading Google products. And my school doesn't open until 6:30 AM. My job interview calls are all around 3 or 4 AM.

When our Chinese monitors read me write "this is making me not want to live here anymore," I think they see that as a feature, not a bug. Go home, you Yankee imperialist dog. From the previous position of seeking enhanced worldwide integration, the current leadership is seeking to increase China's distance from the rest of the world. Public-service-announcement posters warn against dating foreigners. A new Chinese law coming soon has the potential to completely sever China's connection to the World Wide Web and make the country a giant Intranet.

"Cut the crap, A Random Stranger; how does this impact ME?" Well, perhaps you've noticed a slowdown in my blogging. Four posts in 19 days of April projects out to my first single-digit month since January 2015 (the last time there was a large-scale VPN crackdown) and my fewest since July 2014 (which month I spent mostly driving on two long-distance road trips). Waiting for a page to load while watching a little read-out jump around between zero and a few hundred KILObytes per second gets old very, very quickly. And, in a round-about way, the long-term prospects of the blog dim when the chances that I starve and die increase, and if I can't interview for my next job, I can't very well get my next job. So this ARS slowdown promises to continue until I give up on China and leave. Which is exactly what China wants.

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