New York Times online readers in China will have to go without the Gray Lady for the foreseeable future, after the paper ran a huge investigative piece about the vast fortune accumulated in secret by the family of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. It’s an exhaustively researched exposé that delves into the shady financial practices of the country’s ruler at the most sensitive time possible, just before the Communist Party Congress on November 8. So naturally the first thing the Chinese government did Friday morning was to block access to both the Chinese and English versions of the Times in China. That’s a fairly common strategy for the Chinese government, which the Times points out “maintains the world’s most extensive and sophisticated system for Internet censorship.” But even by Chinese standards, the kibosh lowered on the Times was quick. And you can expect it to last.
The Times’ newly launched Chinese edition “had been blocked abruptly between 5 and 5:30 a.m. Beijing time, which is 12 hours ahead of New York,” Keith Bradsher reported in the Times, even though the paper didn’t finish posting its Chinese translation of the article until 8 a.m. But the English-language story hit the web at 4:34 p.m. in New York, which is twelve hours behind Beijing. That means it was available for about 25 minutes before it too started getting blocked at 5 a.m., with the outage complete by 7 a.m.
The Times, of course, is calling on the Chines government to lift the ban on its sites, but that doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon. As Bradsher points out, Bloomberg has been blocked in mainland China since it ran an article in June tracing the wealth of Vice-President Xi Jinping, who’s expected to take over the Chinese leadership at next month’s congress. And Facebook, Google, and Twitter are still unavailable there. The Bloomberg blockage didn’t come as swiftly or thoroughly as the one against the Times, though, as The Guardian pointed out at the time, noting that the article was still available on Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek site for a while.
The Times coverage is still available in Hong Kong, which is a special administrative region of China, but for most living in mainland China, this is the last they’ll see of the Times for the foreseeable future.