'Wall Protests' for Obama’s Eyes

Chinese netizens take aim at their government's online controls.
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People use computers at an Internet cafe in Beijing, June 3, 2009.
People use computers at an Internet cafe in Beijing, June 3, 2009.

HONG KONG—Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Chinese netizens have lodged protests on a commemorative site against Internet controls in their country, with some calling for the attention of U.S. President Barack Obama, who travels to Beijing next week.

“Mr. Obama, help us KO the bloody GFW. Yes, you can! Thank you very much,” wrote a user called “Trigant” on the microblogging service Twitter.

The “GFW” denotes what Internet users call “the great firewall of China”—an elaborate system of virtual blockades aimed at preventing users from accessing content the authorities want to keep off-limits.

The tweet appeared as Chinese users flocked to post comments on www.berlintwitterwall.com, a commemorative site set up by a Berlin-based company to solicit online comment for Monday’s anniversary.

“Mr. President, Welcome to Eastern Berlin!” tweeted another user, “orangeking.”

Site available, and then not

Many of the messages posted on the Berlin Wall site also bore the keyword “obamacn,” used by Twitter users to comment on Obama’s Nov. 15-18 state visit to China, during which he will hold talks with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.

The site’s organizers said last week that the site was unavailable in China using normal Web browsing methods.

Another Twitter user, evilboyeb, commented: “It’s not a straightforward thing, to look to the U.S. President to help us in our struggle for democracy.”

“What’s more, if we place so many expectations on a foreign president, then it just goes to show what a pitiful state we are in: we can see the huge amount of pressure we live under and also the sincerity of people’s desire for democracy,” the Tweet continued.

On Monday, a high proportion of posts to the Berlin Twitter Wall site were still visible in Chinese.

Twitterer “mcchina” wrote: “20 years ago, the Berlin Wall came down. When will the wall that oppresses the Chinese people fall?”

Great Firewall

Many comments linked the fall of the Berlin Wall to the wall of government blocks, filters, and surveillance software used to limit what Chinese Internet users can see online.

“There is still a wall in China—GFW,” wrote user “gongchengshiw,” in a commonly used reference to China’s Great Firewall. “I hate it!!! We are not ... free.”

Another user, “lianyue,” made a dry reference to China’s insistence that its diplomatic partners subscribe to Beijing’s view of what constitutes Chinese territory—including Tibet, Xinjiang, and Taiwan:

“I affirm that there is only one China, and that the Berlin Wall is an integral and indivisible part of its territory.”

“When Obama comes to China he will see a banner saying ‘Welcome to East Germany!’”

The Obama administration, which recently imposed trade tariffs on imports of Chinese goods, has been seen as taking a softer line on Beijing’s human rights record ahead of the presidential trip.

Obama didn’t meet the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, on his recent visit, as his predecessor did.

Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.





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