Page last updated at 16:38 GMT, Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Chinese views on an unblocked BBC

By Samanthi Dissanayake
BBC News

Chinese web users at a cyber cafe  - Feb. 16, 2006
People in China can now access the news pages of the BBC website
From the western plateau of Qinghai province to the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, people in China have been accessing the BBC News website for the first time.

Many are surprised and intrigued by the fact the English language version of the site now appears to be unblocked.

A number of those who sent in messages were aspiring to improve their English and said they were delighted.

But others said they thought the BBC displayed an anti-Chinese bias and a lack of cultural understanding.

"You BBC should know better about China," John Zheng from Shandong province wrote in.

"The reporters in China should learn more about Chinese social life, furthermore about Chinese culture. It is not complete just to explain things in your pre-formed point of view. Chinese society works better in our own way," he continued.

Close scrutiny

Unlike many other international sites, the BBC News website has essentially been blocked in China since its inception in the late 1990s.

The Chinese language site remains inaccessible to users who do not have access to proxy servers outside China.

Since the site has become more accessible, many people have been able to read BBC coverage of the recent protests in Tibet for the first time, and the comments coming in display a close reading of the coverage.

Headlines of old news stories have been subjected to comprehensive examination.

"Why have you talked about '80 killed' in Tibetan unrest?'" one emailer questions angrily. [The Chinese media have only published their own estimated casualty figures, which are much lower than those given by the Tibetan government-in-exile in India. The BBC has published both.]

Many of the web users appear disconcerted by the interest of the Western media in China.

"After I read some reports about China, I feel a little bit uncomfortable. Maybe as a Chinese I will feel ill when I read something bad about our country, even those things [which] are not written aiming to criticise. But it also surprises me that China has caught such attention from the world," said Emma from Guangzhou.

I can know more about the world and not only what the Chinese government says
Shan Zhi Bo, Jilin
Comments critical of the BBC are very much in line with recent criticism of the BBC and other Western media outlets in the Chinese press.

People have been quick to express anger that the Western world might believe that the Chinese public is "brainwashed" by the Chinese government.

"We have much more free access to news and views of fellow Chinese than you think. Bulletin boards are intensively used here to freely discuss our experiences," says Maggie from Chengdu in Sichuan province.

However, a number of comments offer a different narrative to the patriotic messages coming in.

Some journalists and internet watchers have written in describing their own efforts to spread information and news in China.

While others express understanding for the website block, there is almost universal endorsement for free access to the site now - if only to have the opportunity to scrutinise BBC output more closely.

"I think the decision to unblock the site by our government a wise idea to get a clear picture of what you always claim 'fair'," says Patrick Liu from Wuhan.

Risks of access

For some, access is not without its risks.

"I'm a Han Chinese... I can open BBC website without a proxy server in Changsha, China. But I think you had better use a proxy server to read BBC, especially when you leave comments here. If you think it's alright, tomorrow the security service will knock on your door. I'm not kidding," is one user's view.

The BBC News website up and running in China. Picture: Jonathan Crellin.
A user sent this picture of the news website up and running in China
A number of people have expressed concern about censorship on the part of the Chinese authorities.

"This is my first time on the BBC News website. I'm very glad because I can know more about the world and not only what the Chinese government says," Shan Zhi Bo tells the BBC from Jilin province.

Indeed those who leave comments expressing concern about China's censorship policy are reluctant to leave contact details or to talk much further.

One web user in Tibet, who wishes to remain anonymous, told the BBC that he believes that the news website is generally accessible, but says that when he "clicked into some deeper parts of [the BBC] website, it returned the 'title' of the page but not the page at all; it was simply blank."

The reporters in China should learn more about Chinese social life
John Zheng, Shandong province
But what comes as a surprise to him is that he can access the PDA version of the website and read most of the news there, including the most recent articles on Tibet.

The question many users are asking is for how long free access will remain?

Monica Liu expresses the wish that is frequently repeated: "Will websites be blocked again after the Olympics? I hope our government will be wiser," she says.

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