Penetrating the Great Firewall

As a follow-up to James Fallows’ article “The Connection Has Been Reset,” about how well the so-called Great Firewall actually works, The Atlantic interviews Fallows about the reporting of the story:

Your story is replete with specific and technical details about how the Chinese Internet works. How did you gather this information? And how did you persuade people to talk to you about it?

As a byproduct of my interest in the tech world over the years, I’ve met a lot of people who work in a lot of major international software, hardware, and Internet companies. Through the ones I’ve known in America I’ve met their counterparts in China, and I’ve actually visited quite a number of these companies all over China—hardware manufacturers in the south, software developers in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Beijing, and elsewhere, and Internet companies in several cities.

I made these visits before I knew I would be writing about the “Great Firewall.” Their activities were simply interesting to me, as proxies for the way China was developing generally. But when I realized that I wanted to know more about the Great Firewall situation, I went back to several of these people and said, “Okay, can you walk me through this and tell me how it works?” As a condition of our discussion, I told each and every one that I would not use his or her name. The value that named sources would add to the story is considerably less than the risk to real people of being identified in this way.

February 27, 2008 11:15 AM
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