@StonyWang: Forced to Drink Jasmine Tea

Stony Wang is a blogger based in Shanghai. The following is a collection of his tweets from February 25, detailing his experience “drinking tea” after the calls for a Jasmine Revolution circulated in Chinese cyberspace.

Magic City | Celestial Empire. [Shanghai, China] Following me on Twitter is no big deal, because I only pay attention to what I want to, and just post what I want without thinking about how it’ll be received. Developer at Chubao| Political Incorrectness Party| excel at irreverence | use a second hand Android QVGA phone

http://www.google.com/profiles/stonyw

Listen, I want to talk about my tea-drinking experience in the wake of 2/20.

I felt from the start that 2/20 itself was a joke, but that the officials wouldn’t find it funny, so my goal when I left home that day was very clear; watch the proceedings from the sidelines, without having anything to do with Jasmine.

Because they couldn’t catch any of the secret masterminds, the situation after 2/20 is still brewing. This week, a lot of people were taken for tea, including myself. If anyone thinks that I’m preparing to stage a performance, here are a couple of pictures.

I think that the people who are “missing”, of whose circumstances nothing is known and who cannot be contacted, have probably been made scapegoats in this in order to appease the higher-ups. After all, with such broad involvement and so many participants, they definitely had to produce results.

Let me come back to the details of my own tea-drinking. Because my company is based in Xuhui District, a pair of uniformed policemen found it immediately and, demanding the staff roster, looked through it to find my name; of course, the English one. My boss was a bit nervous, afraid of what might happen. As for me and my tweeting, the police were bound to want to take me for tea sooner or later. It’s not that my political opinions are very unorthodox, but the point of investigating content is to get you to shut up, so you’re always going to strike a nerve one day.

At first there were two relatively serious men with very rigid attitudes, who first asked me to confirm my Twitter ID, and then asked what trouble hotspots I’d been involved in lately, constantly twisting my words. I said that since they were unwilling to tell me what sensitive phrase they’d come across, I wasn’t going to say either. There are a lot of these hotspots, and I’d been on Twitter for years, and posted tens of thousands of tweets: which of these was the issue now? Actually, I was laughing to myself that these three characters [茉莉花—Jasmine] had them so scared that they didn’t dare say them in front of me.

And then, twisting, twisting, twisting, winding me up tighter and tighter and tighter, until we reached stalemate … :S I followed what they were saying exactly: the country needs management, and the Internet also needs management in accordance with the law, so I personally had to be willing to accept a certain degree of scrutiny. Now that you’ve come and found me, I said, I’m certain that something I said must have been untrue; if you’ll just point to it specifically, I’ll take another look, and if I’ve made a mistake, I’ll admit it, apologise, and delete it, and that’ll be that, right?

But throughout this winding, they just wouldn’t say which was the offending phrase. In fact, their aim in coming here was quite clear: it was to intimidate me into keeping my mouth shut. From my point of view, though, this was a good opportunity for me to observe the police in the aftermath of 2/20.

As for the tricks through which they tried to talk me around, we’ve all grown familiar with them: the foreign website (in this case, Twitter) is a tool of the US government, and I should be careful not to be exploited. Even if I had no ill intentions myself, I was being exploited to further those of the enemy, and in the end the blame would fall on me; it wasn’t worth it. In a country this big, if everyone stressed their own freedom, that couldn’t help but affect the freedom of others, so we still needed managing, or else there’d be chaos.

As for management of the web, it was entirely legitimate, they said, including the blocking of websites like FLG. They could have me in court within a day, if I’d done something to deserve it; they wouldn’t need any further excuse.

This talk deadlocked us for a while, until my boss came in to break it. He gave them a business card, and said a few words.

One of the other two told me that everyone has their own point of view, and he wouldn’t try to talk me around to his. At the same time, though, he wanted to help me see where the line was drawn. On the Internet, you can look, you can listen, you can selectively reproduce things, but you can’t post on controlled websites and be exploited.

I understood the point he was making, and felt that things here in Shanghai were relatively relaxed: at least I was allowed to look. :S

After this, my attitude, which had remained consistently the same since the first day I’d tweeted, became slightly more cooperative; I wanted them to realise that I’m a positive and motivated young man who loves his country, his people, his life. Perhaps in their eyes my ideology was a little extreme (as if shifting my allegiance towards the Party isn’t extreme!), but overall there’d been a major shift in my attitude, and we started to talk about lighter matters.

For example, they suggested that I post on the home-grown Sina Weibo instead, or play games. He could even try to help me find a girlfriend, a female police officer who are in their public security system. I laughed inwardly: in the end, this was just an attempt to install someone in a position where they could reshape my thinking. They were still trying to coax me into their control.

Afterwards, the atmosphere was more relaxed, and I was soon able to work out what was going on. The ones who’d come to pick me up this time weren’t from the Domestic Security Department, but from the Public Security Bureau; the ones in charge of net security, to be precise. Because this assignment had come down from above, there was no guarantee that the DSD would be able to come and get me over the same business.

I don’t want to give too much away regarding the identities of these two policemen. Some technical details are discussed below.

How did they find me? They said they’d tracked me through my company’s IP address, but there’s a problem with that: all the 2/20-related tweets I’d sent, without exception, had been from home, not from work. At work, obviously, I used firewall circumvention techniques to tweet, but I hadn’t used one of the more popular pieces of circumvention software, so there was no chance that I’d been caught in a honeypot).

All I can say is that finding me online would be relatively easy: by comparing certain overlapping pieces of information, you could quickly get a fix on the company, and even a particular person, and then go asking after a guy with an English name. If that’s what they’d done, although it does makes sense, the net monitors shouldn’t have enough time on their hands to go about this kind of comparison.

What gave the company trouble afterwards is that, on the basis of this incident, they were ordered to give everyone in the company a fixed IP address, and install inspection and control equipment at the gateway to our network.

When they were taking notes, they asked how I’d been circumventing the firewall, and I said I’d used a VPN. One of them asked, wasn’t I afraid that they’d set up a honeypot? I said no, I wasn’t: I wasn’t doing anything bad, so if they provided a convenient way to get over the wall, I’d use it.

@GoogolMo Happy Birthday!

To summarise the above: at least in Shanghai, you can use Twitter, circumvent the Great Firewall, post everyday complaints, read other peoples’ news, and selectively repost it; but you may not express political opinions, and should avoid grumbling at sensitive times. Sometimes, cultivate other interests: chase girls, go on Sina Weibo, immerse yourself in games. That’s what they were hoping I’d do.

Since last week, a lot of noobs have appeared [literally “egg heads”, because of the default avatar on Twitter, an egg icon], obviously as part of a reinforcement of monitoring on Twitter, through which they were able to track me down on Tuesday afternoon. Digging through my new followers on Monday, I’d already found at least one possible monitor account. But my tweets are public, and one of my explanatory posts had been widely retweeted, so it was hard to avoid being spotted.

That’s all the interesting stuff. Whether you can use any of it to protect yourselves, you can judge for yourself. I’ve waited till today to tell it out of consideration for the face of those two police officers. They know that what they were doing shouldn’t be made public, so I kept quiet for 48 hours. As we got along well while we were talking, I’ve published the highlights of our chat, but protected their specific identities to they won’t suffer criticism if their supervisors see this.

The remaining tweets are aimed at the 50 Centers and net security police. To get on Twitter, you have to circumvent the GFW, which isn’t easy. Monitoring it requires considerable manpower, and the work is very laborious. We both know perfectly well whether or not Twitter is controlled by the US government, and I’ve been exploited. So your thinking is just very old-fashioned, and gives me a real intellectual superiority complex. Sorry about that.

Ultimately, how was I exploited? As I said to a 50 Center on Monday, now you think I’ve been exploited, you come along to exploit me as well. I don’t mind being exploited by both sides; it upgrades me from an everyday joe to a double agent. It’s more Hollywood than Hollywood! I’m keen to be “exploited”.

I knew that this content I’d posted would be seen by the net supervisors, and that there’d probably be some who’d want to find me to drink tea. To tell the truth, I didn’t really mind chatting to you, having a good heart-to-heart even to the point of making friends, so next time there’s no need to be mean: you call it “tea drinking”, but you didn’t offer me any. PS: I really hate plain-clothes police. If DSD dressed in plain clothes come and find me, I can’t stay polite, and treat them like any other thugs.

Generally, whether you’re a 50 Center newbie, DSD or net security, your whole thinking and bag of tricks is dated, a generation behind. Most people on Twitter are relatively thoughtful, so your unwavering dogmatism can’t achieve the desired result, and when you talk to me in a deceitful and uncivilised way, I can’t be bothered to retort.

In this respect, you really need to look at your supposed enemy — the US government has learned well how to use the internet to propagate its value system, and it’s not by means of the irrelevant sophistry of Foreign Ministry spokespeople who talk and talk without saying anything, with the media falling over themselves to praise the embarrassing show the next day.

On the whole, I welcome you all to contact me about this, unless it’s to tell me to shut up.

See also “Drinking Tea and Discussing the Jasmine Revolution: A Twitter Report” translated by CDT.