“I think they are trying to test the tolerance of the people. At the same time they are trying to see if the netizens, Google, and the government can have a better move to a new kind of balance,” Mao said. “I think (Gmail use) is much better than one or two weeks ago, because that was the moment of the Congress (meeting).”
Bloggers like Mao work in one of the most restrictive internet environments in the world, where words now block for search include: Empty Chair (signifying the Chinese dissident Liu Xiao Bo), sex, protest, Jasmine, Chinese human rights figure Teng Biao as well as American political figures such as Hillary Clinton.
Internet users in China, however, employ euphemisms to get around blocked material. “We can do a lot of things with that kind of tough environment, because people find many creative ways to do it. If they cannot talk about ‘Jasmine’ they can talk about the tea of jasmine in some ways,” Mao said. “It is that kind of creativity, people find their niches to try and bypass the censorship system.”
One popular technique is for individuals and businesses to use virtual private networks, or VPNs, to circumvent Chinese censors. However, VPN users are now reporting troubles in China, too — earning the ire of not just individual Chinese online users, but companies and western expatriates living in China as well. “I think it is a kind of test from the authorities, to try to see if this type of new censorship strategy could cause economic consequences,” Mao said.