Confessions of a Dissident

Adam L. Penenberg
Wired, 11/2005

Interview with Chinese blogger Wozy Yin

I first heard the word blog in 2003, when a Chinese woman using the pseudonym Muzi Mei created an uproar by blogging about her sexual experiences. At the time, few Chinese wrote or read blogs, and fewer recognized their potential. But my interest was awakened. As a Chinese citizen, I realized that blogging could unleash the power of individuals to combat our repressive regime. Predictably, the authorities arrived at the same conclusion, and they have been doing their best to censor us. The government holds more than 40 print journalists in prison, and it’s only a matter of time before the first blogger joins them. Perhaps it will be me.

I’ve been blogging since January, criticizing despotism, corruption, ultranationalism, and the state-run media that disseminates propaganda packaged as news. I have posted more than 150 blog entries, many of them long essays, all of them written in Chinese. China will never be free unless people like me are willing to risk their own freedom.

I experienced problems almost immediately after posting my first entry on Tianyablog, a blog service hosted by a Chinese Web bulletin board called Tianyaclub. That week Zhao Ziyang, who had supported the 1989 demonstrations for democracy, died under house arrest. To express my grief I copied the official Xinhua Agency news piece announcing his death???nothing more. Yet even republishing the bland government???approved report could be construed as an expression of approval for Zhao, a dangerous view. The entry disappeared without a trace.

The authorities have numerous ways to squelch digital dissent. ISPs maintain lists of forbidden words, including the date of the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre (June 4), freedom of speech, Falungong, former leader Jiang Zemin, and Jiang Yanyong, the doctor who first revealed the SARS crisis in 2003. They use filtering software to block posts containing these words or to replace them with asterisks. Posts that circumvent the filters are deleted, either by ISP employees or by the government’s own Net police. Earlier this year, the authorities announced that all domestic Web sites operating without explicit government approval???including some 600,000 blogs???must register or face being blocked and shut down. More than 75 percent have complied so far. Many of those who resist have their pages hosted abroad on TypePad or Blogger. Still, the authorities often block their domain names and IP addresses, so people outside China can read their work but people inside can’t.

For every advance in censorship, bloggers find a way around it. We replace banned words with Chinese characters that sound the same when spoken but have a different meaning when written, or we transliterate them into Roman characters. Recently I came up with another technique: After the authorities blocked one of my entries, I reposted it with the characters aligned vertically instead of horizontally. The filter couldn’t recognize the words, but anyone reading them could.

Mainly we just keep moving our blogs. We take advantage of proxy servers, and as soon as the government shuts one down, we move to another. And we use the international Adopt a Blog program: Bloggers with spare server capacity tag an entry “adoptablog” or “adoptachineseblog” so Chinese people looking for a foreign host can find one through Technorati or

My own cat-and-mouse game with the government is never-ending. Soon after my initial tribute to Zhao Ziyang disappeared, I moved to TypePad. At the end of June, however, the authorities blocked all TypePad blogs, regardless of content. Even after they relaxed the ban, they continued to block my page. So I switched to WordPress, an open source blogging platform. That gave me total control over my archive of posts, making it easier to move from server to server. I went to, but got shut down there. Then I tried the virtual hosting service, but got swatted again. Then Budget CMS???same thing. Finally I realized that my domain name itself,, was blocked. Recently I registered a new domain. That’s working so far, but I don’t know how long it will last.

Not long ago, I posted a comment to, a well-known group blog that promotes Chinese blog culture: “Even if my blog is censored 100 times, I will write it for the 101st.” I will never give up.

Copyright 2005 Adam L. Penenberg (