Beating the China Flickr block

As of earlier this month, the Chinese authorities appear to have blocked access to Flickr. More specifically, Flickr images are blocked, but the rest of the site (all the text content) is still available. The reason for the ban seems to be that some photos of the Tiananmen Square massacre were posted on the site around the anniversary on 4 June.

China isn’t the only country that blocks access to Flickr. Other states such as Iran and the United Arab Emirates don’t allow their citizens access to the website. Fortunately, an Iranian, Hamed Saber, has written a Firefox add-on, Access Flickr, that will allow the site to be accessed from all these countries.

A while ago, I began using the Flickr API to display Flickr photos from within the photo gallery on my website. Unfortunately, that meant that users without the Firefox add-on could no longer view all the images on my website either. Interestingly, the Chinese block appears to work simply by blocking DNS lookups to the Flickr image server. If the server is accessed by its IP address, it works fine. Access Flickr ensures that the IP address is always used. For the sake of users without the add-on, I have now changed my gallery to perform the DNS look-up first, then reference images by the IP address. This should allow at least users in China to view my photos as they could until this month. If anyone has any issues with the gallery following this change, please let me know.

Some articles appear to suggest that it’s ironic that Flickr has been blocked in China in the same week that they added support for seven new languages, including Chinese. In fact, they have added support only for traditional Chinese, with the target markets being Taiwan and Hong Kong (where Flickr is still accessible). China, where simplified Chinese is used, was never the intended market. More significant is that the block occurred at around the same time that shareholders at Yahoo, Flickr’s parent company, rejected plans to oppose internet censorship in China. Some people predicted bad things would happen when Yahoo bought Flickr. If using a Yahoo service makes my photographs less accessible to any potential website visitors, I may have to have a rethink and keep my photos elsewhere.

6 responses to “Beating the China Flickr block”

  1. Mickey

    Partly agree with you because I work for an online magazine which has an office in Beijing. We deal with comments on website very carefully in case the website will be blocked in China.

    But I think Chinese government, like every government, they do something for some reasons. I was born and grow up in China, the time when people dared not to talk about politics and political leaders has been gone for long time. Of course China still need improve official transparency but China has made efforts and made progress on it.

    Some websites like wiki, flickr… which use only traditional Chinese, I believe it was affected partly by people from Hongkong and Taiwan, especially from Hongkong who brought their food, culture, custom and language to all over the world long before mainland China was opened to the world, which used to make western people believe those represent Chinese and China.

  2. Lynette

    Mickey said, ” […]especially from Hongkong who brought their food, culture, custom and language to all over the world long before mainland China was opened to the world, which used to make western people believe those represent Chinese and China.”

    At least traditional Chinese characters are the greatest Chinese cultural heritage. Simplified Chinese characters insult real Chinese culture.

  3. Ji

    Lynette says: @At least traditional Chinese characters are the greatest Chinese cultural heritage. Simplified Chinese characters insult real Chinese culture.@

    I am chinese from mainland. I think there are certainly values in simplified Chinese, as it is easier for people to write, and easier to remember. So it is not as terrible as you might think.

    Culture is a very complex thing, and I don’t think that the language itself wil insult the culture very much, as language is just a tool. The core valule is the ideas that make the whole society health, not the language tool itself.

    In Taiwan, they use traditional chinese, so what? They still have a crappy government who want to buy a lot of weapons from the USA.

    China is the future, check this out:
    http://jiblog.jiruan.net/?p=88

    πŸ™‚

  4. Lynette

    Ji,

    You should feel ashamed of the Chinese government that forces its people to use simplified Chinese. 可ζ₯εˆε―ζ‚²ηš„δΈ­εœ‹δΊΊ. 放棄θ‡ͺε·±η₯–εœ‹ζœ€ηθ²΄ηš„ζ–‡εŒ–ιΊη”’ι‚„ζ•’θͺͺ倧話.

  5. Michael Hendrickx

    Why was the access blocked, UAE (where I live currently) is because of pornographic images (apparantly). What’s the reason for China?

    Thank you,
    Michael

  6. Jonathan

    As mentioned in the article, Flickr was apparently blocked because images of the Tiananmen Square massacre had been posted in the run up to the anniversary. I haven’t yet heard if they’ve blocked it this year.

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