Beijing, 12 January 2013

We arrived back in Beijing a few hours ago and found ourselves landing in a real pea soup – perhaps carrot soup would be more appropriate since the colour was a dull red; dust from the Gobi desert had blown in. Visibility was really very bad; my wife and I thanked God and radar for having got the plane down safely. As I write, the sun, which was glaring weakly through the fog when we arrived, has disappeared completely to leave behind a grey miasma.


Electronic visibility seems just as bad. Our internet connection is still acting up; it’s very difficult to get through the Great Firewall that surrounds China.


It started getting bad a month or so before the 18th Congress of the Communist Party. Everyone in the expat community agreed that the Powers that Be were tightening their grip on the electronic chatter to make sure that nothing embarrassing or destabilizing got out (the Bo Xilai case was uppermost in everyone’s minds). Everyone also agreed that surely they would relax their grip after the Party Congress and things would go back to where they were (I won’t say normal). But that didn’t happen. So now the expats are saying that internet will be controlled until March when the new leadership takes over, and then surely after that they will relax their grip.

I’m not so sure. Control is a drug; once you get a taste for it, you can’t give up, you want more. I’m afraid that my little tunnels through the Great Firewall will all be blocked up and that my voice will no longer get through to the outside world. These last few weeks in New York have given me a heady taste of what freedom of speech can be like. I published my posts and researched my materials on the internet with ease and speed, without the constant worry that I would lose the connection and everything would crash.

I don’t want to lose my voice. Paraphrasing Langston Hughes, the African American poet, “now do I wonder at this thing, that I am old but I can sing”.  I want to keep singing, to keep sending out my little messages in their bottles.

message in a bottle

air pollution Beijing: (Reuters / Jason Lee)
cartoon great firewall:
message in a bottle: