Category Archives: China

The Great Firewall of China – A Daily Surfing Comparison

I’m quite passionate about freedom of speech and information, especially when it comes to the internet. If you follow internet censorship issues you would have heard of the Great Firewall of China, which is essentially a government controlled list of sites that are deemed to be unsuitable for the common Chinese citizen.

You probably think that’s not such a bad thing to do, as the government would block sites such as those that contain child porn, support for terrorism and other “bad” sites, right? Well let me take you through a typical surfing experience that most of you will probably be familiar with and see what you think after that.

  1. I log on to my Yahoo email to clear the pile of overnight emails.
  2. I open an email from my dad who has sent me a link to a video on Youtube and watch that.
  3. Since I’m on Youtube I check out my subscribed channels and watch a few more videos.
  4. I open a news summary email from news.com.au that I use to keep in touch with what is happening in Australia.
  5. I click on a few interesting articles and share one on Facebook with my friends.
  6. I see an email from my blog notifying me of a comment, so I go to my blog to log on to the administration dashboard and approve the comment.
  7. I decide to check a friend’s blog on Blogspot before opening Google Reader to check my news feed.
  8. Looking at Endgaget’s news feed I see an interesting article with a video from Vimeo.
  9. Another article mentions a company’s Twitter feed containing their latest announcements, so I click on the Twitter link to check out what is happening.
  10. A friend on Skype asks me if I have seen the replies to my status update on Facebook yet, so I log into Facebook to check out the feedback.
  11. After that I decide to see what is happening with my blog, so I log onto Google’s Webmaster’s Tool, Adsense and Analytics.
  12. I want to watch a movie, so I see what’s on from Yahoo’s movie page and check out the respective ratings on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com).
  13. Before I head out for the movie I check out the news.com.au site again and notice an article about Wikileaks spokesperson Julian Asange.
  14. I decide to see what’s happening on the Wikileaks site, as it’s been quite quiet lately.

Here is what I can do in China with no problems:

  1. I log on to my Yahoo email to clear the pile of overnight emails.
  2. I open a a news summary email from news.com.au that I use to keep in touch with what is happening in Australia.
  3. I click on a few interesting articles.
  4. A friend on Skype asks me if I have seen the replies to my status update on Facebook yet.
  5. I want to watch a movie, so I see what’s on from Yahoo’s movie page.
  6. Before I head out for the movie I check out the news.com.au site again and notice an article about Wikileaks spokesperson Julian Asange.

Now I’ll explain what happens with each step:

  1. I log on to my Yahoo email to clear the pile of overnight emails.
  2. I open an email from my dad who has sent me a link to a video on Youtube and watch that. Youtube is blocked.
  3. Since I’m on Youtube I check out my subscribed channels and watch a few more videos. Youtube is blocked.
  4. I open a news summary email from news.com.au that I use to keep in touch with what is happening in Australia. 
  5. I click on a few interesting articles and share one on Facebook with my friends. Facebook is blocked.
  6. I see an email from my blog notifying me of a comment, so I go to my blog to log on to the administration dashboard and approve the comment. My blog uses Google’s +1 and Facebook’s Like functions, which are blocked, thus making my blog take a very long time to load when it tries to access these sites.
  7. I decide to check a friend’s blog on Blogspot before opening Google Reader to check my news feed. Blogspot is blocked and Yahoo’s news images are blocked (part of my Google Reader feed).
  8. Looking at Endgaget’s news feed I see an interesting article with a video from Vimeo. Vimeo is blocked.
  9. Another article mentions a company’s Twitter feed which contains their latest announcements, so I click on the Twitter link to check out what is happening. Twitter is blocked.
  10. A friend on Skype asks me if I have seen the replies to my status update on Facebook yet, so I log into Facebook to check out all the feedback. Facebook is blocked.
  11. After that I decide to see what is happening with my blog, so I log onto Google’s Webmaster’s Tool, Adsense and Analytics. Google’s sites are either blocked or have intermittent availability making for a frustrating user experience.
  12. I want to watch a movie, so I see what’s on from Yahoo’s movie page and check out the respective ratings on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com). IMDB is blocked.
  13. Before I head out for the movie I check out the news.com.au site again and notice an article on Wikileaks spokesperson Julian Asange.
  14. I decide to see what’s happening on the Wikileaks site, as it’s been quite quiet lately. Wikileaks is blocked.

This makes for a pretty sad web surfing experience for a non-Chinese-resident in China. Any website that you use that has social media integration normally takes forever to load as those components are blocked (they timeout). However, if you are living in China then there are Chinese equivalents for almost all the blocked sites, which of course are “government approved.”

A government should have no say in what information its citizens can and can not view. A government should educate its citizens to make socially responsible decisions through the standard education system and guidance programs, such as ratings systems for movies. Ultimately the decision of whether to view the material should be the citizen’s own choice, who is aware of their own responsibilities and the consequences of their own actions.

A government that decides what information a citizen can and can not view thinks their citizens are beneath their leaders and not capable of rational thought. The other option could be that the government is scared of its own citizens being empowered by information. Perhaps it’s a combination of both!

Censorship is just wrong and is always abused, thus education is the path to a more progressive society.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_websites_blocked_in_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China



Buying Property in Guangzhou, China

I’m in Guangzhou, China for a week with my wife to check out the local property market. My wife is from Guangdong province and the majority of her family live in Guangzhou, so it makes sense for us to buy a property here as a long term investment.

Every country’s property market and associated rules are different from one another, whether it be for purchasing or renting. China is no exception, with different rules across the country, especially in the larger cities with high demand and associated high prices.

The restrictions now in place in Guangzhou, as best I can determine are as follows:

  • Foreigners must have the appropriate working visa together with evidence of tax payments over at least one year.
  • Chinese families (singles over 18 are a family) with Guangzhou as their hukou (household registration area) or families living in Guangzhou with proof of one year’s tax payments can purchase one more property.
  • Chinese families who do not fit into the previous category can not purchase any more property.
  • When purchasing a second property the deposit can not be less than 50% and the interest rate not lower than 1.1 times the basic rate.
  • When purchasing a third property no mortgage is available.
  • If using a government housing loan to buy a property of less than 90 sqm then the deposit must be at least 20%. If the property is more than 90 sqm then the deposit must be at least 30%.

In Guangzhou these recent rule changes have had a big impact on transaction volumes. The best example to reflect this was from a lady at the local government agency that performs the registration of property transactions and ownership. She said that buyers, sellers and their agents used to start queueing up at 2 am to ensure that they were able to process the paperwork that day! However, in order to sell my wife’s property, we were able to process the paperwork without much trouble. I would go so far as to say that for a government centre the queues were short and the crowd quite small.

Backing up this story is a bank’s property report showing the transaction volume from February 28 – March 6, 2011 was down 34% compared to the 2010 weekly average.

People with more than two properties are very reluctant to sell a property now, as they will not be able to purchase another. It will be interesting to see if this will cause the availability of properties to dry up, or if the demand was purely speculative with a small percentage of the population trading property like a commodity. At the moment it’s far too early to tell, but another 4-6 months should show the full impact of the new restrictions. Some people say the demand is there because there is simply no where else to invest apart from the “riskier” stock market.

Property Buses and People

People gather to board the many buses provided by the property companies

We looked at a few properties over the last few days, from second hand units over 15 years old to brand new units still under construction. Some complexes were right in the centre of Guangzhou, while others were in the outer city areas and one in a different city towards Macau. The property companies provide free buses to entice people to visit their developments that might be a bit further out of the city, away from a train line, or in another city completely.

Living Area

Living Area

Typical Kitchen

A Typical Kitchen, although this one has a lot of light compared to many and an oven!

Something that was glaringly obvious to me, but the locals seem ambivalent about, is the general poor quality of building maintenance. It seems that once a property is more than 5 years old that the appearance will deteriorate rapidly. The locals seem to just accept that this is quite normal and from what I can understand they don’t want to spend the money on fixing things either. The maintenance costs averaged about ¥2.80 psm, but one older property was ¥8.60 psm, yet I couldn’t see where the money was going!

Apartment Shell

Apartment shell that the owner has left in origninal condition for many years

 

Bathroom with Water Heater

A Bathroom with Water Heater Exposed is Very Common

Quite a few (>50%) of the 2nd hand properties we saw were hardly in what I would call sellable condition. Some examples are: wallpaper hanging off the walls, bathrooms with bad mould problems, kitchen cabinets with missing doors, dirt and dust all over the place, badly marked walls, etc. Again, this seemed quite normal to the real estate agents. I didn’t take photos of these defects, as I thought I might offend the owners.

An interesting point, only pertaining to new properties, is that you have to get a loan and start paying the full mortgage repayments within a month or two of purchase, irrespective of the construction phase or final completion date. For one property that we both liked that would mean 1.5 years of mortgage payments before we even got the keys! With property prices already quite high and the government placing more restrictions on property transactions there seems little chance of capital appreciation. Therefore, this method of purchase didn’t make sense to me, as the deposit would be tied up in a property that cannot be used as our family home nor generate any rental income.

Putting the nail in the coffin was the average gross rental yield of <3%. With such low rental rates it just doesn’t make sense to buy property in Guangzhou. We decided that if we needed to live in Guangzhou we would be able to rent a reasonable, centrally located, 3-bedroom apartment for around ¥5,000 – ¥6,000 per month.

After concluding that we would not be purchasing a property at this time we were wondering what to do with the money from the sale of my wife’s property. Returning from a day of property viewing we happened to walk past a branch of Singapore’s DBS bank and noticed an advertisement in the window for an AUD$ deposit rate of 6.90%. That’s a bit better than the rental yield in Guangzhou and with Aussie house prices falling it could be the deposit for a property down under!