Chengdu Living Has Been Harmonized

Chengdu Living suddenly became inaccessible from within China on Thursday March 10th.  Hoping for the best, we held on for a day until we were able to confirm that indeed, after 14 months of being online, we are now officially blocked — otherwise known as being “Harmonized” (????) to use the local terminology.

Update: Chengdu Living is currently accessible from Chengdu without a proxy. It’s evidently blocked in other locations in China so the block might be intermittent or based on region. As always, we recommend using a VPN so won’t have to concern yourself with this at all. See below for our free VPN giveaway.

How Did This Happen?

The short answer is that we don’t know.

Although “the rules” of publishing a blog about life in China don’t exist, we knew from the beginning that being blocked was a possibility. Over the years we’ve developed a deep love and respect for Chengdu and we feel satisfied that Chengdu Living reflects that, but there’s another side to this. We didn’t want the content to be too far removed from the social and political realities of Chengdu. It’s a delicate balance to maintain and in this situation you will get no warnings: you go straight from business as usual to being blocked with no explanation.

Foreigners who’ve spent considerable time in China know how the pleasures and trials of living here are complex. As with anywhere else, there’s good and bad. We wrestle with the hardships and frustrations of China like everyone else, but our ideal has been to cultivate a platform which celebrates the positive aspects of life here. Those which excite us, which we talk about amongst ourselves, and we want to share with everyone.

In short, the block is a surprise to us and we aren’t clear for what reason we were blocked. However, our current best guess is that it has something to do with a story we published several weeks ago about the effect of China’s burgeoning middle class on recent political unrest in Egypt.

Chengdu Living harmonized

The Great Firewall

The Golden Shield Project (nicknamed The Great Firewall) is the censorship and surveillance project operated by the Ministry of Public Security in China. Since 1998, the Golden Shield Project has been protecting Chinese from:

  • Pornography
  • Anti-social opinions and activities
  • Ideas, organizations and opinions which are a threat to national security
  • Ideas, organizations and opinions which undermine the government’s policies on religion or are seen as subversive

access deniedBasically if your site contains reference to REDACTED REDACTED, REDACTED Movement in China, or REDACTED Square, then you run the risk of being harmonized. It’s estimated that there are tens of thousands of civil servants propping up “The Shield”, presumably by searching for sites including certain keywords. For this reason, many dissenting Chinese choose not to share or discuss their opinion on sensitive topics at all.

The political and ideological root of the Firewall carries an ironic and almost poetic twist, though. Deng Xiaoping, the real revolutionary hero of China and shining star of Sichuan legacy, said in the early 1980’s:

“If you open the window for fresh air, you have to expect some flies to blow in.”

The idea is that economic reform and market economy (fresh air) were essential to China’s growth, but would simultaneously introduce unsavory elements (flies) which had to be eliminated.

The Technical Details of Our Blockage

Immediately after suspecting we were being blocked we contacted some friends who helped us investigate the details of the block (thanks, you know who you are). It turns out that this was a DNS Poison attack which confuses the servers which translate into an IP address, sending you to the wrong destination. This results in a page not found error. The website is exactly where it should be, but you’re being intentionally directed to the wrong place. Because this type of attack is linked to our domain name, there isn’t much we can do but hope that it gets unblocked.

In the last day we’ve talked to some more people and have some leads on a solution. It might be possible to overcome the block, but there’s no way to be sure. When we have more information, we’ll share it.

Update: Chengdu Living has been unblocked, at least in some locations. We aren’t sure how long the site will remain accessible without a VPN.

We Recommend You Do Not Use Your Chinese ISP’s DNS Servers

Since China’s major internet service providers are all state-owned, pushing a DNS Poison attack through the thousands of DNS servers across the country is very possible. However, you can avoid using their DNS servers complete and easily by using OpenDNS or Google Public DNS.

Whether you’re using a Windows or Mac computer, switching to another DNS server is easy. For me, I opened System Preferences, clicked Network, then Advanced, and entered into the DNS tab. Here’s an image to illustrate:

Changing DNS servers
Using Google Public DNS takes 30 seconds to setup on a Windows or Mac computer

Three Reasons to Continue Despite the Block

We’ll continue to publish content on Chengdu Living and build the audience as we’ve been doing. Here’s why:

  • According to our website analytics, an enormous percentage of readers are located overseas or are accessing the site through a VPN from China. Our Facebook and Twitter accounts alone, with thousands of fans and followers on each, demonstrate the size of this audience.
  • We have an obligation to continue the work that we started. Every meaningful accomplishment is achieved after overcoming obstacles like this and it’ll add to our experience.
  • We don’t know how to stop. Chengdu Living is an extension of our lives. We’re writers, bloggers, and otherwise creative types who want to contribute the lessons and adventures that we’re privileged to experience. Engaging local culture, language, and society and sharing it with others is a fulfilling pursuit.


Freedur VPN Giveaway

We’ve long been advocates of using a VPN because such an enormous portion of the internet remains inaccessible to surfers in China without one. If the internet is anything more to you than a conduit for email, we believe it to be essential since more and more of our lives move online every day. With that in mind, we have 25 Freedur VPN accounts (3-month duration) to give away so you can get started now if you aren’t already on a VPN. All you have to do is leave a comment below and we’ll select 25 commenters at random to receive free accounts.

Note: Freedur has been generous enough to offer dozens of free accounts to Chengdu Living readers and contributors and we personally use this VPN provider although we think any VPN that works is great. If you have an alternate VPN that works well for you, feel free to post the details below for anyone else who’s interested. If you’re a VPN provider and you’d like to promote your service by allowing us to donate some accounts to readers in China, contact us.

67 thoughts on “Chengdu Living Has Been Harmonized”

  1. Pingback: Hao Hao Report
    • Really?? I did not know that it was blocked anywhere.

      I spoke with a knowledgeable friend about it this evening and there might be a workaround to fix that (not using your Chinese ISP’s DNS servers). I’ll amend the post with the info.

    • Just as this post gets published the site becomes accessible again. We’ll see how long it lasts. These sort of blocks tend to be intermittent – something will be blocked, then opened, then blocked again and so on. We’ll see what happens.

      In the meantime, we still strongly advocate using a VPN.

  2. I added information on changing from your Chinese ISP’s DNS to Google Public DNS, which will bypass one of the prevalent blocking methods. It also has faster performance for loading websites.

  3. Charlie, I really admire the equanimity of your response. You laid out the frustrating reality of the situation without making any incendiary statements that could be counter-productive to the ongoing survival and success of the site.

    I think it is quite possible that this could be related to the recent waves of civil unrest in the middle east, and the desire of the government to moderate the discussion of these events in China.

    Hopefully any blockages to CDLiving will be temporary.

    • Thanks Eli. It’s been stressful but focusing my energy on finding solutions seems more productive than just cursing out those who would do this (although that would bring some short-lived satisfaction). Fingers crossed.

  4. Hey Charlie,

    Thanks for the great info on the DNS switching!

    Nice one!

    Oh yeah, im in the Du, using my N97 to post this…still unblocked, fingers crossed!

    • No problem Tam. That advice is actually courtesy of Ben, who’s been really helpful throughout all of this. The unsung hero of us getting blocked, for sure.

      Good to see you the other day.

  5. good to know, i especially appreciate the professionalism of this post. Hope you guys can get over this bump and keep writing about the wonders of the Du!

  6. Charlie, look the good point. You can say ChengduLiving is at the same level as Facebook, Youtube and Twitter! Wooooooooow!

  7. Chengdu Living isn’t blocked for me right now. I believe it was Thursday that the vpn I’ve been using for over a year abruptly stopped working. Having intermittent trouble with msn and gmail as well.

    Nice blog btw.

    • Thanks Sara.

      VPN’s are under an increasing amount of heat right now from what I understand. Some VPN providers are even turning down customers located in China to prevent their servers from getting targeted. I’ve been noticing problems with Gmail also! Very frustrating.

  8. Not blocked here in Suzhou. For a temporary block like that, are you sure it wasn’t just a specific page that was triggering the block via keyword sniffing?

    Either way, here’s to hoping it stays as a blip, too many China sites have fallen to the GFW, would hate to see another — though the more that fall, the more reason just to leave a VPN on all the time and forget that the GFW is even there.

    • As far as I know, there’s no way to tell if any page or content in particular led to us being targeted. Originally it was believed to be a DNS Poison attack, but the block was removed after 2 days. During that time we did move to different servers as a precaution.

  9. Hopefully CDLiving will be de-harmonized permanently. It was the first resource I used for information when I learned I got my current job and would be living here. I still frequent the forums and actually just met a super awesome friend via a posting there. I need my CDLiving!

  10. there is a good side to this as bernardo pointed out:

    even though it looks like we’re unblocked, CDLiving is dope enough to have the haters hate on us, even temporarily and i truly appreciate that. also, as Ryan said, the more sites that require VPNs, the more VPNs spread which is our response to the hate. and the best thing for me is to see that we have a community here and thats what They fear the most, people getting together and having a good time 😉

  11. No one can say this doesn’t make things more interesting!

    VPN is the word for most everyone who’s anything more than dormantly curious in nature, including Chinese folk who might not have set foot on western soil. I’ve already met such folk who’ve been rocking the VPN for some time, even if it is just so they can keep up with Desperate Housewives. I have no comment about that.

    You mention that a significant number appear to be visiting the site from outside of China/Asia… No issue there then, block or no block.

    Getting the word out for VPN’s is always going to be good news in my book, with or without chengduliving (just for the record I’m all for it, it’s helped me out immensely already). VPN’s are the conduit for informative view here in China, and that is something we all know the people are in dire need of, even if they don’t yet know it for themselves.

    Isn’t this place an adventure!

  12. Yo, am in the Du with no VPN and CDliving is working…knock oon wood…anhyways, I am in for that VPN give away!!
    Thanks to the team, always, enjoy your articles!!

  13. I used TOR few year ago, it worked very well then stopped. I used Hotspot shield for couple month ,it works just ok. So, let me try Freedur this time, thx~

  14. Hey Charlie, congratulations on the block – and its removal, haha. What I don’t really get here is why, if the government wants to block a site, is it sometimes accessible, sometimes not? This seems to happen a lot, but makes no sense at all. Except perhaps in the case of gmail and google, both blocked sporadically for short periods recently. In this case the temporary and brief blockages seem like a threat – ‘look google at how much traffic you lose to bing every time we block you for a few minutes’…but in other cases…?

    • Hey Gavin,

      No one really knows why, but the blocking practices are often erratic and always without explanation. A site might get blocked and be inaccessible for a short period, then come back online, then be blocked again. There’s little rhyme or reason to it and there’s no real consensus on how it works.

      There are some reproducible quirks with services like Google, though. Google Image search, for example, will return a certain amount of results before being blocked for a short period, then will work again. So you get a page of results, then the second page won’t load, but if you wait a few minutes and refresh, it’ll load the second page and get stuck on the third, etc. It’s as if it was designed just to be too annoying to use. One theory is that they do this to make undesirable services appear unstable or erratic while the domestic alternatives (in this case Baidu) work without issue but have 1/1,000th the content.

  15. I have been using freedur for about 7 months and it has been working very well. The freedur team is always quick to respond if there are any issues.

    I’d love to get a free vpn and pass it along to a friend!

  16. Great, I’m looking for VPN, to log on facebook.
    Internet users in China are too pitiful, If I am a hacker that will be better:)

  17. This was blocked for sometime but became unblocked when I checked today. I struggle even more to access sites as I am behind an university firewall 🙁

  18. @charlie: thanks for the reply – i had noticed that google images only loaded the 1st page but never knew that the whole thing was choreographed quite so precisely.

    Slightly related to this topic, has anyone else who uses found that photos on that site will not render at all recently? Using a Mac, with various browsers, I can no longer see photos on Couchsurfing and it has been like that for at least a few weeks already. I sent a message to Couchsurfing. Their reply? ‘Have you tried a VPN?…lol

    • I hadn’t noticed that, but without going through a VPN expect a lot of sites to be halfway functional or not functional at all. Gmail, for example, has been exhibiting a lot of problems recently if you try to access it directly. It doesn’t get much more essential than Gmail!

  19. Has anyone wondered why Badoo has been blocked recently? I was just on there (using a proxy server), and on one Chinese girl’s comments section noticed a ‘comment’ on her photo that was actually a text about a particular abuse of human rihgts here.

    Before I was annoyed at the gov’t for blocking Badoo. Now I am equally annoyed at these people who contribute to non-political sites being blocked by spamming them with such things…I guess they don’t know that this will happen. Or don’t care? Or even want to contribute to the frustration of Chinese web users in some attempt to trigger more discontent? Others’ thoughts on this?

    • To everyone who has requested a VPN account so far: I’ve got a list going and will email the accounts out this upcoming Monday. If you requested one here, there’s a great chance you’ll get it.

      Thanks to Freedur for being so generous and providing the free accounts!

      • I didn’t request a VPN – but thought that all posts commenting on this page were eligible. definitely want to be considered for the free VPN too! cheers

  20. Love Chengdu Living. I find that there is a severe shortage (pretty much none) or user friendly ex-pat websites in Chengdu. has been hacked and they haven’t gotten it completely back up (only ancient restaurant reviews) and now the only well-written other website Chengdu living is under attack. Sad.

    • Thanks Lupat. We agree with you and this is exactly why we started publishing Chengdu Living. With so much interesting stuff going on here, why aren’t more people writing about it?

      There’s a great Sichuan food blog called Eat Drink Chengdu ( which you should check out if you haven’t already. Great photos and posts about what’s up with Sichuan food, and there’s even a guide to ordering at a hotpot restaurant. Pretty cool site, but it requires a VPN.

  21. I agree with you on it being hard to live in China without blogging. I feel the same way about my blog. Do you ever worry there could be worse actions taken against you, like trying to kick you out of China?

    • Hey Thomas,

      A number of bad things could happen to me at any time, but I don’t worry about that potential scenario too much. I always try to stay aware of what’s happening and take action and determine how much risk I’m willing to accept after observing what the atmosphere is like. In Chengdu Living and in everything else. Hope this answers your question.

  22. I was just told about this site and after reading some of the articles I will certainly be adding it to my regular reading.
    On the topic of blocking sites… It has been a trial for me here. Every time I get a new proxy up it is good for at best a few months and then stops working… I have tried to start a blog more than a few times only to have the blogging service blocked and have me lose access to the site. Frustration abounds…
    Think I will be checking VPN soon…

  23. Chengdu Living please don’t go, we’ll eat you up we love you so…

    Seriously, we need this snazzy, packs an info-filled and properly-spelled punch, helps us find cool places to see and things to do blog that’s not just a blog.

    Oh, and all while giving away free stuff. I would love a shot at the VPN if you still have any.

    • Thanks!

      We do indeed. I did the random drawing this morning and you won, actually! I will announce the rest of the winners today and contact everyone via email.

  24. Would it be possible that your site share an ip address with some other web sites, and content on some of these web sites cause the ipaddress be blocked.

    That is the usual problem that you have with a shared hosting service.

    I would like to check out the VPN client if you have one to spare ..


    • Yes, when CL was blocked everything using that IP address was blocked, including Hakka Homes, Gentle Dental, and some other Chengdu-related businesses and services. It was confirmed that the attack was targeted at CL and the other sites being knocked off were collateral damage.

  25. As a recent American transplant to Chengdu, I just discovered Chengdu Living and I love the content. Hopefully, access to the site will remain open so you can share your insight with as many people as possible!

    • Yeah, you wou wouldn’t notice if you’re always using a VPN, but Google services are being messed with. Instead of being blocked outright, they’re being tampered with to make Gmail appear unstable. The idea is to send frustrated Gmail users to other email services and discourage domestic use of Google products.

  26. opening gmail account is a pain in the @@@ the past 2-3 weeks… what’s going on? my msn and yahoo accounts is fine and all and opens up sleek-fast but gmail opens up in turtle-like pace….

    Been living in Chengdu for 6 months now. And i don’t think i wanna be living anywhere else in the world….

    this is a superb site… will continue patronizing this site…

    • Hi Mac,

      Google has been getting tampered with for a while now. It’s not blocked outright, but you’ll need a VPN to use it without going insane. So your options are pretty much deal with it being erratic or get on a VPN. You already know where I stand!

      Thanks for reading 🙂

  27. I’m gonna say this happened because your foreign/white. Another reminder of how xenophobic and nationalistic China can be. Dont ever forget, China is not the West. And ethnicity cannot be adopted.

    • You clearly have a chip on your shoulder. I don’t believe China takes in to account the ethnicity of the site owner when they “Harmonize” it. In the majority of cases they don’t even know.
      An article or post on a site gains some attention, someone employed by the government to trawl sites sees it and doesn’t like it. It gets blocked. Simple as that. It probably happens thousands of times a day.


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