Early one Sunday morning in 2002, a phone rings in Yu Ling’s Beijing duplex. She’s cleaning upstairs; her son is asleep, while downstairs, her husband, Wang Xiaoning, is on the computer. Wang writes about politics, anonymously e-mailing his online e-journals to a group of Yahoo users. He’s been having problems with his Yahoo service recently. He thinks it’s a technical issue. This is the day he learns he’s wrong. Wang picks up the phone: “Yes?” “Are you home?” asks the unfamiliar voice on the other end. “Yes.” The line goes dead. Moments later, government agents swarm through the front door — 10 of them, some in uniform, some not. They take Wang away. They take his computers and disks. They shove an official notice into Yu’s hands, tell her to keep quiet, and leave. This is how it’s done in China. This is how the internet police grab you. Five years later, Yu, 55, sits in the dining room of a small house in Fairfax and weeps softly. She is a slight woman — 100 pounds and barely 5 feet tall in slippers. Her eyes betray her exhaustion; but she is determined, too. She carries a thick stack of notes with her, and she has scrawled more on her left hand. “Yahoo betrayed my husband and deprived him of freedom,” Yu says through a translator, her voice trembling. “Yahoo must learn its lesson.”
Yu’s story puts a face to the ever so abstract “we’re just sticking to local laws in China” bullshit that Yahoo, Google and Cisco, among others, have been giving us. It’s a shame, really.
ps. On a happier note: Wired has relaunched today. Looking good!