Nailing the Jell-O

Chinese Democracy and the Great Firewall – James Griffiths


Li Hongkuan was a spammer extraordinaire. Beginning in 1997, he built up a database of hundreds of thousands of email addresses, collecting those available online or trading them with others in the same business. Particularly useful were university servers, which often had little to no security, allowing Li or one of his assistants to grab the email addresses of all the staff and students who ever signed up for an account.

That year, he launched his newsletter, Da Cankao, known in English as VIP Reference. Compiled by Li and a team of volunteers, Da Cankao collected articles that had been censored in China and translated sensitive stories from the foreign press before dumping them into the inboxes of thousands of unsuspecting users. By spamming people with the newsletter, it not only spread far and wide, but also gave recipients plausible deniability if they were found in possession of a copy.