After 11 years of bringing you local reporting, the team behind the Vancouver Observer has moved on to Canada's National Observer. You can follow Vancouver culture reporting over there from now on. Thank you for all your support over the years!

How Aaron Swartz contributed to Chinese Internet freedom: The SinoFile

Renowned voice on the Chinese Internet tells VO how Swartz contributed to Chinese Internet freedoms.

Aaron Swartz (

The late Aaron Swartz fought to maintain a free Internet culture in the United States, but his contributions to digital freedoms were – much as the Net itself – without borders.

As Chinese netizens struggle to evade Online censors in their discussion on press freedom in the People's Republic with puns and other clever instances of wordplay, one Chinese Internet developer and free Internet activist remembers Swartz's contributions to freedom on the Chinese Web.

The Vancouver Observer spoke with Isaac Mao, renowned voice on the Chinese Internet, the day before Swartz's funeral about the RSS Swartz co-created and its contributions to enabling a freer Online discourse for Chinese dissidents. Mao had written a touching tribute to Swartz – his colleage in Internet freedom -- in Chinese on his own blog.

VO: What inspired you to write a tribute to Aaron on your site? How did you know him? 

IM: We had communicated several times via email seven years ago, talking about RSS specifications, purely technically. But later when I initialized  Creative Commons China project, I did seek his advice on that. 

VO: Would you say that Swartz helped contribute to Chinese Internet freedoms with his work on RSS? How so? 

IM: RSS is the most important thing he spontaneously engaged in and contributed to, it's a great thing on the unstructured Internet.

Till today, many Chinese caged users behind Great Firewall enjoy using RSS readers to bypass censorship. There are many tricks and tips Online telling people how to access overseas information by subscribing to appropriate RSS feeds. When censors stop people from browsing a Web site, they may not know there could be multiple spawned channels in RSS format from other intermediate channels. It's like a house – the doors may be closed, but people can take sunshine from windows.   

I would say RSS should be changed to ARSS to tribute Aaron's contributions.  

VO: Do you think that Swartz's death will result in a stronger international call for Internet freedom?

IM: Aaron was not the first or only person chasing freedom of access. Nonetheless, people will cherish the legacy of Aaron after 50 years. His death may give us a big shock to wake up to the fact that only open knowledge and media can help humanity.  I'm sure there will be many aspects from his legend and death to be discussed and debated.  

His fight against SOPA-like bills will be continued. It has never ended. 



SinoFile is The Vancouver Observer's daily series on Chinese affairs, including analysis of the nation's business, politics and society, with a focus on international media coverage, Chinese and foreign social media and original interviews with China's movers and shakers. 

More in World

An Afghan story from a Greek refugee camp

While visiting an Afghan refugee family in their tent in Greece, my wife and  I came to understand the particular plight of families fleeing the chaos and violence in Afghanistan.   Canada...

Police Encourage Vigilance Following Attacks in Brussels

Vancouver – Police are encouraging the public and business owners and operators to remain vigilant following this morning’s attacks in Brussels, Belgium.  The threat level in Canada remains...

Canadians gather in B.C. to demand safe passage to Europe for Syrian refugees

VANCOUVER — A choir sings hymns of peace on a downtown Vancouver beach while a small dinghy gently coasts ashore and a dozen people in life jackets, including a young boy, alight onto the sand. The...
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.