Just like most walls, there are ways around, over, under and through the "Great Firewall" of China. While the Dalai Lama would never find himself having a government-sanctioned chat with the Chinese populous, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader will be answering questions from Chinese Web users via Twitter on Friday.
Twitter has been blocked in China since the time leading up to last year's 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4th. Nonetheless, the AFP estimates that up to 150,000 Chinese have Twitter accounts with as many as 100,000 of them "physically living" in the mainland.
The Dalai Lama first joined Twitter last February and now has well over 300,000 followers. Friday's "chat" with the Tibetan monk will involve his response to about 250 questions submitted by more than 1,000 Chinese Web users living on the mainland. According to the AFP, these answers will not only be available to these users not through the main Twitter website, but also through third-party websites and applications, as the data is made available through Twitter's API. His answers are set to be broadcast on the Twitter account of Chinese writer Wang Lixiong.
ReadWriteWeb founder and co-editor Richard MacManus discussed issues of censorship in China, specifically relating to Twitter, with Chinese activist and blogger Ai Weiwei and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey last March. In that discussion, Twitter was shown to be a useful tool for the Chinese populous in conducting political and philosophical discussions, despite being banned.
As Ai Weiwei noted during the discussion, many Chinese look to Dorsey "as some kind of God" because the microblog lets them communicate and express themselves without worrying about censorship. Although there are numerous Twitter clones in China, the Chinese government can not only block access to these sites, but actually shut them down. Twitter, on the other hand, is hosted outside of China and cannot be shut down by the Chinese government, making it a more appropriate place for this sort of discussion.