Google search has been blocked in mainland China since 2010, but yesterday it made an unexpected return—a brief one, as it turned out.
According to the South China Morning Post, around 11:30pm local time on March 27, social media users reported that they had no trouble accessing Google search (paywall). By 1:15am, commenters were reporting it had been blocked again.
Beijing-based tech blog Pingwest estimated that access began at around 8pm or 9pm (link in Chinese), and adds that Google Inbox, Google Drive, Google Photos, and Google Play were also useable. Other services like Gmail and YouTube remained inaccessible.
Google declined to comment when Quartz called to ask about what caused the incident.
Commenters on Sina Weibo reacted to Google’s brief return with humor. “Alas, Google was not resurrected on Easter,” one wrote (link in Chinese). “Before his resurrection, Jesus suffered hardship and torture. Perhaps Google hasn’t suffered enough.”
In early 2010 Google announced it was no longer willing to censor searches, as required by the Chinese government. It’s been blocked in mainland China since then. In 2014, services including Gmail were blocked as well. Now, whenever Chinese users attempt to access Google services, they’re directed to bogus IP addresses. The ban is enforced by China’s “Great Firewall”—a catch-all term that describes the nation’s online censorship infrastructure.
The Great Firewall isn’t immune to mishaps or malfunctioning. In August 2015 Google services were available briefly (link in Chinese) just in time for the World Championships in Athletics, an annual sporting event that was held in Beijing last year. In May 2015, Chinese users discovered a loophole (link in Chinese) that let them use the banned Japanese chat app Line, only to see it close the same day.