The Great Firewall of China – A Daily Surfing Comparison

I’m quite passionate about freedom of speech and information, especially when it comes to the internet. If you follow internet censorship issues you would have heard of the Great Firewall of China, which is essentially a government controlled list of sites that are deemed to be unsuitable for the common Chinese citizen.

You probably think that’s not such a bad thing to do, as the government would block sites such as those that contain child porn, support for terrorism and other “bad” sites, right? Well let me take you through a typical surfing experience that most of you will probably be familiar with and see what you think after that.

  1. I log on to my Yahoo email to clear the pile of overnight emails.
  2. I open an email from my dad who has sent me a link to a video on Youtube and watch that.
  3. Since I’m on Youtube I check out my subscribed channels and watch a few more videos.
  4. I open a news summary email from news.com.au that I use to keep in touch with what is happening in Australia.
  5. I click on a few interesting articles and share one on Facebook with my friends.
  6. I see an email from my blog notifying me of a comment, so I go to my blog to log on to the administration dashboard and approve the comment.
  7. I decide to check a friend’s blog on Blogspot before opening Google Reader to check my news feed.
  8. Looking at Endgaget’s news feed I see an interesting article with a video from Vimeo.
  9. Another article mentions a company’s Twitter feed containing their latest announcements, so I click on the Twitter link to check out what is happening.
  10. A friend on Skype asks me if I have seen the replies to my status update on Facebook yet, so I log into Facebook to check out the feedback.
  11. After that I decide to see what is happening with my blog, so I log onto Google’s Webmaster’s Tool, Adsense and Analytics.
  12. I want to watch a movie, so I see what’s on from Yahoo’s movie page and check out the respective ratings on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com).
  13. Before I head out for the movie I check out the news.com.au site again and notice an article about Wikileaks spokesperson Julian Asange.
  14. I decide to see what’s happening on the Wikileaks site, as it’s been quite quiet lately.

Here is what I can do in China with no problems:

  1. I log on to my Yahoo email to clear the pile of overnight emails.
  2. I open a a news summary email from news.com.au that I use to keep in touch with what is happening in Australia.
  3. I click on a few interesting articles.
  4. A friend on Skype asks me if I have seen the replies to my status update on Facebook yet.
  5. I want to watch a movie, so I see what’s on from Yahoo’s movie page.
  6. Before I head out for the movie I check out the news.com.au site again and notice an article about Wikileaks spokesperson Julian Asange.

Now I’ll explain what happens with each step:

  1. I log on to my Yahoo email to clear the pile of overnight emails.
  2. I open an email from my dad who has sent me a link to a video on Youtube and watch that. Youtube is blocked.
  3. Since I’m on Youtube I check out my subscribed channels and watch a few more videos. Youtube is blocked.
  4. I open a news summary email from news.com.au that I use to keep in touch with what is happening in Australia. 
  5. I click on a few interesting articles and share one on Facebook with my friends. Facebook is blocked.
  6. I see an email from my blog notifying me of a comment, so I go to my blog to log on to the administration dashboard and approve the comment. My blog uses Google’s +1 and Facebook’s Like functions, which are blocked, thus making my blog take a very long time to load when it tries to access these sites.
  7. I decide to check a friend’s blog on Blogspot before opening Google Reader to check my news feed. Blogspot is blocked and Yahoo’s news images are blocked (part of my Google Reader feed).
  8. Looking at Endgaget’s news feed I see an interesting article with a video from Vimeo. Vimeo is blocked.
  9. Another article mentions a company’s Twitter feed which contains their latest announcements, so I click on the Twitter link to check out what is happening. Twitter is blocked.
  10. A friend on Skype asks me if I have seen the replies to my status update on Facebook yet, so I log into Facebook to check out all the feedback. Facebook is blocked.
  11. After that I decide to see what is happening with my blog, so I log onto Google’s Webmaster’s Tool, Adsense and Analytics. Google’s sites are either blocked or have intermittent availability making for a frustrating user experience.
  12. I want to watch a movie, so I see what’s on from Yahoo’s movie page and check out the respective ratings on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com). IMDB is blocked.
  13. Before I head out for the movie I check out the news.com.au site again and notice an article on Wikileaks spokesperson Julian Asange.
  14. I decide to see what’s happening on the Wikileaks site, as it’s been quite quiet lately. Wikileaks is blocked.

This makes for a pretty sad web surfing experience for a non-Chinese-resident in China. Any website that you use that has social media integration normally takes forever to load as those components are blocked (they timeout). However, if you are living in China then there are Chinese equivalents for almost all the blocked sites, which of course are “government approved.”

A government should have no say in what information its citizens can and can not view. A government should educate its citizens to make socially responsible decisions through the standard education system and guidance programs, such as ratings systems for movies. Ultimately the decision of whether to view the material should be the citizen’s own choice, who is aware of their own responsibilities and the consequences of their own actions.

A government that decides what information a citizen can and can not view thinks their citizens are beneath their leaders and not capable of rational thought. The other option could be that the government is scared of its own citizens being empowered by information. Perhaps it’s a combination of both!

Censorship is just wrong and is always abused, thus education is the path to a more progressive society.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_websites_blocked_in_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China



4 thoughts on “The Great Firewall of China – A Daily Surfing Comparison

  1. Holly

    Hi there.

    This message is intended to be somewhat private (I couldn’t find an email). It’s not that I object to this being posted, it’s just that I realise you might feel it is unsuitable for public viewing. I am compelled to write this message so that it may shed some light on China and what it’s like to be Chinese.

    It hits you hard because you’re in Media. I couldn’t care less. Maybe except Youtube- it does have cool stuff but then there’s the dead ugly side- there was a slew of videos made specifically to spread racial hate against Chinese (by Indonesians and/or Koreans) who claimed that “Chinese are negritos” http://www.youtube.com/user/Coffee920#p/a/u/0/n1mvfsBIo1U
    The author of this vid skewed genealogical info (the chart showed that Indonesians were actually most closely related to Negritos- ironic since the author was located in Jakarta), writing things like “Chinese are the most disgusting, lowliest people- Source: People of Youtube”. He/she/it has now completely remade the vid (and deleted a vid of Indonesian News dishing dirt on China) after I lodged a complaint about the cruelty of the racism and its purely malicious nature. There are also vids claiming the Indonesian-Chinese fabricated the massacre of 1999 where hundreds of women were raped and killed, to get asylum immigration to Anglo-Saxon countries.

    For you, social media is fun and a way of doing business but for me, it hurts me deeply to see these depraved mud-slingings e.g. wikipedia, ChinaHush
    http://www.chinahush.com/2011/03/29/china-exports-much-more-women-than-it-imports/

    I left a comment under the name Serenity. I can’t stand people full of hatred and malice like “korean_guy” (he comments on almost every article) who spends their lives trolling websites, violently abusing social media and spreading their ‘disease’.

    Ok, the enlightenment part: why China’s firewall is necessary. Are you fully aware of what happened in the Xinjiang riots of 2008? Did you know they beheaded infants on the streets? I saw a photo of a decapitated child, but that image has now been removed. With uprisings in the Middle East (and recently the London riots), social media is proving to be a dangerous tool- in a country the size of China, a spark can become a wildfire even more easily (esp. with a resident terrorist population on it’s doorstep).
    http://theopinionator.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/06/chinas-ministry-of-truth-hid-grotesque-uighur-muslim-violence.html
    Other photos:
    http://barenakedislam.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/cover-up-chinese-uighur-muslim-rioters-burned-bus-passengers-alive-raped-women-and-decapitated-children-displaying-their-heads-on-a-highway-median/

    The simple truth is, 1.you cannot manage a country with the population size of China using the system of a resource-rich (at least 3x more resourcs than China) first world country with 1/5 the population of China i.e. USA. Example: look what happened in Australia’s insulation scheme? The sudden roll-out lacked regulation and supervision, causing e.g. installers to fall from roofs, quality control issues with the insulation material, lack of registration checks to ensure good practice etc… These are the problems that occured when a first-world country with a small population implemented a new nation-wide scheme (and that was only housing insulation). Imagine the chaos that would ensue if China did the same thing. (Imagine hypothetically that China was Australia, with democracy, lots of resources etc. -the problems that arose in Australia would be multiplied several-fold simply because of the huge population; but realistically of course, you must factor in China’s large geographical size, high population density and lack of resources (in China green fields are where unicorns, I mean monks and pandas, live)- i.e. poverty.

    2. The fact that 80% of the population is rural (and dirt-poor) is a monstrous hurdle for the development of free-speech and democracry. Let me put it this way, when you can convince all the people of China to a. stop aborting females- that parents who have daughters can live just as well as those with sons; b. it is disgraceful to invade other people’s privacy; c.parents do not have the right to do whatever they want to their children (e.g. kill- not exaggerating- although that would virtually never happen, it’s just an expression regarding a child’s acknowledgment of the supreme power of their parents ); d. each human being’s goal should be to find happiness for themselves, rather than carry the baggage of worshipping ancestors or living to fullfil their parents’ expectations; e. old people do not have the right to bully and lord it over everyone else, simply because they are old; THEN China will be somewhat ready to transition to a Western “free-speech” society. Those are the main mores of China that have persisted for thousands of years. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

    What do you think Falun Gong is made of? Filthy ignorance- they are the same angry mob that bashed tens of thousands of people to death during the Cultural Revolution. They’re wailing now because back then everyone was dirt-poor, but now China is like the West- you work hard, you get rich (no pay for lazy bums who just complain all day). They say Mao lied and brainwashed them into following him, because Mao could never deliver on his promise of China “that would surpass America in 2 years and Britain in 4 years” (I’m not kidding- that was part of his pledge).

    Try this: start a conversation with one. I guarantee you the only thing they can talk about is blame the Chinese government (who no longer reflects Mao for the most part but is trying to clean up his mess- Wen Jiabao is a good man) for all the disasters in the world. Again, not exaggerating- they believe the West is a free paradise where you can say whatever you want to your employer and not be allowed to get fired, where the policemen are all gentle and just (so much that you can stop a moving police car just to ask for directions) and where the only evil that exists on this planet, is in the hearts of those Chinese Communists. I’m willing to bet on this- ask them about the London riots and Bin Laden. They’ll either be utterly clueless or explain to you how the Chinese government was responsible for them.

    There’s a lot more to it, but I’ve already spent too much time writing this. I have faith that you are open-minded and will grow as a person.

    ~Cheers

    Reply
    1. louco73 Post author

      Firstly, I would like to apologise for taking so long to approve your comment. I’ve been a bit busy and wanted to take the time to sit down and read your comment before posting it and responding. I do not think your comment is unfit for public viewing. In fact I think it helps to educate others on how Chinese people think, even if they are brought up in Australia :).

      I’m not sure where you got the idea that I’m in media, as this is just my personal blog. My profession is actually related to IT and I’m starting my own company in the IT area.

      I’m surprised that living in Australia and then visiting China that you couldn’t care less about the firewall in China. What I listed in my blog post as a typical surfing experience is something that I’m sure many people outside of China can relate to and would be quite surprised that they couldn’t access those web sites when visiting or living in China (without using proxy servers and VPNs, etc.). Now if someone grew up in China and is visiting another country or living in another country for a while then I can imagine that he/she is mentally still “living” in China and western related web sites are not that important to his/her daily surfing. For example, such a person would probably use a site such as Kaixin instead of Facebook, Baidu instead of Google, Youku instead of Youtube and so on. These Chinese sites are all available outside of China in most countries (I assume), so a Chinese person visiting or living outside of China would not face the same level of frustration as a foreigner visiting or living in China.

      Regarding abusive and racist commentary on Youtube, I believe that if someone took offence to particular content that it would be taken down by Youtube when people flag the video. Their terms of service explicitly outline no tolerance of racist videos: “We encourage free speech and defend everyone’s right to express unpopular points of view. But we don’t permit hate speech (speech which attacks or demeans a group based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, and sexual orientation/gender identity).” (http://www.youtube.com/t/community_guidelines).

      Now there is obviously a fine line on what makes something like hate speech. For example, is Pat Condell (http://www.youtube.com/user/patcondell) using hate speech against all religions? Sometimes I think he goes too far, but I respect his opinion and agree to disagree with some of his points. Like any broadcast medium you don’t have to listen to this either. It’s a personal choice and hopefully an educated one. A lot of people get very offended very easily these days and think that people are racists or expressing hate, when they are just trying to make a point. Sometimes it’s fine to be offended, you don’t have to agree with everyone and everyone shouldn’t have to agree with you!

      I watched the video you provided a link to and, assuming the studies are legitimate, don’t see any problem with it. If people are trying to study the movement of humans over time and use genetics to determine that then I hardly see that as racist. You state you made a complaint about the original video and it was dealt with. That’s the great thing about free speech, the original poster has the right to make an opinion and you have the right to argue back and correct malformed arguments. Through this process we all learn something. When there is no way to discuss someone’s opinion and debate with that person, then people all tend to think the same.

      There are many videos and opinions claiming that all sorts of horrible things never happened or were perpetrated by groups or individuals other than those that did them. It doesn’t matter whether they involve Chinese or not. For example, the Sept 11 attacks have many different theories on who was responsible for them. You can listen to the theories and disregard them as nonsense or believe them, it’s up to you, but you are not forced to accept “the truth.”

      Social media is not a business for me, it’s just part of my life, sharing knowledge, ideas and a laugh or two with friends and people who come to this blog. There are ads on here, but that is just so I could learn how Google Adsense works and I’ll never make money out of it. For you, if it hurts you so much to read some articles, then why not just stop? I was always amazed that people would complain about a certain TV program and wanted it removed from the channel’s program, when other people enjoyed it. Why couldn’t they just change the channel or turn the TV off? The same applies on the internet!

      I’m aware of the Xinjiang/Uighur riots, but I don’t believe it was in 2008 and in any case I’m not aware of the full situation. That said, it’s completely irrelevant to your points (see below).

      For your points labelled 1. and 2. I hear this again and again from Chinese people that China is so big, with so many people and so many diverse languages/cultures, there is no way that democracy and free speech can work. I have one word for you, India. Indians have a huge country, with a huge population, with vastly different religions/cultures, terrorists knocking at their doors, a huge rural and poor society and yet they are a functioning democracy. They too have their issues, especially around corruption, but they are moving forward.

      I agree Rome wasn’t built in a day, but China has been around for a few thousand years ;). It does indeed take time to build the foundations of a democratic and free society, but wouldn’t it be great to see China making strides in this direction, rather than seemingly going backwards with more repression of dissidents, burying trains key to an accident investigation and sending out blackout notices on the crash coverage? Even in Singapore where one-party-rule has been present for most people’s voting lives, there is a slow move to a more open society and sometimes that is enough to make people happy.

      As for Falun Gong, I’m not really aware of the group other than it was banned.

      On to your next comment!

      Reply
  2. Holly

    Again, this is more of a private message (you don’t have to post it if you don’t want to- or amend it appropriately before posting)- please read the previous message first or you’ll be confused. I’m writing this message as I hope to bridge the gaping gap in understanding China that Westerners experience (I don’t blame you- if I was a Westerner I wouldn’t get it either).

    I just wanted to add that, as a second-generation survivor of the brutal bashings from the Cultural Revolution, I have every right to hate the Chinese government- and yet I don’t, because I know better. The world isn’t black and white. Just as the German populace believed in Hitler and hung on his every word, committing attrocities in his name, a large proportion of the Chinese people are accountable for the crimes committed under the reign of Mao (I hate him so much I won’t bother to write his full name).

    Some of these people formed a gang known as Falun Gong. Falun Gong people contact Anglo-Saxon countries e.g. USA, Australia where they receive a small income from organisations there (through their own massive Falun Gong network), then they spend their daily lives sitting at home writing articles to be posted on the internet or made into pamphlets/presentation boards/Falun Gong newspapers (e.g. Sydney’s ‘Epoch Times’) or they cause trouble by arranging massive get-togethers in public areas e.g. parks or wide pavements, in the name of ‘spiritual exercise’- when it first started they would form groups of at least a hundred individuals (sometimes 200) ‘meditating’ in one spot.

    That is why the Chinese government started banning them (in the beginning the Chinese government supported them, thinking it was a health initiative): 1. During their ‘spiritual exercise’ sessions, they would discuss politics i.e. criticising the Chinese government. 2. Whenever they did their sessions, they would congregate in large numbers (>100), thus disrupting the public peace (congestion was the least of the problems caused). 3. They got people to join in their ‘gang’ like a pyramid scheme, telling people things like “the more people you recruit, the more powerful our spiritual meditation will be. It will increase the vibrations, making you live longer” (not kidding- they’re mostly people from poor rural villages who believe anything). 4. They became an organisation, like a worker’s union (except that the ‘normal activities’ they did was simply to meditate all day- no they don’t work because they believe they are entitled to the paradise that Mao promised them; and the ideals/things they told their members were simply insane/nonsensical). The real problems they caused was e.g. a member is on trial for a crime (whether or not he/she is innocent is not the point here), that member will then call upon the entire organisation for support, causing a large horde of Falun Gong people to show up at the court, disrupting proceedings and exerting pressure on the court (‘ganging up’ literally). That was just an example. They would do the same thing for e.g. say a member got fined, a horde would show up at the council’s office or police station etc.

    I spoke to a few (immigrants) and I told them that if they did that in Australia, congregating in large numbers hogging pavements and parks on a regular basis, that they would be told to stop by police. I said “Do you really think you can hold a meditation session in front of the Parliament House and not get arrested?” They said “Of course not. Australia is a free country. People are allowed to do whatever they want.” (They haven’t done it because most of them are old geezers but they do hold out a 5 metre long banner at the crossing near the Sydney Supreme Court every two days). There you go @[email protected] That’s what Chinese people think democracy is.

    This is the real China. Not just the well-educated individuals who are eager to explore the world now that China’s door is open- they’re just the 13% or so of the entire nation, living modern lives in the major cities. Education is the answer, you say? Yes, but it’s going to take decades to transform that 80% living in poor rural areas. China is still a poor country due to it’s scant resources and massive over-population (mountains and desert cover most of the land- not arable- they eat meat once a year on average, and never beef- cattle is completely unsustainable in China). Try explaining law and order, social responsibility and ethics to these people. Good luck. You’ll have to feed them first.

    In case you were wondering, I’m a Chinese girl who grew up in Australia. I’m ambivalent about both West and East and don’t hesitate to point out the faults of each (although I really haven’t said anything bad about the West, so as not to offend you). I discovered your site today when I googled “guangzhou property market”.

    Reply
    1. louco73 Post author

      I’ll have to just gloss over the Falun Gong comments again, as I really don’t have an opinion on them since I know nothing about them of substance.

      I’m not sure if you realise, but my wife is from Guangzhou, China. I’ve had a few interesting conversations, along similar lines as yours, with her since we have known each other. I’ve also seen the sadness in her father’s eyes as he described how he had to remove beautiful artwork from his ancestral home in a small farming village during the cultural revolution. Her mother also explained how she joined everyone else with their little red books kicking their teachers lying on the ground “because everyone else was doing it.” I’m certainly no scholar on all things Chinese by any means, but I’ve travelled there a few times and have been exposed to the culture more than most from western countries.

      I still believe education is the key to the majority of the worlds ills, yet India again shows what is possible even with a majority poor, rural, uneducated population. If you have ever been to India you will know that China is light years ahead in terms of infrastructure and general development, so in some ways India is even more impressive that it is a functioning democracy. If you have not been to India, then I suggest a trip!

      I too see positives and negatives in many different countries and cultures around the world, having lived in 5 countries and travelled to many more. I believe the west has many problems, many of which are becoming plain to see with the debt levels and paralysed politics in Europe, the USA and Australia at the moment. That said, I will always believe in freedom and democracy until someone comes up with a better plan!

      We may agree to disagree, but I’m thankful that we have the chance to discuss this and that others can find this page on the internet and make up their own minds!

      Reply

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