Climbing the Great Firewall of China

Another long time no see post. I was unable to access wordpress for some time as it is blocked in China (along with many other blogging sites). I could occasionally access my dashboard, but was unable to post. Now I’m back online and using a new VPN to get me over the firewall, the posts should start again.

Censorship in China is frustrating to say the least. The government blocks any websites that it deems unsuitable for it’s citizens. One way the government censors the internet is by blocking sites entirely, such as Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. Censorship in China is also based on keywords – if a website contains a black listed word, then the site automatically becomes blocked. Search terms that reference black listed words such as the Falun Gong movement and the protests in 1989; Tibet and independence; concepts related to democracy and political protest; and certain parts of the human anatomy… all result in web page that looks like this:

The blocking of the English language media is still less prevailant than the blocks imposed on Chinese language articles containing similar ‘harmful information.’ Chinese people are well aware of the blocks. And who wouldn’t be with helpful little characters like these guys to remind you?

Jingjing and Chacha are watching you.

The citizens of Shenzhen were lucky enough to have the chance to become acquainted with Jingjing 警警 and Chacha 察察 (when jing警 and cha察 are combined they create the word for ‘Police’ – jingcha 警察). The two cartoon characters were created to remind them not to search for sensitive information online. The local authorities clearly felt no need to disguise the characters by literally naming them, ‘Police,’ or ‘PoPo and Lice-Lice’ to make it sound cuter (coupling two syllable words is the a traditional way of making words child-friendly in China).

The Chinese government places much stress on the need to create a “harmonious society”. However, the slogan has become internet slang to stand for censorship – to say “that website has been harmonized” is to say “that website has been censored”. Netizens in China occasionally rise up against the frustrating blocks using means that seem abstract to the average westerner. Earlier this year World of Warcraft fans pitched together and made an hour long film, using WoW in-game video, ridiculing the government’s attempt to ‘harmonize’ the internet in China in response to the forced installation of ‘Green Dam Youth Escort‘ software.  Netizens are also familiar with what technology to use in order to circumnavigate the censors and will use proxy servers and VPNs.

Whilest knowledge of these tool is widespread, there is less of an appetite for them than one might expect. A study carried out by Zuckerman et al, suggests that still only a very small proportion of netizens use VPNs and other software to circumnavingate censors in countries like China. The inconvenice of first finding and then logging onto a free English language vpn, which may also slow down their connection speed or make them drop offline periodically, and having friends using Chinese-language government-monitored alternatives to social networking sites may result in only a small number of netizens spending the time to navigate their way through the censors.

Recent comments from Google that “the Chinese government is only becoming more entrenched in its attempts to control the internet,” make the future seem rather bleak. However, some rather unusual noise has been emited from with the CCP in the form of an open letter calling for an end to press censorship, with backing from the CCP Premier, Wen Jiabao (second in power to leader Hu Jintao). The letter was published online on October 11th. However, just like Wen Jiabao’s words on political reform and freedom of speech during a CNN interview, this letter didn’t reach many on the mainland and was subsequently ‘harmonized’.

Wen Jiabao gets censored by the Central Propaganda Department

The irony of a member of the CCPs inner circle being repeatedly censored for speaking out about freedom of speech has not been lost on Chinese netizens, whose admiration for Premier Wen has now grown. It also suggests the power of Central Propaganda ‘Publicity’ Department (中共中央宣传部) in China if the CCP’s own premier can be silenced. For now only time will tell what the future holds for censorship in China.

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One response to “Climbing the Great Firewall of China

  1. Pingback: Blocked Again « Justrecently's Weblog·

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