This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable

January 5, 2010
China’s Great Firewall falls briefly, allowing YouTube & porn

A Chinese internet cafe. Photo: Flickr user TimYang

In an ongoing effort to curb exposure to unsavory web material, China has massively strengthened its Great Firewall.

Internet censorship in China targets anything that poses a perceived threat to the government: political sites, social networks, and much more.

Scribemedia writes that the recent crackdown has been severe:

The Chinese Ministry of Public Security reports that in 2009 it closed over 9,000 sites and arrested more than 5,300 people…‘Purifying the Internet environment and cracking down on Internet crimes is related to long-term state security,” the ministry says, and promises that its Internet policing will intensify in 2010.’

Despite the government’s announcement, Chinese netizens enjoyed a few hours of web freedom over the past few days, likely due to a glitch in the upgrading of the government firewall. While some people celebrated what they thought might be an end to government controls, many just used the hiccup to browse forbidden content.

Mranti, a Beijing-based Twitter user, wrote about the firewall’s technical difficulties on January 3rd:

Some (not all) report Twitter, Picasa, Blogger, Youtube unblocked on some ISPs in China. Yet to confirm.

It’s believed this unblocking on some ISPs is caused by GFW upgrading and maintainence, not real unblocking. Yet to confirm.

Thank GFW, Chinese Internet is back to normal: Youtube etc are blocked again after last night temp access.

Some critics argue that the crackdown on pornography is a means to enforce broader censorship of dissent.

But critics do not agree on whether the government is winning the battle to control the internet, since many Chinese netizens use proxy sites to bypass government controls. A Wall Street Journal article argues that the Great Firewall is unsuccesful:

The censors ‘are winning the battles everywhere,’ says Isaac Mao, a blogging pioneer based in China and Chinese-Internet researcher, ‘but losing the war.’…

The dozen or so years since the Web came to China have seen repeated rounds of crackdowns and detentions, aided by a steady growth in scope and sophistication of the government’s filtering apparatus that critics dub the Great Firewall…

The government said the software was meant to block children from accessing pornography, but critics said that it was unreasonable to require a specific program for all PCs, and that the software was filtering a broad range of content, such as social and political commentary, and even health, among others.

What would have been the state’s most extensive measure ever to cleanse the Web instead awakened a new segment of society to the constraints imposed on them.

Yet, not all commentators are so bullish about Twitter’s ability to inspire a more accommodating brand of authoritarianism. An editorial by Evgeny Morozov in The National explains why techno-utopians are wrong about the Twitter revolution:

Techno-utopianism is usually rooted in rigid and obsolete views about the relationship between authoritarianism and information. Most techno-utopians interpret the fact that authoritarian governments resort to censorship as a sign of their weakness. Hence, whenever authoritarian governments cede control over information, they are believed to become weaker. Thus, every time Chinese bloggers use proxy servers to access banned content, they are slowly eroding the Great Firewall of China. And where the firewalls fall, dictators soon follow.

This view is fatally flawed, as it understates the sophistication and flexibility of modern authoritarian states and overstates the democratic aspirations of their citizens. Western leaders have an unhealthy tendency to imagine politics in authoritarian states as being more hyperactive and participatory than the politics in their own countries. They implicitly view all Chinese, Russians and Iranians as hard-core news junkies and seasoned political dissidents. Authoritarian states are thus seen to be one step away from full-blown revolution – and waiting for the West to nudge them, whether via the Voice of America, BBC World, or judicious retweets.

But this is an anachronistic view of the world. Modern authoritarian states have eagerly (but selectively) embraced globalization to provide their citizens with at least a modicum of self-actualization without ever abandoning their authoritarianism. Their young people travel the world, learn English, use Skype and poke each other on Facebook – all while competing for comfortable jobs with state-owned companies. We are entering the age of “accommodating authoritarianism” – and the internet has played a crucial (though hardly the only) role in providing many of the accommodations.

It is unclear what percentage of China 300 million-plus internet users are able to access proxy sites through which to surf the web freely. The following graphic shows the variety of outcomes when Chinese netizens (YOU) attempt to reach blocked external websites (REAL WEBSITE):

A schematic of the Great Firewall. Courtesy: DingDing

bookmark    print

Comments

2 comments

#2

Porn!?!??! They band porn!??!?!?! That’s a fight on my block

#1

In a country that is riding the waves of new found freedom, democracy and capitalism, it seems kind of strange that they would band porn. What do they think they are accomplishing by this?

Produced by Creative News Group LLC     ©2018 WNET.ORG     All rights reserved

Distributed by American Public Television