The Chinese revolutionary Deng Xiaoping stated in the early 1980’s:
Dǎkāi chuānghù, xīnxiān kōngqì hé cāngying jiù huì yìqǐ jìnlái –
“If you open the window for fresh air, you have to expect some flies to blow in.”
Xiaoping was referring to the beginning of Communist China’s transition to more foreign investment and trade, with these economic reforms having large success in building the world’s second largest economy by GDP (with $12.253 trillion USD). However, whilst China continues to emerge as a global powerhouse, both financially and militarily, as a result of these economic freedoms and relaxations, the communist government’s values and political ideals continue to be as authoritarian as ever before. China’s leader, Xin Jinping, continues to rely on the political guidance of Xiaoping of “swatting the flies” of unwanted foreign ideals and influence; this is especially true in the case of an authoritarian-governments greatest enemy; The Internet.
Dubbed The Great Firewall of China by Geremie Barme and Sang Ye in the 6th of June, 1997 issue of Wired Magazine, or known officially as jīndùn gōngchéng/ Golden Shield Project by the Chinese Government, it is the world’s largest, most extensive surveillance of the internet. The point of this mass censorship is for two main reasons;
- Neutralize and monitor critical online opinion, and,
- Prevent the Chinese people from being “corrupted” by evil cultures and ideals, ie Westernism and Democracy.
To firstly understand just how significant and powerful Golden Shield really is, let us firstly break down some facts and figures:
- China’s percentage of internet users amongst it’s population of 1.3 billion people is just 36%, whereas the United States, with a population of 313 million, has 78% of the internet users.
- China has it’s own police force solely devoted to the maintenance of internet censorship and surveillance, numbering 2 million according to a state media report in 2013.
- Since 2009, Facebook, Twitter, Google and other Western websites have been banned. Pages such as Yahoo! are allowed, however these are severely edited versions that must comply with Golden Shield guidelines.
Now, you might be wondering if or what websites are allowed to be accessed in China. By clicking here, you will be taken to a website that is live and up-to-date with what can and cannot be accessed. Whilst, as previously mentioned that sites such as Facebook and Google are banned, China does allow it’s own versions; albeit heavily monitored and censored ones, such as Ren-ren and Qzone.
In 2013 however it was reported by the South China Morning Post that specific zones of Shanghai would see internet-restrictions lifted. Considered part of the Free-Trade Zone of Shanghai, this would allow sites such as Facebook, Twitter and organizations such as The New York Times to be unlocked and accessed “freely” by internet users. The report however does not state whether surveillance monitoring will be stopped; which is highly unlikely and most probably would be covertly stepped up.
However, is this a sign, a slowly, but surely, sign that China might eventually drop Golden Shield and allow for more transparent, relaxed online activities? China should learn from the mistakes of the past, particularly the effects internet-led campaigns such as the Arab Spring can bring upon and eventually bring down authoritarian governments. No wall, or golden shield, can protect them from the public and China’s leaders should know this. I will finish this blog off with a quote from Oliver August’s 2007 Wired article;
“Their predecessors built the Great Wall of China to keep out Mongol invaders. It proved as useful as every other fixed fortification in history, and the Mongols still invaded Beijing and overthrew the political elite.”