Chinese Climb Great Wall Over 'Net Censorship
By Staff News & Analysis - March 25, 2010

To police the internet China has employed what is regarded by many as the world's most formidable censorship machine. But as ever more Chinese get online, more and more users also understand what it means to jump over the government's "Great Firewall of China". – BBC

Dominant Social Theme: That's China for you!

Free-Market Analysis: We read all the time about creeping Internet censorship and on some alternative news websites we are constantly alarmed by the imminent death of the Internet as a tool of learning and information. We've always held that the Internet was a good deal more robust than the firewalls and other censorship technology that were being applied to keep out uncomfortable ideas. Even when reports of Australian and New Zealand censorship were raised recently, we didn't want to comment on the subject because we figured that sooner or later a report would be made confirming our viewpoint, at least partially. And here it is, from an unlikely source, the BBC:

According to Willy Lam, former China editor of the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, China has every reason to control the internet. "It is quite obvious looking from outside or the Western perspective that the Communist Party regime is quite stable. However the social and political situation in China is potentially unstable." There are an estimated 100,000 cases of mass incidents – riots and disturbances – every year, Mr. Lam says. And the gap between the rich and poor is widening, resulting in "a severe situation of class antagonism between the newly rich entrepreneurs, senior party leaders on the one hand, and the so-called disadvantaged sectors – the peasants, migrant workers", he adds.

"The erection of the so-called 'Great Firewall of China' is a pre- emptive strike against possible potential destabilising factors getting worse, particularly given Beijing's suspicion that there are so-called anti-China organisations in the West, in the US in particular, who want to exploit these potential destabilising factors in China to make trouble for the regime." The erection of the so-called 'Great Firewall of China' is a pre-emptive strike against possible potential destabilising factors getting worse … But the firewall is not unbreakable, at least to some Chinese internet users.

"Just two years ago, only 5% of Chinese internet users knew that the government censored the Internet," Mr. Mao says.

"But today, information flows faster and faster and people try to use different tools to spread information between social networks." "There are a minority of users who can use technology to bypass censorship. No more than one or two percent. More users – about 18% – have become second-hand information consumers from those savvy users." "So roughly 20% of Chinese Internet users now understand what 'Fan Qiang' ('circumventing the firewall') means, and they also have a strong determination to do so."

Stopping people evading the firewall is not easy, says Zhou Shuguang, an active Twitter user and blogger from the central province of Hunan. He cites the availability of free, open-source, peer-to-peer (P2P) software such as Tor. "Everybody can use it. If you can pay some money, you can get a virtual private network (VPN) account so you can get a faster connection to the Internet." According to Internet users in China, you can download the P2P software from the Tor website. However, the site itself has been blocked in China. Nevertheless, more and more so-called "mirror sites" – exact copies – are now emerging. "They can block one. Maybe five will appear tomorrow," Mr. Mao says.

So … here we have it from the BBC – that censorship of the Internet may be a bit more difficult than throwing a switch. (And, yes, we're aware of British censorship – ironically enough – but we think that's possibly a patchwork quilt as well.) Even though it's the BBC, by the way, we believe there is some validity to this argument. In fact, we've tried to make the point that the easy destruction of the Internet by the powers that be, like the all-powerful nature of the power elite itself, is a dominant social theme, a promotion of sorts.

If you can (through promotional means) convince people that the forces attempting to run the world are so mighty that no change is possible, well, that's half the battle right there – if you're part of the elite anyway. Discourage people from trying to change their lot by issuing frightening books such as 1984 (George Orwell was a member of the British Secret Service) or set up websites that constantly harp on the implacability of an upcoming "one world empire" and you've gone some distance to intimidate people and discourage dissension.

But very possibly it just ain't true. And we think our world view is at least to a degree validated by what's going on today. The Internet is in collision with almost every dominant social theme the power elite has developed recently. We think we can discern the Internet's fine hand in upsetting so many promotions – the chaos that has overtaken the EU, the American Tea Parties' anti-government stance, the growing resistance to America's serial wars, the shriveling of the Green movement and global warming in particular, the evolving difficulties faced by central banks and fiat money (and loss of credibility), the renaissance in the price of gold and silver (ever hated by the elites), and on and on.

There are many within the alternative news community that have decided for one reason or another to be gloomy about the future of the Internet. But it makes little sense to us. We return to the historical example of the Gutenberg Press, which took well over 100 years to make its impact. The Internet is making a difference more rapidly in our estimation, nevertheless, it may take many years, decades, even centuries, before a communications breakthrough as radical as the Internet can be tamed and controlled.

NOTED: Why I Won't Miss Google … The Daily Beast's China correspondent Huang Hung says the search giant should be applauded for standing up against censorship – but any Internet-savvy Chinese person can get around the government's firewalls … If a Chinese person really wants to know about Tiananmen, he or she can always do what we call "wall climbing," which is to log on to a server offshore and then access the information. The government is also much less sensitive about English-language information, so Chinese can still read CNN, the BBC, and other international news sites. Occasionally, some China-related stories will be blocked. But all Chinese have to do is learn English and a bit of wall climbing. As a friend of mine once told me, we used to learn English to understand the world; now we learn English to understand China. – NBC … (Ed Note: Another point of view on Chinese Internet censorship from a writer who lives there.)

After Thoughts

If one reads the history of the Internet it becomes abundantly clear that while DARPA created the initial concept and backbone, it was the private-industry discovery of the personal computer that made the Internet something other than an obscure network used by certain universities to trade white papers. No, the Internet was not anticipated, its power was not foreseen and its impact has been disruptive to the powers-that-be. We think the early part of the 21st century, anyway, shall feature a continued and escalating battle between the 'Net and the power elite. And we are optimistic enough to believe that the Internet shall have its share of victories.