I’ve decided to do this one post dedicated to the Internet situation over here. I find it fascinating as a media/communication major and just as a person who uses the Internet a lot in my daily life. As you may know, China censors its Internet. They censor all kinds of pages, including English and Chinese language content. There are various ways they do this which I won’t go into because I don’t really understand them myself.
There are two main ways that companies and individuals can use to evade this censorship, proxy servers and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Proxy servers work by sending your requests for pages to a computer in a different part of the world, finding the info you want, and sending it back to you (as I understand it). This method is very easy to set up and operate, but it makes your Internet very slow. VPNs, on the other hand, work by creating an encrypted private channel along the normal Internet data stream. Your private channel gets its information from a server in a different country, which then sends it back to you in China. It gets through the normal Chinese censors that monitor all traffic because it’s encrypted.
This begs the question of why? Why does China censor the Internet content that its citizens can look at? For a good answer to this question, I’ll turn you to an excerpt from the book “Postcards from Tomorrow Square” by James Fallows. This was the required reading for my semester in Shanghai, and I encourage you to read it. Here is his take on what the real purpose of this censorship is:
"Think again of the real importance of the Great Firewall [that’s what many people call this system of censors]. Does the Chinese government really care if a citizen can look up the Tiananmen Square entry on Wikipedia? Of course not. Anyone who wants that information will get it—by using a proxy server or VPN, by emailing to a friend overseas, even by looking at the surprisingly broad array of foreign magazines that arrive, uncensored, in Chinese public libraries.
What the government cares about is making the quest for information just enough of a nuisance that people generally won’t bother. Most Chinese people, like most Americans, are interested mainly in their own country. All around them is more information about China and things Chinese than they could possibly take it. The newsstands are bulging with papers and countless glossy magazines. The bookstores are big, well-stocked, and full of patrons, and so are the public libraries. Video stores, with pirated versions of anything. Lots of TV channels. And of course the Internet, where sites in Chinese and about China constantly proliferate. When this much is available inside the Great Firewall, why go to the expense and bother, or incur the possible risk, of trying to look outside?”
I think his logic makes a lot of sense, and I can certainly see what he means when I look at the people I know here and how they view the world.