Internet Censorship in China. What Does the Golden Shield Protect the Chinese Users From?

Countries Mar 17, 2021

The Chinese Internet is controlled entirely by the state, there is censorship, but there is no Facebook, Google, and YouTube. How does the great Chinese firewall work, and how does such an Internet affect modern society?

At the very turn of the Internet era, China overtook the American progenitor of the global network in terms of its number and still remains the leader in this ranking. But you and I know that China is in first place in many ratings only due to its population.

If we consider the population density when calculating the "network nation itself," China will lose its privacy. According to statistics from Internet World Stats, only 60% of Chinese people surf the Internet. For comparison, in the US, 89% of residents are Internet users.

Be that as it may, the development of information and communication technologies at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries. It also changed China. The labor market in China snowballed, engineering began to develop along a new path, and many new professions in information technology appeared. Employment in the private sector of the economy has also grown: opportunities for the development of individual entrepreneurship have increased, and citizens' mobility has jumped. The business of the new format began to flourish.

Mobile phones have fallen in price quickly since China began manufacturing them. Internet cafes have sprung up everywhere, internet services have sprung up, and the giants Tencent and the Alibaba Group have sprung up. The government has correctly identified the country's priorities in the direction of economic development. Today, the WTO ranks the PRC in first place in the export of telecommunications and office equipment.

Here are the apps and services blocked in China:

• Gmail
• Google Apps (Drive, Docs, Calendar, Maps etc.)
• Google Play (i.e. no downloading Android apps)
• Dropbox
• Microsoft OneDrive
• Hootsuite
• Slack

Streaming sites
• YouTube
• Vimeo
• Twitch
• Soundcloud
• Periscope
• Spotify
• DailyMotion
• Pandora

Social Sites
• Twitter
• Facebook
• Pinterest
• Instagram
• Tumblr
• Snapchat
• Reddit
• Quora
• AO3

News Sites
• New York Times
• Financial Times
• Reuters
• Wall Street Journal

• WhatsApp
• Telegram
• Facebook Messenger
• Signal
• Line

Search Engines
• Google
• Amazon (Alexa)
• DuckDuckGo
• Wikipedia

VoiP Calling
• Viber
• Skype (sometimes it works)
• Google Hangouts

Blogging Platforms
• Blogspot
• Medium

Miscellaneous Websites
• Porn websites
• Politically sensitive sites
• VPN websites

The beginning of the "Golden Shield" policy

The global network with maximum freedom of speech and high speed of information dissemination scares those in power worldwide. The Internet is everywhere, and it will help to maintain anonymity and find like-minded people. Logically, the Internet has become the epicenter of the various democratization movements around the world. He contributed to the overthrow of the current regimes, the spread of new ideologies, etc. It proved to be a tremendous challenge for the Chinese government.

In China, with the advent of the Internet, methods for controlling and monitoring it immediately appeared. In 1987, the first e-mail was sent in China, and in 2003, the Golden Shield project to control the Chinese segment of the Internet was fully operational throughout the country. International and domestic Internet services faced a choice: accept China's terms or withdraw from the most populous market in the world. Refusing to restrict access to information for the PRC citizens, the companies' sites and portals could be included in the blacklist of the addresses of the project sites. That is, simply not to work throughout the PRC.

The Golden Shield Internet Control Project is considered the most successful e-government project, and the Chinese Internet is regarded as the most controlled network space in the world.

How does it work?

Information that gets to the Chinese Internet from the outside world is filtered by keywords and blocked for the propaganda of violence, homosexuality, pornography, for attempts to undermine state security, for inciting ethnic hatred, or publishing information recognized by the Chinese government as politically incorrect or ideologically incorrect.

Checking sites goes through several stages and does not stop even after the connection is approved: while viewing the page, the system scans the text for the presence of forbidden words and, if necessary, blocks the connection, sending a request about the further fate of the suspicious resource. Chinese sites are not allowed to link to foreign sources if they were not licensed in the PRC.

The Chinese government controls Internet providers: they must collect information about user actions and report to the services responsible for implementing the Golden Shield system about possible illegal materials. Internet service providers are also obliged to provide the state with the required information about users. They have to monitor activities on the network and report all violations.

Creating your website in China is complicated by the compulsory obtaining an ICP (Internet Content Provider) license. There are two types of licenses: standard and commercial, and access to the latter are almost completely closed for foreign enterprises. Magazines have written about this in detail.

Safe Chinese Internet vs. Chinese users

Government decisions on the Internet, even in highly patriotic China, cannot but provoke a public reaction. Young Internet users in China know that the system can be tricked and confused. They use various VPNs to change the device's location that connects to the Internet by creating another private network.

It makes it possible to bypass the "Golden Shield" system and use all prohibited services such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, view sites from the government's blacklist. If you have been to China, you know precisely about such life hacks and their disadvantages. Internet speed when using such services is significantly reduced. VPN apps are repeatedly being blocked.

Every year it becomes more difficult to bypass the system. The state is tightening its control over the Chinese network from time to time. For example, in 2017, the Ministry of Industry and Informatization of China passed a law obliging all VPN services to obtain an official license. It is almost impossible to exist on the Chinese Internet. Do you think many services that help bypass the PRC's censorship can get a license to exist?

On the eve of large-scale events, international summits, and party congresses in China, censorship is always intensified. For example, during the big celebration in honor of the 70th anniversary of the PRC's founding in China, they began to block unwanted sites and VPN applications even more actively. Residents of China noticed that the Internet began to work even slower than usual during the vacation week. And for foreigners in China, it became quite difficult to communicate with the outside world, free from Chinese censorship. During the "golden week," mail and other services familiar to the world network user did not work.

How does this Internet affect the lives of Chinese people?

The reaction of the Chinese society is adaptation or humility. For example, Chinese students are divided into two types: those who use a VPN, come up with workarounds for the system and want to take full advantage of the world's Internet, and those who are not very concerned about increased control and the associated inconvenience. There are more of the latter. They believe that they have nothing to hide from the state. Let him watch since it is necessary.

But it's more interesting to talk about the former. To get around the censorship and blocking of political statements objectionable to the state, resourceful activists have developed a whole system. Allegories, graphic symbols, drawings, and numbers have become ciphers that the Golden Shield cannot recognize.

Of course, the censorship mechanism is continually learning, and with each new cipher revealed, the system becomes smarter. Therefore, new ways of transmitting prohibited information are being created non-stop.

For example, a few years ago in China, mentions of Winnie the Pooh were removed. Why Winnie? Because if you want to speak out on the Internet about the PRC leader and note not only his positive features, you must hide his name from the censors. Chairman Xi began to associate with Winnie the Pooh after the famous handshake with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. And for a while, the bear was a great way to talk about the chairman.

Along with Winnie the Pooh, China has banned many images and codenames invented by users to circumvent censorship. For example, on the Chinese Internet, any references to George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm are removed, and the names of many Chinese opposition figures are banned, the most famous of which is human rights activist and writer Liu Xiaobo.

In October 2019, video blogger PewDiePie (real name Felix Chelberg) was partially blocked in China because of memes about Xi Jinping and protests in Hong Kong.

Also, in October, the American animated series South Park fell victim to Chinese censorship. It was banned precisely because of the series about censorship on the Chinese Internet.

Another interesting consequence of China's all-encompassing censorship is user self-control. In some public places, you can see a list of prohibited sites. They are posted by restaurant owners, libraries, and university administrators.

It isn't easy to imagine a Chinese resident without self-control and control over society. Itis most likely due to the almost zero anonymity of the virtual life of modern Chinese society.

Every internet user in China is registered; their names are known. Each registration of a new SIM card or Internet connection requires binding to an identity card. Therefore, people in China are used to looking at their actions through the prism of "how will the state react?" It avoids unnecessary problems.

The average user of the Chinese Internet is responsible for the information passing through it. If he notices illegal actions, he will be obliged to report them to the Internet police. So, the creator of a conversation in the popular WeChat messenger is responsible for everything discussed in its participants' discussion.

In China, as nowhere else, there is a tendency to strengthen control over citizens, their actions in the network, and real life. But most Chinese people are not worried about this. They use the Internet with limited information and have no idea how inconvenient their Internet is for us. China has its counterparts for almost all Internet resources that we are used to. Therefore, Chinese Internet users do not feel left out, and most do not try to bypass the blocks.