Over the long course of history, empires and nation-states have constructed walls to protect people and limit interaction with “outside world”. Now, because of technology, walls are also built in the digital world. Just like the Chinese having the Great Wall, the government also created the “Great Firewall” of China, which is a digital wall limiting internet access to World Wide Web from within the People’s Republic of China.
The “Great Firewall” is basically a barrier that limit the flow and exchange of information to any person in China accessing the internet. Sites such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, and foreign websites (including news agencies like BBC or Reuters) are inaccessible to Chinese internet users in China. Countering internet freedom, Beijing supports and accepts Chinese providers and their developments; a main one is Baidu (equivalent to Google) and others include WeChat, a social media platform. Unlike foreign companies, these Chinese providers submit and completely cooperates with the Chinese government.
Besides the limited information censored by the wall, the Chinese authorities also restrict information between people inside the wall—censorship pervades. For example, the Chinese Communistic Party (CCP) has their propaganda department send memos to businesses such as radio stations, TV stations, and newspaper agencies, instructing them how to report certain incidents. Even though the privatization of Chinese media seems to have reduced the hard grip on the broadcasting of information, media outlets has to “self-censorship” due to the consequences of being fined or shut down if it doesn’t meet the guidelines of the Chinese government. Similarly, private websites, blog articles, and social media accounts are banned and restricted if the CCP and government sees them as being too critical or stirring too much public opinion.
The “Great Chinese Firewall” rigidly controls and limits the access to information and also violates the freedom to expression. Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI) had a survey done on China, rating Chinese citizens’ freedom at 2 out of 10 possible points (1 being worst and 10 being best). Countries worst than this is a North Korea and Oman, being rated at 1. Starting from 2016, censorship has increased and more and more of foreign and domestic websites have been blocked on the Chinese internet.
The digital firewall, along with domestic censorship, restricts information across China and also propagates and helps form public opinion; it influences on how information is perceived by the public and if it contradicts the Party’s position. Besides being censored, information is structured to encourage a certain view on Chinese history and relations of the CCP with foreign countries; the aim is to strengthen nationalist sentiments.
An example is Chinese student textbooks that teach Chinese children to be patriotic and critical of the West who arrived in the 19th century, which humiliated the Chinese civilization for 100 years. In public displays such as billboards, posters in streets, public transports, and workplaces, citizens encounter views and praises of the CCP. The Chinese public is influenced through the use of social media accounts and the “50-cent army,” state-employed bloggers, who post positive comments and news online about the government. So, the Great Firewall of China limits information and is the way to structure and shape public opinion to a potential factor.
Every Chinese citizen is not the same though; many have become wary of the official propaganda of state-controlled media and posters. Some are even using virtual private networks (VPN) to go around the Great Firewall and look at uncensored information. Others use code words and metaphors to criticize government and when discovered, invent new words. However, the wall could only be circumvented and not openly opposed. Special and insider knowledge is required to access VPNs and coded language.
With the increased Chinese crackdown on VPNs and critical bloggers, the limited information has been further reduced. Even more so, the party-state has been even more keen on their efforts and persistence to influence public opinion, in potentially becoming a stronger factor to controlling the citizens’ perceptions and understanding of their propaganda.
Basically, the Great Firewall of China puts a barrier between a China and the outside world and creates an environment in which the CCP can easily influence public opinion. Under President Xi Jinping, the freedom of expression and critical thinking will be censored even further. Although it seeks indoctrination of all Chinese citizens, it has yet to be seen if the two objectives, of the party-state will succeed, economic development and social stability.
To support the freedom of expression and internet freedom in China, please sign this petition by clicking on this link: 1.4 Billion Chinese People Urge United States to Tear Down CPC’s GFW | We the People: Your Voice in Our Government