Internet Censorship in China
FYC Ruoxuan (Catherine) Yuan Internet Censorship has negative effects on China Censorship in China has gained much attention recently because of the conflict between Google and the Chinese government’s self-censorship policies. In fact, censorship has been practiced since ancient China and the intensity only increases by the years. Nowadays, the most notable measure of censorship is being done on the Internet. More and more restrictions have been put into actions by the Chinese government, which make the life of Chinese Internet users, the Chinese netizens, very inconvenient.
With the intensity of censorship increasing and the censoring technology improving, Internet censorship has mainly negative effects on Chinese society. To start off, the current censorship situation needs to be described. In China, censorship is determined by the ruling party, the Communist Party of China, so Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, special administrative regions that are mostly self-governing, are not fully affected by it. But in mainland China, Internet censorship has great impacts on the society.
Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, which people use everyday around the world, are banned in mainland China. Every time a Chinese netizen tries to open these sites, a blank page with bold words “404 not found” appears. This is very inconvenient for Chinese netizens. Moreover, the number of websites that are inaccessible is increasing. Also, Chinese government has forced search engines to adopt the self-censorship policies that force them to filter the search results for certain words. This triggered the withdrawal of Google from the mainland Chinese market.
Attempting to search those “sensitive” terms not only results in little or no information being displayed but also in the shutdown of one’s Internet connection for a short period of time. Some people even suspect that doing so may lead to being spied on and arrested by the government. With so many coercive protocols, Internet censorship affects China in many different aspects, especially in economy, politics and culture. First of all, to boost the national economy, the Chinese government believes that using Internet censorship for economic protectionism is a good method.
However, Internet censorship actually hinders the development of economy inside China. No matter in which nation, the best way to improve its economy is to utilize the most updated technologies and to focus on scientific innovations. China has always emphasized the development of science and technology and on learning the latest innovations from foreign countries, and the ex-leader of China Xiaoping Deng famously claimed that science and technology constitute the primary productive forces. However the new technology and innovations need a market of free competition in order to expand their influence and earn more benefits.
Without good management ideas and marketing theories, these technologies cannot be applied properly in order to produce qualified commodities. This is exactly what the Chinese Internet censorship has caused. According to the national condition of China, a market combining socialism and capitalism is needed to rejuvenate the economy. However, the Chinese government proclaims its socialist ideology and promotes local businesses in a socialist manner and refuses the influx of some constructive theories, which may contain capitalist ideas in order to “maintain the stability of the Communist Party and to create a harmonious society. The restricted and narrow-minded economy strategy of the Chinese government, resulted from the Internet censorship, has undermines the development of the Chinese economy. The Chinese Internet censorship not only blocks useful information, but also interrupts communication between companies, therefore negatively affecting the Chinese economy. Nowadays there is growing cooperation among companies from different countries, which is an important way to promote economic growth in a nation.
However, the partial blocking of popular email services and the shutdown of multiple chat rooms has created many problems for local business contact with foreign ones. A famous example took place in May 2006, when Chinese netizens encountered difficulty connecting to Hotmail, which is an important method to communicate with foreign partners, since it is used all around the world. Also, soon after this event, Chinese netizens again reported that the access to POP mailboxes in many mail providers was difficult.
Although Chinese netizens have tried to use blogs and forums to maintain communication, many blogs have been blocked ever since then, including Xanga and the LiveJournal. This makes international cooperation difficult. From this, the efficiency of producing commodities and the quality of the products in China cannot catch up with international standards, thus the Chinese economy suffers. Internet censorship and the requirement of self-censorship not only harm the economy inside China, but also are negatively affecting China in aspects of international commercial trade, even as globalization becomes the trend of today’s world.
Chinese Internet censorship is applied to both directions; not only blocks Chinese Internet users’ access to certain foreign websites, but also prevents foreigners from knowing the truth about China through refusal of releasing reliable information. So when foreign companies want to enter the Chinese market, they face a serious question: “How do you assess an investment opportunity if no reliable information about social tensions, corruption or local trade unions is available? ” It is impossible. All this information is necessary for a company to make wise decisions, to figure out a general plan and to find strategies that suit this market.
Since most companies do not dare to enter a new market without analyzing and planning ahead, in this way, China lost the potential influx of many investments, technologies, and new management ideas. Even though some corporations were brave enough to challenge the Chinese market due to the lack of information and the restricted policies, most of them have failed. Examples are many, especially when concerning the Internet companies. “Many Internet giants have retreated from the country… In fact, no major American Internet company has dominated its field in China. These companies, who are “armed with cash, intellectual property and an ability to manage complex networks and introverted workers,” have failed in the Chinese market. Therefore, it is natural for those companies who are less equipped and less experienced to presume that they will fail as well. Although some scholars assume that China’s restriction may decrease in the future, the block in February 2007 of the French organization Observatoire International des Crises’ website after it posted an article on the risks of trading with China, makes the claim less convincing. This case of censorship, affecting a very specialized site with solely French-language content, shows the government attaches as much importance to the censorship of economic data as political content,” Reporters Without Borders quoted the organization’s comment. Hence, Internet censorship has discouraged foreign business to invest in the Chinese market, and it may keep doing so. Internet censorship has also been used as an efficient tool for economic protectionism in recent years, but the effect may hurt both sides.
Renren, (original name is Xiaonei) the Chinese version of Facebook, was founded in 2005, and then in 2009 Facebook was banned in mainland China. Tudou, founded in 2005, and Youku, founded in 2006, both are Chinese versions of YouTube. Their shares of the market greatly increased after YouTube had been banned in 2007. The most notable example occurred when Google decided to quit the Chinese market. After warning in January that it might pull out of China, Google shut its mainland Chinese-language portal and began rerouting searches to its Hong Kong site in late March to avoid self-censorship demands from Beijing.
Because China recognized that losing ties to the world’s largest global search engine would dampen its innovation and business expansion efforts, and Google certainly wasn’t happy at the prospect of losing China’s online advertizing market, both sides reached a compromise when China renewed Google’s operating license in July 2010. Yet the damage had been done. Baidu, the Chinese version of Google and China’s top Internet search company, profited greatly and gained a much larger share of the market after Google exited. However, Baidu’s gain is China’s loss. “The whole industry will become worse.
Without competition with Google, Baidu has no motivation to innovate. ” said Yu Yang, chief executive of Analysys International, a Beijing research firm. Baidu is known for providing illegal music downloads, although it defended the practice, (Google vs China 2010)saying it simply provides the links. Also, Baidu faced criticism after the local media published reports saying Baidu gave high search rankings to companies selling illegal drugs. Soon after, Baidu signed a multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal with China Central Television, which had broadcast a fake investigative piece on Baidu to “clear its name”.
Furthermore, Baidu is very cooperative with the government’s censorship efforts. So with Google’s absence from China, Chinese citizens are forced to use Baidu, whose ethics are questioned and which will increase the intensity of censorship by following every government order. “Chinese netizens are the biggest loser in this accident. ” Additionally, the lacking of information and the coercive use of native providers caused by Internet censorship affects citizens not only economically, but politically as well.
As mentioned in the previous paragraphs, censorship does not only apply to one direction; it affects both Chinese and foreign websites. So the Chinese press cannot post any reports on certain issues online, and they cannot report on those issues in any publications, because the Chinese government has always considered these issues “sensitive” and capable of “inciting subversion of the national regime or overthrow of the socialist system. Therefore, when the Internet was first introduced to China, many Chinese netizens discovered that the Internet can be a great way to gain access to foreign press.
In this way, they were able to listen to opinions and comments, even critics, from all areas, which is an important step in learning about the government’s advantages and disadvantages and to participate in political lives. However, the Chinese Internet censorship has a focus on neutralizing critical online opinions, especially those that come from foreign press, and the most common way to execute this is to simply make whole websites completely unavailable in mainland China.
By doing so, Chinese netizens are unable to know what the international reaction is about a new Chinese policy, or to see the evaluation of China in an international scope and to view the same issue from different sides. For example, the website of BBC, a relatively objective British TV channel, has been banned in mainland China since 2007. Before it was banned, BBC had provided many Chinese citizens access to the latest review on China from an international point of view. CNN, another TV channel, was banned for some time and now is accessible only partially.
Chinese censorship policies are applied on Chinese websites as well. Many big Internet companies have to cooperate with the Chinese government, assisting and reinforcing the system of censorship, because they do not want to lose the Chinese Internet market. Therefore, these companies allow the Internet policies to examine their contents and remove anything inappropriate ones right after polices disapprove them. Even worse is that the number of the Internet polices is rumored at more than 50,000.
With such an intense level of Internet censorship, critical comments appearing on Internet forums, blogs, and major portals usually are erased within minutes. In this way, Chinese netizens can never gain a full understanding of their own politics and their own government, because all they are exposed to is the government’s propaganda. The function of censorship is focused on preventing Chinese citizens from learning more about past and current failures of the Communist Party and about alternative systems of governance. However, as time passes by, the censored subjects are not limited to the
Communist Party any more. Anything about politics can be termed “sensitive,” and reports on political contents are censored carefully since censorship about news reports is always a focus in the censorship systems. Although censorship does not follow any specific laws or regulations, the censorship system is vigorously implanted and the apparatus of Internet repression has become the most advanced and most extensive in the world. Moreover, Amnesty International notes that China “has the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world. The offences of which these people are accused include communicating with groups abroad, opposing the persecution of the Falun Gong, signing online petitions, and calling for reforms and an end to corruption. Under such circumstances, the Chinese netizens can only read reports from the Chinese press which are untruthful and biased; on the other hand, the relatively objective reports from the foreign press are inaccessible. The lack of truthful reports harms the political consciousness of Chinese citizens. If one cannot even know about the truth, he or she cannot be aware of the real situation he or she is facing.
For example, the Chinese news report website about the earthquake in Sichuan mainly contains the Communist Party’s propaganda, and lacks useful data or updates of the process on this event. When probing this website, people are more focused on emotions, and they cannot acquire many statistics or real information on the earthquake itself. But when looking at the Japanese news site about the same event, it is clear that its major contents are plain descriptions about the earthquake and the reconstruction process.
There are abundant amounts of data, and the reports are largely based on facts and very objective. The American website of the earthquake, although it may not appear to be as objective as its Japanese counterpart, is still very truthful. People can find useful information about the earthquake, and the press also provides some comments and analysis on it. Chinese netizens desperately need the information provided by the foreign press to be politically conscious, but in reality, they cannot gain access to any of these websites, as they are banned by censorship.
The government claims that their censorship practices can “harmonize” society, but in fact, they are only intensifying social conflicts and slowing down the progress of political development. In today’s world, as cultural exchange, which is as important as political communication, becomes more and more frequent, Internet censorship harms China from the perspective of cultural development and cultural communication. A culture is always in a continuous state of change. By communicating and acquiring knowledge from another culture, it is able to learn about the trends of the world’s cultures and update itself.
Thus, such a culture will be greatly changed towards a more modern mode. An important compartment of cultural exchange is the exchange of popular culture. With the gradual spread of globalization, popular culture becomes similar across nations and cultures, and the entire world contributes to its further development. In a manner of speaking, popular culture in the world today is a combination of many cultures, each providing its own features and advantages to make the combination attractive to all kinds of people.
By contributing to and learning from this popular culture, a nation can improve its own cultural features, thus providing better contents and even leading the trend in the world. However, Chinese Internet censorship inhibits the flow of foreign popular culture into China. A noticeable case is YouTube, an icon for fashion, freedom, individuality and novelty, which has beens inaccessible in mainland China since March 2008, right “after dozens of videos about protests in Tibet appeared. The issue about Tibet has long been a “sensitive” topic in China and the Chinese government has used many ways to keep the media out, even if this act is considered violation of the freedom of press. However, in this case denying the access of YouTube not only prevents people from knowing about the issue but also eliminates the communication and interaction between American popular culture and Chinese popular culture. Now it is hard for Chinese netizens to acquire the latest information on fashions in America, and they lose a good chance to be inspired by ideas presented through video clips and to develop their own cultural innovations.
In conclusion, Chinese Internet censorship undermines economy improvement, hinders political development, and slows down cultural innovations. Although the Chinese government never admits their censorship policies in public, and although there are no specific laws or regulations addressing the censorship policies, the negative effects caused by Internet censorship are obvious. The president of China, Jintao Hu, vowed to purify the Internet, saying China needed to “strengthen administration and development of our country’s Internet culture. However, censorship is not the solution, even though the Chinese government does not want to face the reality. It is trying its best to stop people from discovering the truth and to feign a perfect society. Nevertheless, the public cannot be fooled and Chinese citizens are waking from the mirage. A group of former senior Communist party officials in China have criticized the Internet censorship, stating that strict censorship may “sow the seeds of disaster” for China’s political transition.
Although a government spokesman responded that the government’s rules are “fully in line” with the rest of the world and that “no one had been arrested just for writing online content,” reports from the international society opposed this announcement, and Chinese citizens, who are experiencing Internet censorship every day, know the announcement to be a lie. The Chinese people can sense the deep sorrow under the superficial harmony. The nation seems to be prosperous and progressive, but no one knows what unpredictable crisis may happen if the government still insist on the censorship policy so arbitrarily.
Although ordinary people may be powerless and vulnerable individually, the strength of the mass cannot be ignored. Chinese netizens have developed some Internet memes to ridicule Internet censorship. Some of them, for example the famous “Grass Mud Horse,” have become icons of resistance against Internet censorship and have gained media attention globally. These images and slangs cannot change the difficult reality, but they show the citizens’ increasing awareness of problems brought up by censorship.
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