Internet censorship in China is pervasive. A range of laws and regulations at the provincial and national levels allow government agencies to not only control access to individual websites, but also to actively monitor citizens’ internet use. These rules are enforced in two main ways:
- By a team of more than two million “internet police” who patrol chat rooms, message boards and other social media
- By a complex security architecture nicknamed the “Great Firewall of China,” which uses a combination of IP blocking, DNS filtering and other tools to restrict access to sensitive material
This combination of active monitoring and technological control makes China one of the most restrictive countries in the world.
The roots of internet censorship in China can be traced back to the country’s Cultural Revolution, a period of intense crackdown on anti-Maoist ideologies that took place between 1966 and 1976. Though subsequent leadership introduced financial reforms to move the country toward a market-based economy, the use of state apparatuses to monitor and tamp down dissent has remained.
Today, there are more than 688 million active internet users in China, though their experiences on a day-to-day basis are far different from those of us in other countries. In addition to having access to certain major websites restricted, many Chinese internet users actively participate in a form of self-censorship, with the understanding that their behavior online is being monitored and scrutinized.
Censorship in Action
Officially, China’s internet censorship policy is to block sites containing “superstitious, pornographic, violence-related, gambling and other harmful information,” according to the state news agency Xinhua. However, in practice, most internet censorship in China is done for the purposes of maintaining political stability. Search engines frequently restrict access to articles about broad topics such as democracy, freedom of speech and police brutality, as well as politically sensitive issues such as Taiwanese independence and the Falun Gong movement.
Aside from filtering out specific search engine content, over 3,000 websites are blocked entirely in mainland China. These include:
- Google, Gmail, Google Docs and Picasa
- Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
- YouTube, Vimeo and SoundCloud
- The New York Times, Economist and TIME websites
Impact of Internet Censorship in China
The control of public opinion online has been called “China’s biggest engineering project.” The country’s internet censorship policies have greatly restricted free speech and independent journalism. International human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have called China “the biggest offender when it comes to internet censorship,” while Reporters Without Borders ranked the country 176th out of 180 on its World Press Freedom index.
Internet censorship in China is big business, too. By restricting international competition, companies such as Alibaba and Baidu have become some of the most successful in the world. The country has also made money selling surveillance technology to other repressive states.
Using a VPN to Avoid Internet Censorship in China
A VPN can potentially be used to work around firewalls and other censorship measures in China. However, the websites of many VPN providers — including Le VPN — are blocked in the country. For this reason, if you’re planning a trip to China in the future, it’s important to subscribe and download our software ahead of time.
Use the Internet by Your Own Rules
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