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Internet censorship in China

The People's Republic of China has set up a set of Internet censorship systems.

One part of this system is known outside China as the Great Firewall of China (in reference to the Great Wall of China). This system blocks contents by preventing IP addresses from flowing through and consists of standard firewall and proxy servers which set at the internet gateways[?]. The government does not appear to be systematically examining internet content, as this appears to be technically unfeasible.

This firewall is largely ineffective at preventing the flow of information and is rather easily circumvented, most simply by using the cache for google but also by using proxy servers outside the firewall.

There are a number of systems which are intent to circumvent the firewalls, but none of them are widely used within China because they are too technically complex for the type of restrictions which are being imposed, and because they don't take into account the practicalities of internet use in China.

Research into the Chinese Internet censorship has shown that blocked websites include:

The banning appears to be highly uncoordinated and ad-hoc with some website being blocked while other similar websites are allowed. Also, the blocking can sometimes be reversed if the inconvenience is high enough. This apparently occurred with the website google which was briefly blocked and unblocked. Another notable example of a website that was blocked and unblocked was that of the New York Times which was unblocked when reporters in a private interview with Jiang Zemin specifically asked about the block and replied that he would look into the matter.

Chinese agencies frequently issue regulations about the internet, but these are often not enforced and are often ignored. One major problem in regulation enforcement is that determining who has jurisdiction over the internet causes many bureaucratic turf battles within the Chinese government between various ministries and between central and local officials.

Some legal scholars have pointed that the frequency at which the Chinese government issues new regulations on the internet is a symptom of their ineffectiveness because the new regulations never make reference to the previous set of regulations, which appear to have been forgotten.

Although internet blocking has received much attention in the West, this is actually only part of the Chinese effort to censor the internet and the least effective. Much more effective is the ability of the government to censor internet content providers within China, because in these cases the government can physically seize the website and the operators. In this situation the administrative and logistical difficulties which normally arise when dealing with the internet do not, because these seizures and bannings are extensions of regulations and procedures which cover the non-internet world.

Although the government does not have the physical resources to monitor all internet chat rooms and forums, the threat of being shut down has caused almost all internet content providers to have internal staff, who are colloquially known as "big mamas" who stop and remove forum comments which may be politically sensitive.

However, internet content providers have adopted some counterstrategies. One strategy is to post a political sensitive story and then remove it when the government complains. In the hours or days in which the story is available online, people read it, and by the time the story is taken down, the information is already released. One notable case in which this occurred was in response to a school explosion in 2001, in which local officials tried to surpress the fact that the explosion was the result of children illegally producing fireworks. By the time local officials forced the story to be removed from the internet, everyone knew about it.

Also, internet content providers also often replace censored forum comments with white space which allows the reader to know that comments were taken down and to often guess what they were.

One controversial issue is whether Western companies should supply equipment to the Chinese government which aids in the blocking of sites. Some argue that it is wrong from companies to profit from censorship, while others argue that point out that equipment being supplied is standard internet infrastructure equipment and that providing this sort of equipment actually aids the flow of information as without the equipment the Chinese government would not develop the internet at all. A similar dilemma faces Western content providers such as Yahoo and AOL who must abide by Chinese government wishes, including having internal content monitors, to operate within China.

See also: Internet censorship in Saudi Arabia[?]

Sites that host software that can be used to circumvent the censorship, such as Freenet and Peek-a-Booty[?], are also banned. (This, for some time, included the entire open source software repository at SourceForge, as it hosts the Freenet project, among thousands of others.)

PRC media sources have estimated that the fragmented internet industry, dominated by small, grungy Web cafes, is currently worth about 100 billion yuan (US$12 billion).

Contrary to general Western perceptions of internet cafes, they generally are not inhabited by political subversives, but are frequented by teenagers playing LAN-games against each other and downloading MP3. Ironically, most such cafes would be illegal in the West because they maintain extensive caches of pirated software and MP3's.

Recent developments

On 11 July 2003, the PRC government granted licenses to open internet cafe[?] chains. The licenses were awarded to 10 firms, includung three affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Culture[?]: China Audio-Visual Publishing House, which plans to set up 50,000 cafes in 40 cities in three years, the China Cultural Relics Information Center and the China National Library. A fourth operator, China Youth Net, is affiliated with the politically-powerful Central Committee of China Youth League[?]. The other six include state-owned telecoms operators such as China United Telecommunications Corporation[?], parent of China Unicom Ltd[?], Great Wall Broadband Network Service Co Ltd[?], or Internet service providers such as www.readchina.com, which belongs to Read Investment Holdings Co, a high-tech conglomerate founded in 1988 which has annual revenues of 10 billion yuan. Business analysts and foreign internet operators regard the licenses as intended to clamp down on information deemed harmful to the PRC government.

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