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China Web censorship stirs scorn, support

By Michael Kan
March 25, 2011 11:45 AM ET

IDG News Service - Du Xiang Yu, a 20-year-old living in Beijing, has never heard of Facebook. He adds that he never visits any foreign websites, even though he uses the Internet everyday.

"I just play games on the Internet all the time," he said. "I don't really read much of the news online."

So when asked if he had ever encountered problems visiting websites that China's Internet censors have blocked, Du said he had none. "I've never had that problem," he added.

Du made his comments as the Chinese government intensified its efforts to clamp down on Web usage in the last several weeks.

Some experts say that Web censorship has reached its highest level yet. But the restrictions may not be as widely felt by society as Western observers might think.

Part of the reason that there is not a greater awareness of, or protest about censorship, might be because Internet penetration in China is not as great as it is in Europe or North America. In 2010, China's Internet penetration was at 31% compared to 77% of the U.S., according to Internet World Stats.

In China's capital of Beijing, where the Internet penetration rate is 69.4%, some residents say they rarely visit the Web and were not familiar with its censorship. "I don't have very much time to go online," said Tian Zhen Guo, a 40-year-old who sells protective plastic film meant to cover cellphones. "But the Internet is important," he added. "Right now is the Information Age."

While several residents in Beijing said they hardly use the Internet, those who do use the Web a great deal, or have broad knowledge about it, tend to chafe at restrictions.

"I think it's absolutely absurd and makes no sense," said Ang Qin Fu, a 29-year-old who works as project manager at an IT company, when asked about censorship. "I loathe those people who work for the censorship or who endorse it. It's really stupid and dangerous to this country."

Although China has the world's largest Internet population, at 457 million users, the country also strictly censors the Web. The government blocks websites that have content deemed inappropriate or too politically sensitive. Popular U.S. sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have all been targeted by censors and are currently inaccessible from within the country. At the same time, domestic sites operating in China will often filter out content in order to observe the nations' censorship rules.

In recent weeks, Internet censorship has caused disruption with Gmail, in what Google has said is an attempt by the Chinese government to block the service. Companies providing virtual private networks (VPNs), which allow users to bypass the censorship, have also reported access problems. Experts say the increased censorship is aimed at suppressing any political unrest sparked by the "Jasmine Revolution," an online call made last month urging the Chinese people to protest the government.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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