If you ask me, the most regularly irritating thing about being in China is its internet censorship firewall, affectionately known as “The Great Firewall of China.”
When I had a digital video conference between American university students and my Chinese students, one of the first questions from the American side was, “How do you live without You Tube?”
We have no access to You Tube, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, most blogs, etc., unless we use very slow proxy software that may be technically illegal. In addition, internet searches via Google (in the past) and Bing are also censored.
Most Chinese, including my students, don’t realize the extent to which censorship exists here. In other words, they don’t know that their internet searches are limited, and it’s very hard to explain what truly open access internet looks like, especially given American free speech norms. I would say most Chinese I’ve spoken with simply cannot comprehend that the U.S. government does not censor content in print or on the internet. (The Communist Party in China certainly censors all media and internet outlets, and writes history textbooks, which explains why most of my students never learned of the Tiananmen Square protests, aka the “June 4th Incident” in China, until they entered college, and no very little about that Incident and the cultural costs of the Cultural Revolution and the tens of millions of lives lost to starvation during the so-called Great Leap Forward.)
Lately, I’m growing more annoyed with the Firewall and censorship has dramatically increased (!) since the World Expo in Shanghai. By many accounts censorship (as well as silencing dissidents) has been on the rise since the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is now accelerating with the Expo. Many major American websites and news stories, especially those about China are blocked. I am blocked out of many New York Times articles, and even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. I can still get the Montpelier Times Argus. Even ESPN.com is occasionally blocked for some reason, though I can get CNN.com and CNNSI.com.
With the EXPO continuing through the summer and the Asian Games coming to Guangzhou in the Fall, I suspect censorship and the power of the Great Firewall of China to increase.