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Inside the Great Firewall of China

The modern great wall isolating China from the hordes isn’t visible from space, but its impact is sky high.

Before we move ahead with this review article, I would like to give full credits to the Time magazine and the ownership of the original publication. The original “The Other Side of the Great Firewall” was published in the June 22, 2015 issue and was done by Hannah Beech.

Haven’t we all read a few articles that really made an impact in our heads? It could have been because the content was extra ordinary or it being shocking. Well, when I read the original article of this review, it surely did make me say “WOW”.

So the article begins by describing a typical daily routine in China,

“Here’s a day in the life of an average urban Chinese: Wake up, peer at a Xiaomi smartphone for the morning’s WeChat text and voice messages. Spoon rice porridge with one hand; with the other, use the phone to order a new air purifier on Taobao, just another purchase in the $2 trillion Chinese e-commerce market.”

Reading this makes you wonder, who uses a “Xiaomi” phone? Why WeChat over Whatsapp or Viber? And what is Taobao? Well this is the tip of the interesting facts that this article brings to light.

It goes on to provide names of sites that most of us haven’t heard. The author states that the Chinese watch Big Bang Theory on “Sohu”. The Chinese don’t ‘Google’ things but rather use “Baidu” and then check their email on “163.com”. Well the Chinese apparently have their version of twitter too, named “Weibo”. Apart from these, they have their own dating sites, travel sites, Food and Beverage recommendation websites and their own online games with “Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils”.

Our daily routine is shaped by an entire different set of corporate names. Well even though you wouldn’t have heard about the names in the paragraph above. Facebook, Twitter, Google, Whatsapp, Amazon are nothing new to you. Well the 649 million Chinese online population- yes, 649 million of them operate in a completely different online environment. Well the reason behind this is what’s interesting to Time magazine, as well as us; it is the ruling Communist Party’s opposition to free expression.

A vast online censorship campaign excludes the Chinese people from viewing politically harmful material as well as expressing politically harmful opinions. What this does is that leave a large vacuum of online services which these Chinese tech firms have whole heartedly grasped. Even though they don’t have Amazon and eBay to shop, their version of it is doing better than both of them combined. We will get into those facts shortly.

China’s President, Xi Jinping has made no secret that he is willing to exclude China from the western influence. Well for him, that’s a part of the strategy to restore the country to its greatness. He personally took over the leadership of a new committee dedicated to the Internet’s management. With all these measures, China’s voices about corruption and pollution have been silenced. Any one’s post which is shared more than 500 times can as per law be sentenced to a three year jail period for “online rumor mongering”. Accounts of media commentators have been shuttered and the government promotes applications that focus on daily life and delicious food.

So how big is China’s internet exactly?

China’s Information and communications market will be worth $465 billion this yeah. As per market intelligence by the International Data Corporation (IDC) this is 40% of the total global growth. Morgan Stanley estimates that more online transactions would take place in China than the rest of the world combined by 2018. Qin Yujia is a car salesman in Shanghai who has sold more than 30,000 cars online in 4 years. He states that you “can purchase almost anything you want to buy” with a click of a mouse in China.

How many of you have heard of “Alibaba” well, the one I’m talking about is an e-commerce giant. This Chinese based company scored the biggest IPO in Wall Street History. The company’s online market place Taobao, outsells Amazon and eBay combined. “Tencent” is the designer of the messaging service WeChat, and it reached a market cap of $185 billion, bigger than of IBM’s. Xiaomi is termed as the most valuble tech startup and estimates their smartphones sales to increase to a 100 million units this year.

Even though companies that depend on free flow of information are not welcomed in China, it is very evident that the Chinese alternatives are by no means failing. Even though traditionally one might have said that the internet will liberal people and limit government control on the freedom of speech, this Chinese case study proves that wrong. The state is in total control of the digital area within the country and even seen extending its influence to foreign shores.

Cyber Politics

The International Cauldron team dedicated a research page to talk about the relation between surveillance technology and state control. Referring to those provided articles will surely expand your understanding on this matter.

Communication Technology has become a political tool and even in a way weaponized. The United States officials have accused China for hacking and stealing government data on 4 million current and former government employees. These employees ranged from all security clearance levels which means that if China is actually behind this hack, they poses personal and classified information of high value U.S. government employees. However China has denied any involvement in this matter. The famous Sony hack by North Korean in 2015 is an example for cyber terrorism. The Chinese too accuse the United States for following similar measures to spy on civilians using tech backdoors. Irrelevant of who carries out what, the internet has turned into a battlefield.

Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation in Washington D.C, states that “at the end of the day, the party is more interested in control than innovation” he further says that “they see innovation as a means to get global status and power, not an end in itself.” China will continue this strategy and Premier Li Keqiang unveiling the “Internet Plus” policy which funnels billions of state dollars to the tech industry further establishes this fact.

Many Chinese, especially students who are applying to international universities and following higher studies face many issues with this internet strategy but the state seem to be convinced that it is the right way forward. Rogier Creemers, a scholar of Chinese media at the University of Oxford, states that not liking the internet policy does not mean that the Chinese are seeking liberation from the state. Well I don’t think they have much of an option.

The legitimacy behind such a policy remains debatable, but manipulating the civil right for information should not be encouraged. The Chinese government would justify their strategy as a matter of state security especially after events like the Arab Spring. Whatever said and done, it is truly fascinating to think how well the Chinese internet has synced in to the lives of 649 million internet users in the country.  Also, to know that the Chinese government probably considers this article a matter of national security.

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