Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Censorship of the Internet in China

With a rapidly growing economy and a population of over 1.3 billion people, you could be forgiven for assuming that China would have embraced the world wide web and all the possibilities that it has to offer. However it is not quite as simple as that. As the world’s only remaining communist superpower, China by its very nature has to maintain some level of isolation, particularly from outside influence. China has a long and notorious history (at least under communist rule) of repressing its population and limiting their access to information.

For the Chinese then, the internet remains an almost constant problem. On the one hand they have a platform that can be easily manipulated, is reasonably accessible and could be used very effectively in spreading the party line. On the other hand, other people’s views, opinions and doctrines can also be easily accessed. So, what to do? The situation is obviously a delicate one, and not only for the Chinese authorities, large multinational sites, particularly social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are finding the situation difficult too. From their viewpoint, China offers an enormous market, but they have to jump through many political hoops in order to reach it.

The difficulty of this situation is that everyone involved is stuck between a rock and a hard place. For their part the Chinese authorities have done the best they can to restrict access to political, sexual and opinion orientated sites by blocking them by means of the so called “Great Firewall of China”. To add further ‘security’, China operates the most comprehensive internet monitoring in the world. They employ an estimated 30,000 people in their online ‘police force’.

However they have had to adapt to certain pressures, just as they had to adapt their form of Communism to incorporate certain capitalist elements to ensure financial gain and counteract trade isolation. They have equally had to accept that, at least in certain instances, their security measures have been breached: the internet is simply too vast for China to be completely impregnable to its influence.

It doesn’t stop them trying though.

To gain access to China as a marketplace many Western websites and suppliers have had to make major compromises. The restrictions on personal web freedom that China enforces would be unacceptable to many of these companies elsewhere. But the size of the market is undeniable. The simple fact of the matter is that China as a nation is unwilling to alter its harsh stance towards the internet, for fear of its citizens accessing ‘morally corrupt’ political and pornographic sites. This in turn forces websites and suppliers alike to compromise.

What the Chinese people want is another matter entirely, although it appears that at least a small proportion are opposed to such rigid legislation of their freedoms. In any case, until the Chinese government is prepared to change its stance, the situation will is unlikely to change.


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