Under its historical name, strangely resembling that of the Great Wall of China, is actually a project far from touristy. We should also rather see its link with the “firewall”, the computer firewall. The Great Firewall is indeed intended to monitor and censor the internet. Set up in 1998 and managed by the Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China, this project has been operational since November 2003.

At the origin of its creation

Otherwise called the Golden Shield Project (in Chinese 金盾 工程), the Great Firewall was born out of the Chinese Communist Party’s fear that the Chinese Democratic Party (PDC) would create a powerful network that could not be controlled. To solve this “problem”, the PDC was banned and several arrests and imprisonments took place. It is in this context that the Golden Shield was born.

How is censorship exercised?

Several laws and regulations for the internet have been dictated by the government. They are applied by internet service providers, companies and organizations themselves controlled by provincial governments. Concretely, certain accesses to well-defined IP addresses are refused. In addition, if the website is hosted on a shared server, then the blocking extends to all sites on the server. Another method of censorship is to ensure that domain names are not resolved or that they point to incorrect IP addresses. A filtering of the words used in the URL can also be carried out in order to detect certain keywords. The Grand Firewall can also interrupt the transmission of TCP packets when it detects a number of controversial keywords. Finally, note that when blocking a TCP connection by a filter, all connection attempts within a maximum period of 30 minutes can also be blocked on both sides. There are of course several methods to circumvent censorship.

Which sites are targeted?

Various internet pages relating to “superstitious, pornographic, violence and gambling information” are targeted, according to the Chinese press agency Xinhua. But that’s not all. Foreign media sites like the BBC, the New York Times or Blommberg News are also, arguably a very perverse way for the Chinese government to rewrite the truth and hide from its people what is really going on elsewhere. Censorship also extends to web pages using several taboo or sensitive words (eg “Tibet”). You will notice here the absence of link with the characteristics of the targeted sites given by Xinhua. The same goes for Google and Altavista, which are also blocked by the Golden Shield. Certain social networks have not escaped censorship either. In 2009, Facebook and Twitter were blocked, with China highlighting fear that these sites would be used for activists to organize. The presence of social and political commentary also played an important role. Namely that some blogs and articles literally disappear from the web when they touch on sensitive political topics or when there are messages calling for collective action against the government.

Internet censorship in China is a very complex subject, as the means used and the reasons given are broad. In general, the Chinese version of the canvas is particularly monitored. Abuses are punishable by fines and arrests.

Photo Credit: Olli Henze

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