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Extreme Internet Censorship isolates a country

May 14, 2008

Internet censorship exists in varying degrees all over the world. In some countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, and a considerable number of Western European countries, it’s negligible and the government encourages the internet industry to self-regulate and also asks users themselves to use “filtering/blocking technologies’ to block objectionable content. In other words, the internet is not really policed by the government. But some countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, North Korea, China and Vietnam have a high degree of internet control by the government.

India falls somewhere inbetween
India isn’t immune to internet censorship. Certain pornographic sites have been blocked in the past and this continues to happen at regular intervals. Attempts have also been made to block sites which slander politicians, or sites run by groups which incite religious hatred, or those which publish politically sensitive material. Often these attempts are not successful. During the Kargil war the site of the Pakistani newspaper (Dawn) was blocked by vsnl (government owned internet gateway which was a monopoly at the time) but Rediff (a news site) published detailed instructions as to how one could bypass the filter and view the site!! Right now in India there are no established rules which a website needs to follow…the official banning of sites takes place in a very ad hoc manner and is often temporary. More often it is schools, universities and employers who impose restrictions on blogging or otherwise revealing information relating to their organisation. Overall though internet censorship in India is nominal.

Extreme internet censorship in China
Some countries ban all websites with specific keywords, China for example. Recently I discovered that my blog has been blocked in China. Well, WordPress itself has been blocked for some time, so I don’t know if my site was blocked alongwith WordPress or whether it happened for another reason. This blog was getting a regular stream of visitors from China at one time and you can see that from this clustermap – a screen shot taken in November 2007. Plenty of visitors from China.

cluster map november 07

That I continued to get visitors even into this year is evident from the next map. The red dots are larger.

cluster map may 08

This screenshot was taken yesterday [13th May 08] but while it’s clear that readers from China have increased…the cluster map shows cumulative visitors, so these visitors could have increased anytime after November 2007. I might not have got any visitors from China in the last month but this map will not show that…I will have to wait for another month or so and check if the dots have remained static. But I already know that nowadays no one from China visits my blog. I know this because of the whois map which tracks daily visitors to this site. For some time there have been no readers from China. Here’s the map:

WhoIs map 13.05.08

Those blue stars at the bottom of the Chinese mainland are of Vietnam, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Another reason I am a hundred percent sure that my blog is blocked in China is that a blogger friend of mine from China has told me that he cannot access my site…and infact has said that all sites with the keyword Tibet have been blocked. In any case, it is estimated that “30,000 Chinese civil servants are monitoring Internet traffic and blocking content that is deemed undesirable. Typing in sensitive keywords such as ‘democracy’, ‘Falun Gong’ or ‘porno’ in a search engine results in an error message.”People Beijing

The Chinese approve of internet control
But should we feel sympathy for the Chinese? A survey says that the over 85 percent of Chinese “approve of internet control and management.” Most Chinese believe the internet to be an “unreliable source of information” and think “much of internet content to be unsuitable for children.”

Now this seems incomprehensible to us Indians as people here protest vigorously against any kind of censorship. But Western analysts believe that the Chinese aren’t against policing of the net because over the last several years the Chinese media has been full of negative articles about the impact of the internet…and much of this negative publicity has focused on horror stories of lives being ruined by “slanderous articles” on the internet, of internet addicts living life in “military-like internet addiction rehabilitation centers” (online gaming is big in China), of online violence and pornography influencing criminal behavior, of online friendships ruining lives, of the evils of internet pornography and the risk of one’s personal and private information leaking out.

We all know that the internet is rife with dangers but the Chinese seem to be particularly wary of it. There is also a theory that China being a fairly child centric society (and that too families with just one child), there is a greater desire on the part of parents to protect their children from the perceived dangers of the internet. Mostly the internet users are the young urban Chinese but many parents are not internet savvy.

What seems a little surprising is that the Chinese don’t mind the government doing the policing for them. Guo Liang (who authored the 2007 research) is not surprised though. He says that the question Who should control the internet was a “rhetorical question anyway” as he knew the answer would be “the government”. Guo explains that since the only legitimate source of authority in many aspects of Chinese life is the state, Chinese citizens would naturally think that it’s the government which should control the internet.

But luckily, China (like India) is a land of contradictions. Despite censorship, China came neck to neck with the United States in the sheer number of internet users (210 million) in January this year and by now must have surpassed the U.S. Censorship or not, internet users in China will keep rising.

It’s a real pity though that because of the censorship, all of us are cut off from Chinese bloggers and the Chinese net population. That is the worst thing about this type of censorship. It isolates a country from the rest of the world. It prevents the Chinese from communicating with those from other countries and prevents them from being exposed to another word view.

(Photo is taken by me and is copyrighted)

Related Reading: More articles on China
The Internet makes our private lives public but most people don’t care
Top sites of the world – a comparison
A dark side of the Internet
Schools and universities in India wary of the internet

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25 Comments leave one →
  1. May 14, 2008 8:03 am

    India banned blogs one fine morning, but then withdrew it the next day. Tehelka site was down (read blocked) during their initial corruption stories.

    I guess Indian Politicians would have done much of the Chinese if they had the chance.

    Some years back (I am not sure if they are doing in still) The Newsweek magazine also The economist came with a seal, stating “The boundaries as depicted in this map is not correct” on the Indian Map.
    I guess Indian Politicians would have done much regulations to the net as the Chinese if they had the chance.

  2. May 14, 2008 8:22 am

    Chinese firewall or, what the hosting industry call “The Great Firewall of China” is something that gives trouble to me and friends on a daily basis.

    China blocks the entire server if they find a single offensive website on it. So what happens is, all other websites hosted on the same server become unavailable in China .. no website, no ftp and no email. So these Chinese people with very good English ask us to move their account to another server which is not blocked… we move it… and after sometime China block that one too… and those guys are in trouble again…

    Some non Chinese people has businesses with Chinese customers, and always get in to trouble when nobody in China can’t access their Site or receive emails.

    lots and lots of problems………….

  3. May 14, 2008 8:53 am

    democracy, Falun Gong , porno , China, Chinese, Tibet.

    You have already used so many sensitive words here, there is no way now you are getting unblocked in China.😉

    Practically, there is no censorship in India, unless politicians want to perform some publicity stunts, else everything is open.

  4. oemar permalink
    May 14, 2008 9:08 am

    The Chinese have become used to being watched all the. Perhaps they will feel insecure if their Big Brother is not watching and “looking out” for them. Its a simple scare-tactic that the govt has played. They have shown their citizens that internet is more evil than good and thus you need someone to save you from it. As far as India is concerned, I am a little concerned at the pleas coming from different corners every now and then to ban orkut, facebook etc., not forgetting ShivSena’s senseless “requests”. But till our judiciary system is functioning the way it is, I am confident that internet freedom will survive.

  5. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    May 14, 2008 9:47 am

    Nita:

    An interesting observation regarding your second map. If those red dots are locationally significant, it would seem that the largest number of visitors you have from China are not from Beijing or Sahnghai but from some place deep in the interior (which I cannot identify on such a small-scale map). Also, you have more visitors from Shanghai than from Beijing.

  6. May 14, 2008 9:57 am

    Nice article, Nita.

    // But I already know that nowadays no one from China visits my blog //

    I hope our Non-Resident Chinese friends keep visiting your blog though they may not like a few keywords in this post🙂

    But seriously, I wonder where the Chinese government will find hackers to target Indian sites if they “regulate” the internet so much. Hackers (the good as well as the not-so-good ones) can thrive only in an open environment. But I guess the Chinese government departments have their own teams of hackers to target the websites of their counterparts in India😀

  7. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    May 14, 2008 10:00 am

    Xylene:

    This thing about maps of India in foreign publications has been around since at least the early 1960s (the India-China war). Initially they would black out the entire map, with no explanation. The seal you mention was a later phenomenon and a considerable improvement over the initial barbarian practice.

    I remember when I was a 1st-year student at college in 1964, the library acquired Encyclopedia Britannica. The last volume in the set was an atlas, in which the Indian Authorities had blacked out the map of India. The Librarian complained to the Dean about vandalism by students. The latter, in a knee-jerk reaction, got personally involved in an inquiry. When I explained the fact of the matter, the supplier was called and he confirmed the truth of what I had said. There were some pretty red faces in the faculty.

  8. May 14, 2008 10:02 am

    Vivek,

    // Also, you have more visitors from Shanghai than from Beijing. //

    The financial capital needs more information than the political capital, I guess. Information is capital (wealth)!🙂

  9. May 14, 2008 10:08 am

    did you read that the chinese are hacking into our govt websites?

  10. May 14, 2008 1:25 pm

    @Vivek,

    Imagine about the poor soul who is employed to do this job. HIs day would start looking through all the magazines and then putting the seal.

  11. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    May 14, 2008 5:04 pm

    Xylene:

    It’s not only magazines. Those, I think, would have at least something of lay interest to engage the poor devil’s interest. Imagine having to do the same thing with dense, learned tomes!

    Besides, with the kind of map literacy that exists even among our relatively better educated compatriots, can you imagine the quandary of a person just adequately educated to get a clerical job? [S]he could easily get confused between India, Africa and South America — all three are peninsulas sticking out southwards into the oceans.

    Except in a world map that shows all three together, I wonder how many people could tell them apart.

  12. May 14, 2008 5:48 pm

    Xylene, they would love to wouldn’t they! Infact they keep trying but finallly it is our democracy which keeps them in check.

    dinu, thanks for sharing that. It must be indeed very difficult for businesses to operate. I heard that some chinese use code language to discuss sensitive issues on chat forums.

    Anshul, I haven’t given up hope yet.🙂 Maybe after the Olympics are over they might loosen up!

    Oemar, all these various hysterics that the politicians throw are mostly publicity stunts and no one takes them seriously. Well, not for long!

    Vivek, the cluster map’s red dots are locationally correct but unfortunately they don’t give names of the places like the whois map. I have a feeling that the huge red dot in the middle of China is coming from the city of Xian. It’s a huge city, a very industrliased town with good colleges. Very polluted too and it is also an ancient city unlike Beijing. Where Beigig is concerned, being the capital it has got mostly the government here.

    Raj, I have no doubt that its the Chinese government which is hackign our sites. Nothing can happen in China without the govt being in on it. And as for our Non resident Chinese friend Gugin, I think he may not come again as he was quite upset about the Tibet issue. However I feel it is possible to agree to disagree.

    Vishesh, I read about that. I think its the govt which is doing it…and you know why. They want to have all the cards stacked up against us, just in case…or maybe they are selling the data to ISI!🙂

  13. May 14, 2008 7:05 pm

    Nita,

    I think I have played my part in upsetting Guqin as well😐 I actually miss him😦 It was fun arguing with him🙂

    But I agree with you. I mean, you and I have had some strong arguments, disagreements and misunderstandings😐 but still we remain friends, (I hope🙂 ) because we are a democracy (even if it is a badly flawed one). That is the good thing about democracy. I hope Guqin realises this and comes back.

    I won’t deny that the Communist regime is doing a good job with the rescue and relief operation for the earthquake victims though, unlike the notorious military junta in Burma (Myanmar). Those scoundrels have even imposed a law that people should drive on the right side of the road, even if almost all the vehicles are right hand drive vehicles, like in India. Crazy idiots! Anything that is imposed on anyone is doomed to collapse sooner rather than later out of its own contradictions!

  14. May 14, 2008 8:59 pm

    I am thinking a culture as populous as China can survive and thrive without the dissent inherent in the free-for-all that seems to be democracy only if information going to the people can be controlled and monitored, hence the censorship. That they might also be secretive and maybe even paranoid fits naturally with a culture of extreme control. Information exchanged freely introduces uncontrollable elements which may make chaos for such a culture. G

  15. May 14, 2008 9:27 pm

    China smells more of like a dictatorship. It must be really hard to live in such a country where you know that you are always kept in the dark. Well, in India too things are not that different( as per your previous post) but atleast we can raise our voice and demand an answer. The media is also with the public.
    I wonder if the Chinese people are so used to being oppressed that they have stopped caring??

  16. May 14, 2008 10:46 pm

    Nita, a very, very intresting observation!
    I have a similar experiences – I used to have plenty of China visitors some time ago (I was really surprised!) and then suddely almost all dropped off…

    No idea what kind of danger could be found in my blogs though🙂

  17. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    May 14, 2008 11:09 pm

    Nita:

    I’m surprised no one in India has as yet mooted driving on the right. Come to think of it, all our role models — NY, Shanghai, Toronto (i don’t know about Singapore) have done it.

    WMeanwhile, seem to be busy getting our school buses the same colour as they do in the US.

  18. Guqin permalink
    May 15, 2008 6:54 am

    I don’t know what to say. Perhaps there are respectable reasons that you think of China this way. If you happen to know people who have worked and lived in China long enough and are wiling to tell you more or go to China youselves for longish stays in a more engaging manner (not just as a tourist), I think you might be embarrassed of what you think of China now. I feel that (and have been very supprised since I visitted more sites more randomly in the past few months) you have great prejudice (the word “prejudice” came to my mind most often), sometimes sky high, around China. The prejudice itself as it seems to me is stronger than China’s supposedly self-imposed isolation. So at the end it doesn’t really matter what China is really doing anymore since you already had a conclusion (“They MUST HAVE…”). The Tibetan issue is such an example. If the truth is 10, one says 5 or 15, I can still argue. But if the truth is 10, one says 1 or 19, then I can not argue.

    The second is the arrogance of democracy. Arrogance and prejudice often come in pair. Which is already edvident in some comments above. If democracy is an open-minded culture, it shouldn’t generate this sort of self-congraduation in expense of others and should emmbrace (at least respect) other ideas too….

    Nita and Raj, I am not easily offended, so don’t worry about it. I still visit this site, but just have fewer to say, as well, I have been expanding my Internet visit (I am still relatively new to the Internet, less than a year I think), so spending less time on each.

    Nita, as I have been visitting more other sites now, I can frankly say yours is among the best if not the very best. Your effort translates into result well. Thanks.

    Gugin, I admire the Chinese people and this admiration only developed after I visited China as a tourist…but my distrust of the Chinese government (which hasn’t been a friend of India) has remained. True, I am heavily prejudiced against communism, but definitely not against the Chinese. And thanks for your kind words about my site. I think of you as a friend Gugin (after our exchange on the British Rule site, where you first entered this blog) and so…peace. – Nita.

  19. May 15, 2008 9:02 am

    Raj, as you can see our friend Gugin does visit us off and on.🙂

    Suburbanlife, well communism has certainly made China more homogenous and perhaps easier to handle. The chaos you mention you can see in India and we are very proud of it.🙂

    Amit, I don’t think the Chinese have stopped caring. They have mostly faith in their government and now whether thats good or bad depends on how you look at it. We see it as bad because we are brought up on democratic values.

    Axinia, it is possible that all of wordpress is blocked now as the olympics are nearing and they don’t want trouble.

    Vivek.🙂

    Gugin, thanks for that perspective and I have replied to you in the comment itself. You are right we who live in a democracy see our way as the best! Well, most of us anyway!

  20. May 15, 2008 10:06 am

    Guqin,

    你好 (Hello)! Nice to see you here again!🙂

    As Nita said, Guqin, it is not that we distrust the Chinese people. It is only the government. But as you can see, we don’t trust our own governments either!

    I admire the Chinese people too. They seem to have a sense of team-work that is missing in many other countries. Whether this is a result of Chinese culture or a result of Communism (a product of Greco-Roman philosophy), I am not sure😐

  21. Guqin permalink
    May 16, 2008 12:21 am

    Nita,
    Thanks for your kind words. I have noticed that most other personal sites that I have visitted in the past few months are more about themselves, and sometimes a bit affected. But yours is about your country and thus selfless. I admire this very much. I am not sure if there are personal websites in China like yours since I hardly have Chinese softwares to decode them.

    Raj,
    I am immpressed! Even I myself don’t know how to input “Hello” in Chinese in the computer. I am planning to learn an Indian language (seriously but in a more relaxed and natural pace). I am thinking of Bengali so that I could read Tagore in original.

  22. May 16, 2008 3:23 am

    Guqin,

    A little piece of software can do so many things🙂

    Yes, Bengali is a very beautiful national and official language of the Indian Union. It is also the national and official language of Bangladesh! I too want to learn atleast some Bengali!

    And Tagore is such a wonderful poet. He has written the national anthems of two different countries! Infact I have lost count of the number of times I have quoted the following lines:

    Into that heaven of Freedom, my Father, let my country awake!

    谢谢 (Thank you very much), Guqin!

  23. Guqin permalink
    May 16, 2008 8:14 am

    My favorite Tagore line is from “Endless Time” from Gitanjali:

    “Thy centuries follow each other perfecting a small wild flower. ”

    Here lies my vision for both China’s and India’s civilizations: Humility >> Patience >> Perfection >> Immortality !

  24. May 16, 2008 11:38 am

    Personally I think internet is not fully reliable. For studies and knowledge, its good. But when it comes to culture, health, or any other sensitive things, I would not like to rely on Internet totally.
    Just an opinion.🙂

  25. May 17, 2008 7:57 am

    Any banning is wrong. Adults should be allowed to make their decisions, innit.

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