The Great Firewall of China – named after that other great wall, and officially or better euphemistically called the Golden Shield Project by the Chinese government – is the elaborate system of internet censorship in the People’s Republic of China. The massive blocking of internet sites in China is undoubtedly the biggest censorship effort in the history of the world, both in terms of number of sources censored and in terms of the number of people not being able to access these sources as a result of censorship.

The site you’re reading right now is one of the victims. (You can check if a site is blocked in China on this webpage).

China isn’t alone. There’s censorship wherever there’s dictatorship. (And even quasi-democratic regimes such as Thailand engage in it). But internet repression in China is the largest such operation in the world. The purpose is of course to silence voices that are critical of the autocratic leadership in China. Many foreign sites are targeted, but also Chinese sites, especially sites that include forums, comments pages, instant messaging, chat rooms and other tools that make it possible for groups to organize and communicate. Sites that aren’t blocked altogether are sharply monitored and have critical information or opinions removed within minutes of posting. China has an “internet police” of around 30.000 to do all this. And China goes further than blocking or purging information. People “abusing” the internet often get jailed.

The pervasive and justified feeling among Chinese that their internet activity is being watched, leads to self-censorship. They will not visit sites that they know are “dangerous”, let alone post comments or publish articles.

A similar kind of self-censorship is practiced by Chinese Internet Providers and webmasters, deleting anything that can upset the government and jeopardize the company’s future existence. Search engines, both Chinese and international ones, do the same. Searching for certain keywords such as “human rights”, “democracy”, “Tibet”, “Dalai Lama” or “falun gong” will yield no or insignificant results. Sometimes, a message is shown, stating that

‘according to the local laws, regulations and policies, part of the searching result is not shown.’

For foreign search engines, it’s a huge dilemma. Either they respect local law and become accomplices in tyranny, or they leave the country and make it much harder for the Chinese to use the internet.

Photo Courtesy: Nicholson, 1/5/09 and text by