I had originally planned to write about censorship in China several weeks ago. I really believed, that, for the most part, it was just a tempest in a teapot. Exaggerated by the western media.
Since we arrived we have heard rumours through out the expat community that our houses and cars are bugged and that our emails are being read. Frankly, I thought it was all pretty ridiculous. Why would any one bother? I laughed about the poor guy assigned to read my email spending endless hours reading about how annoying the boys are being with homework, how late John got home and how I cannot think of anything to cook for dinner! Pretty exciting stuff.
Turns out people may not have been as paranoid as I though. I knew Hunter had had problems accessing information when he wrote a report on Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar. But when I googled “censorship in China” I was not prepared to loose access to the internet for several hours.
We are all quite used to “the server has unexpectedly dropped the connection” popping up on our screens whenever we try and go to a banned website or search certain “keywords”. And everyone knows you can’t get Facebook, twitter or YouTube here. You can always get people magazine, though.
But to not get anything was actually a little scary.
Money has something to do with banned social media. There is a Chinese equivalent of twitter called Sina Web and a Chinese equivalent of Facebook called Kai Shing Wang. I had assumed the government had banned the western varieties in order to support their homegrown version. When Google had their problems in China, many presumed it was really motivated by a desire to give Baidu (the Chinese search engine) a stronger local foothold.
Movies that are banned in theatres here are widely available in “copyright infringing formats” in most DVD stores. Again, the logic has been they are not blocked so much for their contents as to keep the money in the country.
While not saying it is right, economic censorship makes sense to me. I struggle more with philosophical censorship. And it is difficult not to fight it. When the Arab Spring blossomed in the Middle East we were warned, unofficially, through the grape vine, not to let our kids go to certain places like Tiananmen Square or Wang Fu Jing. I found it challenging to explain to my children. I want to keep them safe but I want them to take a stand for what they believe.
The government’s goal is to create “harmony”. And they actively discourage things they believe could compromise that aim. Pornography is banned in China. But so is a lot of religion. There are many churches you are only allowed to enter if you have a foreign passport.
To get around the Internet restrictions, many people join VPN’s (virtual private networks), which basically route all your Internet traffic through another country. I have just signed up for one. But only for 3 months as they usually get shut down pretty quickly.
I am going to try sending this via my VPN. I am curious to see if anyone gets it! I am also wondering if my Internet access will get blocked again. If I don’t get any feedback I will try sending it again when we get to Vietnam in about 24 hours…
But of course there is always the possibility things are just the same there…. Another communist country.