Different Access for Different Folks

The vast majority of China’s more than 210 million Internet users are under 30 years old. They are creating an online world that is openly critical of the Chinese government.

When the country was paralyzed by winter storms during the Lunar New Year celebration, the Web was the place many turned to voice their frustration with the government’s inability to clear a path for people to go home.

Duncan Clark, analyst and Chairman of BDA, a telecommunications, media and technology advisor based in Beijing, told Reuters the Web has become a massive platform for political dissent:

One can really say that the pace of technology advancement has been much greater than the willingness of the government to reform politically. Technology is driving reforms in Chinese society right now, much more than political reform.

That doesn’t mean the government isn’t trying to limit speech on the Web. In addition to the “Great Firewall” Xinhua reports that the Web sites of Xinhua News Agency, People’s Daily, the State Council Press Office, China Radio International, China Central Television, China Youth Daily, China Economic Daily, and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television have all signed a pact to censor gambling, pornography, terror and violence.

But, The Atlantic reports that foreigners visiting China for this summer’s Olympics won’t be surfing a narrow pipe.

..they will be able to access sites like BBC.com, NYTimes.com, and Wikipedia. Even if they type “Falun Gong” into Google, they’ll likely get results. Indeed, the Internet will seem so free, writes James Fallows in the March issue of The Atlantic, that visitors may well wonder, “What’s all this I’ve heard about the ‘Great Firewall’ and China’s tight limits on the Internet?”

Unfortunately, as Fallows explains in his latest article on China, this technological openness will mostly be a façade, and one apparent only in a few hand-picked locations (like certain Internet cafés and high-end hotel rooms) expected to attract foreigners who are in town for the Olympics. Any loosening of Internet restrictions this summer will be not only carefully calculated but also temporary, intended specifically for visitors and designed to last only for the duration of their stay.

The Fallows article is a must read for anyone interested in China’s attempts to control the Web.

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