Clifford Coonan: Online giants help state erect Great Firewall of China

Share

Internet cafés in China buzz with the exchange of information and ideas, popular forums in a country where democracy constantly founders against the Great Firewall of China. In every small town, the internet cafés are packed with young people playing online games, or checking the latest exploits of actress-turned-director Xu Jinglei, whose blog is the most popular in the world.

The economy is opening up and Chinese people have never had such a high level of freedom as they do now. But the government is cracking down on political dissidents who use the internet as a platform for debate. Cyberspace is considered a hothouse of subversive thought, and with the help of the world's biggest internet names including Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft, China has been successful in blocking online content behind the Bamboo Firewall.

Already the world's leading jailer of journalists, with at least 32 in custody, there are 50 internet campaigners in prison, according to figures from the media freedom advocate, Reporters Without Borders.

Beijing has reportedly recruited 40,000 web watchdogs to check the capital's cybercafés and internet service providers, routinely monitoring e-mail and websites. China is the world's fastest-growing internet market, with more than 120 million webizens.

There are regular cases of censorship and journalists going to jail with what appeared to be the help of some of the top names on the internet. This week, Li Jianping was jailed for three years for an internet essay praising pro-rights protests in Hong Kong.

A student participant in China's 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations, Li was found guilty of "inciting subversion of state power" for an essay on overseas Chinese websites in 2003.

Just days ago, Guo Qizhen was jailed for four years for inciting subversion over anti-government essays he posted. Guo denounced the late Chairman Mao Zedong and called the country's government "evil" for its suppression of civil rights.

Human rights groups have urged Microsoft, Yahoo! and Google to stop kowtowing. Last year, Yahoo! was accused of supplying data to China that was used as evidence to jail Shi Tao, news editor at Contemporary Business News in Hunan province, for 10 years for leaking state secrets, apparently using his Yahoo! e-mail account.

Microsoft has admitted it responds to directions from the Chinese government in restricting users of MSN Spaces from using certain terms, and Google has launched a censored version of its international search engine in China.

Google has also come under fire for blocking politically sensitive terms on its China site, www.google.cn, bowing to conditions set by Beijing, and Microsoft has closed blogs hosted on MSN Spaces. Domestic giants such as Sohu and Baidu, along with China sites operated by Yahoo! and Microsoft, routinely block searches on politically sensitive terms.

The internet companies say that providing some information is better than none and if they ignore the restrictions, all of their services would be blocked.

But it is not all bad news. Last week, the Chinese government lifted its block on the English-language version of Wikipedia, almost a year to the day after access was first denied. The Chinese-language version is still blocked.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager with some Agile experience

£45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

Data/ MI Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Project Manager (retail, upgrades, rollouts)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project...

Project Manager (upgrades, rollouts, migrations)

£350 - £425 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project Manager - 3 mont...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Francois Hollande at the Paris summit on Iraq with ministers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on 15 September  

What's going to happen in Syria and Iraq? A guide to the new anti-Isis coalition's global strategy

Jonathan Russell
The colours of autumn leaves are among the many pleasures of the coming season  

In Sickness and in Health: As autumn arrives, more of us should wear high-vis clothes

Rebecca Armstrong
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week