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

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A solar energy farm in France  

Nature Studies: For all the attractions of solar power, it shouldn’t blight the countryside

Michael McCarthy
Supporters of New Democracy wave Greek flags during Antonis Samaras pre-election speech.  

Greece elections: Where does power lie? This is the question that ties the UK to Athens

Steve Richards
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project