The Great Firewall of China

You’re in China, you just had a sausage Mcmuffin from McDonald’s for breakfast and you’re sipping on your venti latte at Starbucks enjoying their free wireless internet on a casual Saturday morning. You finally have a little downtime to get to the facebook posts you’ve been sorely neglecting. You type in the url and, “WHAT?!”, the page cannot be found? So you go to Twitter to tell all your

China Life

View outside of Starbucks

friends that you’ve been blocked and, “WHAT?!”, them too? As a last resort you try to log into the mom and pop blog service you haven’t signed in to for 3 months, and you just can’t believe that it seems to be blocked too! Oh, the great horrible fates. How could they do this to you!? It all seems so normal from the outside. The barristas speak English, the coffee is halfway decent and the view from the café lounge chair almost indiscernible from home except for a much larger percentage of Chinese patrons, but now you feel like you’ve suddenly been transported back to 1999. Why Lord, WHY!?

Stopping the Facebook Revolution

If you encounter this situation, the first thing to do is take a deep breath, remember that your Facebook friends will still be there when you get back, and that, hey, at least you can still party like it’s 1999. The reality is that most Western sites that allow freedom of expression are blocked in China. With current events in Libya and Egypt, it’s not hard to understand why an authoritarian

By allowing Chinese versions of social networking, they are opening up the internet to their citizens, satisfying the desire for these new technologies
government might want to block a potential “facebook revolution” before it ever gets off the ground, but there is a lot going on in the way they are doing it. In general, China has been remarkably ahead of the curve in this regard: letting Google in but having control of what shows up in the search results, blocking Facebook, Twitter and Youtube before they ever really got off the ground, and constantly upgrading blocking software and catching new sites (including many blogs from China from my personal friends). And yet, at the same time, they have allowed direct knockoffs of each of these sites developed within China to thrive.

Chinese Facebook

Chinese Facebook

Chinese Facebook (

The Chinese versions actually pose much less of a threat to security than outside forces. I believe the Chinese government realizes that it cannot stop technology, that someday in the near future its citizens will have access to global information and that there isn’t much they can do about it, so they are taking the middle ground at which they are so adept. By allowing Chinese versions of social networking, they are opening up the internet to their citizens, satisfying the desire for these new technologies so that their citizens don’t spend much time learning how to get around the firewall. At the same time, since the Chinese get all their news and information from the same censored outlets, there is not much risk of massive information leakage.

Capturing the Chinese Market

The corollary to this, and something that I think plays a big part in the decision but doesn’t get touched on much, is that these Chinese sites are effectively capturing the entire population of China, roughly 4 times that of the United States, as customers by simply copying the social media businesses that emerge at the top. What a coup! The answer? Well, at least while you’re sitting in Starbucks, shell out the roughly $10 a month and sign up for a VPN service that will allow you to connect to the uncensored internet from just about anywhere in the world, sit back, tag your friends and enjoy you half-caf carmel macchiato with the tasty whip cream on top.

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