Great Firewall of China
I spent the first two weeks of May visiting Northeast China, specifically the cities of Dalian and Dandong in Liaoning Province.
While I experienced a culture shock more substantial than I ever expected during this trip, perhaps nothing was more striking than China’s massive gag on the internet.
The Chinese Government puts a massive focus on limiting the ebb and flow of information in and out of their nation. Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has gone on record to say that the government must put forth an effort to shield the populace from the “dark side of society”, and that the media in China must, “love the party, protect the party, and closely align themselves with the party.” The party, of course, being the Communist Party of China, China’s preeminent political party.
The effects of this ideology are obvious; China trails all but Syria, Turkmenistan, Eritrea, and North Korea of the 180 nations ranked by the Press Freedom Index.
While on my visit I was unable to use Google or Yahoo for quick access to information or to check my email. I was unable to check my Facebook nor my Instagram to see how my friends were doing back home. I was unable to keep up with my Twitter feed or to catch up on news on sites such as CNN or Fox News nor was I even able to read my subscriptions to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, or Philadelphia Inquirer. The only “reliable” overseas news aggregate I had was Reddit, of all sites. This was not even useful, however, as the linked news sites were all blocked, including Reddit’s main image hosting partner, Imgur, so I could not even stay up to date on the latest memes. The only legal access to news in China is through either state-run or “state-influenced” media.
The complete lack of available information in the country was utterly frustrating for me, but its impact was perhaps most strikingly prevalent when I learned that Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un were meeting in the very city I was staying in and no one knew. I literally walked in the same park that Xi and Kim did only the day before, and I had not the slightest clue of the upcoming visit. I only knew because a friend I was with received a photograph and screenshot of an article from someone in Japan showing the two of them walking together in the city. No announcement was made before or after the visit on Chinese CCTV.
This lack of access to information also reared its ugly head when I would discuss political topics with people and they were unaware of certain happenings. One such example of this was when I was discussing Kim Jong-un’s visit to China this Spring and Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit to North Korea this Fall. My acquaintance was unaware of these developments and questioned me on their veracity. It is well known in China what US President Donald Trump is up to, but the actions of their own President are seldom known by the locals.
This is a difficult situation to navigate. China has cemented its place as the world’s second strongest economy and is on a track to surpass the United States in the relatively near future. It has the world’s largest active military force, with nearly 900,000 more troops than the United States’ military, and the second largest military budget in the world, only behind the United States. What does the world look like with China as a power, but one absolutely void of free press or open access to information?