How China Controls the Internet

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How China Controls the Internet

While in many parts of the world the debate goes on in regards to the free-flow of information on the internet, in China there is no debate at all. It is well known that the China government maintains a tight control on what its citizens are allowed to see or access.

In 2018, Freedom House named China as the world’s worst country for online freedom. Indeed, China runs arguably the world’s most complicated censorship machine, with a complex internet filtering system that China uses to block foreign websites.



Enter the year 2000, the foundations of the of the Golden Shield Project were laid, a database-driven surveillance system capable of accessing every citizen’s record and connecting China’s security organizations. The new surveillance system is made up of content-filtering firewalls, where the system becomes known around the world today as the Great Firewall of China.



China’s President, Xi Jinping, is a big fan of ‘cyber sovereignty’, where protecting the country’s internet from undue foreign influence has always been one of his avowed goals.

Under his leadership, online restraints have only grown tighter. China began blocking Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service ahead of the congress and extended a clampdown on virtual private networks, a commonly used method to circumvent the Great Firewall.

Even Winnie the Pooh got the censorship treatment when it was banned temporarily after a group of bloggers depicted the president as the cartoon bear.



  • Try accessing Facebook or Twitter from inside China, and all you will face is an error message. The list of websites and apps blocked in China is extensive. From news media like CNN and Wall Street Journal; to social or streaming sites like Instagram, YouTube, and Spotify; to productivity tools like Gmail, Dropbox and the Google Play store.
  • China also censors the internet by passing laws and rules that flat-out ban certain content that the government deems illegal or inappropriate. These can include hot taboo topics such as Taiwan, Tibet, and Tiananmen but also include other peculiar restrictions such as banning the letter ‘N’. (Yes, that’s right: The Chinese government banned a letter.)
  • China has come up with homemade alternatives to the popular social media platforms that it has blocked, but these too, are tightly controlled. The China government actually requires Chinese internet companies to employ armies of human censors to police user-generated content on their platforms.
  • An army of social media influencers who are known as the ‘Fifty Cent Party’ are used to shape online conversations. The joke in the name is that they would earn fifty cents every time they censored out a social media post. One estimate suggested that the party posts on estimate 500 million pro-government comments a year.
  • Forget about being anonymous on the web in China (unless you are on a VPN which encrypts your online traffic), as chat apps, discussion forums, and video games all require you to enter your real name and also provide your national ID number and phone number for registration.
  • Internet companies are required to store user data on local servers and to allow authorities to inspect them when they deem necessary.


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