China's losing fight with freedom

Washington Square News
by Mona Zhang
Published September 22, 2009

The Chinese government has been trying to play Big Brother to its 1.3 billion citizens ever since the creation of the internet. In 2006, the Golden Shield Project (aka The Great Firewall of China) was completed and came under scrutiny as the world turned its eyes to China for the 2008 Olympics. This year called for the implementation of the Green Dam, a project that was put on hold after worldwide criticism. The project originally decreed that all PCs and new software must include an internet filtering system, aimed at protecting the nation's youth from pornographic sites.

In actuality, the Chinese government might is using the system as an Orwellian tool to monitor individual activity, and block access to information on politically sensitive issues, such as Falun Gong or the 1989 Tiananmen uprising. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that not only does the program block information the government deems "sensitive," it has major security problems that put the user in the way of hackers and malicious software.

With the Green Dam project under fire and the Muslim Uighur uprisings also drawing international attention, the Chinese government — trying not to "lose face" over this issue — has decided to release the system as a voluntary addition.

But when will they realize that these measures don't work? In our flourishing virtual world, China's feeble attempts at information control only result in unwanted attention and so-called "netizen" uprisings. At the moment, China's internet censorship system is sort of like that elusive cockroach you've seen lurking around the hallways of your dorm. It's an annoyance that doesn't inhibit you from going about your daily activities, but your dislike for it grows as you cautiously tip-toe to the basement to do your laundry.

Blocked websites in China are easily accessible through internet anonymity programs. Use of these programs enables the typical internet user to access sites that foster communication and disseminate sensitive information.

After the fiasco of the Uighur uprisings and Han retaliation this summer, the Chinese government tried to keep communication and potentially harmful information to a minimum by blocking Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and numerous blog-hosting sites. You can imagine how devastating this is to your typical college student. Thankfully, these blocks can easily be avoided, but only at the cost of time and general mental stability. While internet anonymity programs allow users to access these sites, the connection is unbearably slow. Thanks to the measures of China's rulers, people have lost precious time and patience in their efforts to communicate and receive information. And the Green Dam project that has cost China millions of yuan is now voluntary after all.

The Chinese government needs to realize that its methods of Internet control are ineffective and futile. It was not China's choice to open her doors to the West, but as in so many other developing countries, Western power had the upper hand. These illicit open doors will allow Western thought to penetrate society, no matter how much the government tries to prevent it from doing so. China is well on her way to becoming a major world power, and outspoken bloggers will continue to criticize the government and defend their rights. China's skewed version of Communism won't be able to withstand the thoughts and actions of a capitalist society. In this ongoing battle, it is only a matter of time before the netizens declare victory.

Mona Zhang is a contributing columnist.