One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Suzhou, China was that I was unable to access my blog on Google’s BlogSpot domain. At the time I was clueless about China’s censorship of various internet sites and I wasn’t sure how to go about fixing the issue. Other American’s living in Suzhou explained to me how China has a government controlled internet firewall.
It can be quite frustrating dealing with the online censorship here especially for Americans like me who have experienced the freedoms that come with being born in the U.S.
I soon learned that there are many internet sites that are blocked here like Facebook, YouTube, Tweeter and various News outlets. Accessing Gmail can be quite time consuming and downright cumbersome due to China redirecting the Google homepage to Google Hong Kong.
The internet for most American’s is a freedom and a convenience we take for granted. I am dependent on the internet for accessing information on what’s happening throughout the world and for staying in touch with friends and relatives.
In the U.S. for most Americans the internet is like a basic utility similar to electricity, heating, indoor plumbing, and cable television. Going online can also be a form of entertainment, communication, and a way of broadening ones knowledge.
The United States Government due to our constitutional rights could never get away with censoring what we can access online. When Americans come to China to work or visit and they discover that their rights to access the daily News or a personal blog is being restricted it can become an annoyance to say the least.
I quickly learned about Virtual Proxy Network servers like many other foreigners living in China. My computer is now connected to a VPN via the internet to a server in California. It allows me to access the internet as if I was surfing the web from the U.S.A. the sites that China has blocked are assessable through the VPN server.
I use the various western News outlets to teach a cultural diversity course here in Suzhou. The first question that was addressed to me in class by a student was how I was able to access YouTube on the school network. I explained to her the modern convenience of using a VPN server.
Most of my students are also somewhat perplexed by their government’s intrusion in not allowing them to access the outside world online. My VPN server at times gets blocked though due to China continually applying new and highly advanced technology to plug up the VPN’s open ports.
Each time China blocks an open port needed for the VPN server to work. My VPN service provider can remotely access my computer. They then make the needed adjustments in order to reestablish my connection to their server. For a foreigner like me having to go through those hassles to read or watch American News programs can be somewhat frustrating. The knowledge that it’s China’s Government that’s trying to prevent me from getting access to my home country’s News and info is mind boggling to say the least.
Many VPN service providers are now offering their services on mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads. China is applying highly sophisticated technology that can automatically locate the open ports the VPN servers are using and block the mobile devices from using them.
On December 18th 2012 China released a statement as to why their Government is cracking down on the Virtual Proxy Network servers, “If there is no strict legal punishments on the violators in cyber space, the negative factors will run wild to destroy the Internet order and even incite online violence, which will bring great damage to people and society.” This is China’s rationale for maintaining its stringent censorship by erecting its cyber Firewall in order to keep a half billion people or so in the dark as to what is going on throughout the world and in their own country.
Tweeter, YouTube, and Facebook are looked upon as too grave a threat to the Chinese Government. At the same time China launched their own Chinese versions of the same sites, which they control of course, and they can easily pull or delete anything they deem objectionable. Social media websites which the Chinese believe can be used to stage protests are also blocked. However, China launched its own version of those same sites as well which are closely monitored and censored.
I like most foreigners in China am a Skype user I use it to phone the U.S. online. When you download the Skype software in China however you are actually downloading a China version of Skype not the U.S. version. The China Government can monitor your online activity via Skype. When I use Skype here in China I get many dropped calls and unexplained internet interference. The Skype connection and call quality even on high-speed broadband is poor by design in China.
China is mostly concerned about its public opinion at home and abroad and blocking various social media sites and News outlets is there way of controlling what its citizens can read or view online.
China in many ways is achieving its objective because they are effectively influencing their citizens’ opinions through their own media outlets via television, radio, and of course the internet.
There are approximately 500 million internet users in China and only 1 percent of those users rely on VPN servers to access the web. The majority either are not technologically aware VPN’s exist or they lack interest due to a language barrier. Many in China would prefer Chinese websites over English language websites. Many others may also lack interest in what’s going on in other places in the world. Opinions about China from other National Governments including the U.S. are not that great of an interest for most people in China. That is why there aren’t big protests from people here about the censoring practices of the Chinese Government.
Currently my VPN is working fine and my VPN service provider is ready to continue its cat and mouse game with China’s latest crackdowns on Virtual Proxy Network servers.
Most of my students are now using their own VPN’s for their classroom assignments and they are very knowledgeable about what makes America a great nation. They are also enjoying the freedom of surfing the web unfettered by the technological surf-patrols searching for ways to block online ports to the outside world.
I also enjoy my students’ insights as to why so many Chinese students want to travel to America. It’s mostly due to our liberties and the freedom to express ourselves without fear of censorship or government reprisal.
We Americas have the freedom to assemble a protest against our Government’s policies in our country without fear of being arrested and facing government retaliation through the judicial system.
America’s freedom sets us apart from most other nations in the world and that itself can make one proud to be called an American.
Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill