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Comment Icon0 Despite the Chinese government’s occasional denial that they restrict any Internet content, China is still renowned for operating the world’s most sophisticated Internet filtering system (Wong, 2006). With China’s Internet population standing at a massive 338 million users (CNNIC, 2009), there is enough reason for the Chinese Communist Party to invest in the technological infrastructure it needs in order to help maintain the control over their side of cyberspace. Underlying President Hu Jintao’s call for officials to promote “healthy” online culture (Xinhua News, 2007), every step is being taken to limit access to any content that might potentially undermine the state’s control or social stability. While Beijing’s approach has been traditionally “low-tech Leninist”, the PRC regime’s counter-strategies now deploy technically advanced solutions, including the filtering of websites, email monitoring, deception through disinformation, as well as the hacking of dissident and Falungong websites.

Comment Icon0 To understand the motivation for using these particular techniques, deputy director of the RAND Center for Asia-Pacific Policy addressed the Congressional-Executive Commission on China by explaining that “[t]he regime understands implicitly that the center of gravity is not necessarily the information itself, but the organization of information and the use of information for political action. The strategy of the security apparatus is to create a climate that promotes self-censorship and self-deterrence” (Mulvenon, 2002). The domestication of this attitude can be seen in how the Chinese government encourages the commercialization of the Internet, not its politicization. For Chinese as well as foreign companies in the Internet industry, the point would be to make profits, not political statements. This point became obvious in 2006, when 52 individuals were imprisoned for their subversive online activities. Among them were several writers and journalists, who were convicted after the disclosure of their personal email accounts by Yahoo’s Chinese partner (Reporters Without Borders, 2006a, 2006b, 2007a). With a majority of Internet businesses cooperating with the Chinese government, the same magnitude of commitment can be seen in the adoption of the PRC’s network technology policies.

Comment Icon0 According to the Reporters Without Borders’ report entitled “Journey to the heart of Internet censorship” (2007b), it was apparent that China’s Internet consisted of external as well as internal censorship. On the external front, a filtering system blocks what the PRC considers undesirable overseas websites from being seen by people inside China. This aspect is the internationally infamous component of Chinese government control: the “Great Firewall of China”. Although researchers have been quick to point out how it is not technically a network firewall, the “Great Firewall of China” is represented as the protection granted by the nine gateways connecting China to the global Internet. Its key function is to prevent surfers in China from accessing “undesirable” web content in the global cyberspace. In essence, the “Great Firewall” allows Chinese authorities to block webpages they do not wish their citizens to see, grant them the ability to disrupt web sessions if certain taboo keywords like “democracy” and “freedom” are searched, and remove links that would take viewers to forbidden sites, including pornography, international news sites, the search engine Google, multitude of blogs, and sites related to Tibet and the banned religious movement Falungong (Xiao, 2004b).

Comment Icon0 On the internal front, the censorship system focuses on content published locally on China-hosted web servers. This system of domestic control is more thorough and permanent than the externally-focused “Great Firewall of China”. Whereby Chinese authorities are typically unable to take down content posted on overseas web servers, the authorities alternatively have been able to pressure local web companies and service providers to keep undesirable content off the web as much as possible. While Sohu, Sina, and the other major web companies are able to follow the “guidance” of various Chinese government agencies, the PRC has ultimate control over those web companies that are unable to control their user-generated content in the way that these bigger companies do; they face being cut-off.

Comment Icon0 Many have witnessed this particular action when thousands of IDCs (Internet data centers) were shut down in the run-up to the politically-sensitive 17th Party Congress on 15 October 2007. Shanghanese blogger Wang Jianshou shared how on 24 August, an IDC in Luoyang, Zitian, was shut down completely. This unplugged 500 Chinese servers from the Internet, which meant that tens of thousands of websites became inaccessible to the public. Among them was the largest traffic-tracking site, and this effect cascaded down to a major portion of Internet websites in China. Following this on August 28, Lanmang, the other IDC in Shantou faced the same situation, where again, tens of thousands of websites were complete inaccessible (Goldkorn, 2007). Just as China’s filtering system of external websites is renowned enough to earn the moniker of the “Great Firewall of China”, so is China’s internal web-censorship system, which is actually much more effective, especially with the co-opting of private sector into doing its censorship work. Content filtering is not only implemented at the “national gateway” level, but also throughout the public Internet access facilities in China. In 2003, the net police closed almost half of the country’s 200,000 Internet cafes, and installed surveillance and filtering software in the remaining establishments (Xiao, 2004b).

Comment Icon0 There have been a number of empirical studies as well as qualitative reports into the infrastructure of Internet filtering in China. Among the prominent studies was one conducted by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), which involved the partnership of three major academic research institutions, namely the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies, at the University of Toronto, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, and the Advanced Network Research Group at the Cambridge Security Programme at Cambridge University. In their annual report for Internet filtering in China, the study revealed an elaborate multi-layered filtering infrastructure operated by the Chinese government (OpenNet Initiative, 2009), which found China to be deploying eight key technical censorship techniques. In “You’ve Got Dissent!” (2002), authors Chase and Mulvenon illustrated the Chinese dissidents’ use of the Internet as well as Beijing’s counter-strategies. Since the inception of the Internet, China has also been deploying an array of filtering techniques on an ad hoc basis. Being such a moving target, documenting these techniques gets particularly difficult. As compiled across numerous news reports and research studies, the following sections highlight the PRC’s key techniques for controlling Internet use.

Chapter 6.1 – Form of Control: Architecture (Technology)


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