China boasts the most extensive effort to monitor and censor human expression in history, known as the Great Firewall of China (King et al, 2013). Users of the internet in China are unable to access any websites that are seen to oppose the policies or goals of the Chinese Government. This includes banning Western social media websites. This is an attempt by the Chinese government to contain and limit any potentially damaging dissenting voices. So far, despite a doubling in the number of Chinese blogs in 2005 alone (MacKinnon, 2007), the Chinese Government has been able to effectively manage the online activity of Chinese residents.
Yet many would argue that the censorship program is not as rigid, strict and oppressive as it first seems. King et al (2013) makes clear that in the case of political views posted online (usually in blogs) the Government does not tend to take down or punish individual views that are posted online on accepted websites such as Weibo. Instead, censors tend to focus on breaking up different people holding the same unacceptable view by cutting social ties. Individual views are not dangerous, it is when they come together to form a body of opinion that anti-establishment power is gained. Another point to consider is made by Servaes (2013) who argues that the recent revelations made about surveillance systems in the Western world highlight how China is not at all unique in its control over the internet. Although the Chinese censorship system is more extensive and infleuntial than those in the West, it could be argued that the system receives a disproportionate amount of focus, possibly a way of demonising the Authoritarian Chinese Government from a Western point of view.
Despite its previous success, the Chinese censorship program is beginning to experience some issues. For example, whereas in the West social media is completely dominated by a small number of websites, Chinese social media is fractured into thousands of much smaller websites in which dissenting groups could be formed (King, 2013). Moreover, as the internet develops and expands, complete coverage is becoming decreasingly possible, while Chinese web users are becoming increasingly capable of getting through the firewall (Sammarco, 2013). Furthermore, the increasing number of Chinese internet users – 618 million (Millward, 2014) – means a rising body of resent about the limits put on the internet. This in turn leads to an increasing body of resent at the Chinese Government which is exactly the problem the censorship is trying to avoid in the first place.
Censorship in China has served the dictatorial Government well in repressing undesired views. However, no matter how much steam is let out of the bubble of dissent by allowing fractured views to be expressed on websites like Weibo, the internet and world is developing in a way that complete censorship will no longer be a viable option.
King, G. et al. 2013. How censorship in China allows government criticism but silences collective expression. American Political Science Review.
MacKinnon, R. 2007. Flatter world and thicker walls? Blogs, censorship and civic discourse in China. Springer.
Millward, S. 2014. China now has half a billion mobile web users, 618 million total internet users. Accessed online: http://www.techinasia.com/cnnic-china-500-million-mobile-web-users-and-618-internet-users-2013/. 13/02/2014.
Sammaraco, N. 2013. The Great Firewall and the perils of censorship in modern China. Yale Journal of International Affairs. 11th June.
Servaes, J. 2013. The many faces of (soft) power, democracy and the internet. Telematics and Informatics. Vol 30, issue 4, pp322-330.