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25 Shocking Facts About Chinese Censorship

By Britney Wilkins

What would your world be like if you couldn't log on to Facebook or your favorite celebrity or news websites? As a college student in the U.S., you may feel stressed about your heavy workload, competition getting into classes (or getting into school at all), fighting for internships and graduating into a weak economy, but when it comes to freedom of speech and the ability to log on to TMZ during class, you're pretty lucky. Here are 25 shocking facts about Chinese censorship and how students in that country don't have the freedom to surf the net the way you do.


Chinese Internet users are monitored by the government, especially in Internet cafes. Learn more about surveillance here.

  1. The Internet Police: The Internet Police reportedly employs 30,000 agents who investigate individuals who post information online that may be offensive to Chinese government and officials. This kind of information may include rumors or state secrets, as well as material that brings down Chinese morale and its reputation, according to CNN.
  2. All keystrokes are recorded: Even in Internet cafes, all chats, online games and e-mails are recorded by the government, making it impossible to fly under the radar or send any truly private messages.
  3. The Internet Detective: The Chinese government uses a special kind of spy software called the Internet Detective that records sites you visit, e-mails, games, message board activity and identity card numbers. The government says that it uses this spyware to make it easier to catch criminals who use Internet cafes.
  4. Great Firewall vs. Golden Shield: The official name for the online censorship idea is the Golden Shield Project, which began in 1998. Critics of the project refer it to the Great Firewall of China.
  5. China has more web surfers than America: China's population is of course larger than the population of the U.S., but Americans once dominated the virtual world. That means that the Internet Police patrol 253 million web surfers.

Jurisdiction and Punishment

If you're caught violating the laws of Chinese censorship and appropriate online behavior, you may have to go to jail. Find out how journalists, web surfers and even U.S. companies become entangled in the Chinese censorship movement.

  1. Offending China online warrants jail time: If you are caught and convicted of offending China and the government, you may be sent to jail.
  2. Yahoo! indirectly aided in the arrest of a Chinese journalist: In April 2007, the World Organization for Human Rights sued Yahoo! for "willingly" supplying the Chinese government with the personal information and e-mail addresses for a Chinese journalist and "cyber dissident." The government used that information to arrest both individuals, and Yahoo! was widely criticized for their cooperation in the event, even by the U.S. Congress.
  3. Even U.S. companies have to comply with China's rules: U.S. Internet companies like Yahoo! and Google make their services available all over the world, but in China, those services are restricted. Just recently, the Chinese government restricted access to Google altogether "after a government representative accused [Google] of spreading pornography," reports PC World.
  4. Fines are issued as punishment: If an individual is found guilty of publishing offensive content on the web, such as "defaming" the government, they could be forced to pay a fine of up to $1800.

Restrictions and Blocked Sites

Learn about blocked sites, taboo topics and more.

  1. Amnesty International battle: China routinely blocks access to the website for Amnesty International, which criticizes China for imprisoning so many journalists each year. The site was also blocked during the 2008 Olympic Games, but the restriction was temporarily lifted after international journalists complained.
  2. There's no Twitter in China: Twitter is very often blocked in China, so don't get your hopes up for tweeting action when you study abroad there.
  3. YouTube and Flickr are often blocked: Sometimes these two media sharing sites are blocked completely, and other times, they're just heavily restricted.
  4. Restriction is lifted when the issues garner international attention: When there is a strong international interest in the Chinese censorship issue, certain sites are allowed to be visited, like during the Summer 2008 Olympics and during an international summit in Shanghai.
  5. Blogger blogs are often blocked: During the Summer 2008 Olympics, bloggers who used the Blogger platform found that their sites were blocked in China.
  6. Only "healthy" news is allowed: Time reports that the Chinese government only allows "healthy" news to be reported on the Internet.
  7. iTunes was blocked during the 2008 Olympics: Wikipedia reports that after athletes downloaded a pro-Tibetan song from iTunes during the Olympics in 2008, China blocked iTunes.
  8. Even outbound links are restricted: In 2000, China passed a law that forbids China websites to link to outside news websites — or even reference news reported by outside news sites — without getting approval from the government.
  9. The Tiananmen Square anniversary was heavily censored: The 20th anniversary for one of Chinese history's darkest days — Tinanmen Square — was censored all over the Internet. Comment boards were shut down by companies afraid of being prosecuted for encouraging discussion about the massacre, and Twitter was shut down.
  10. Falun Gong censorship: The Chinese spiritual group Falun Gong is one of the most widespread censorship targets in the country. It is a practice steeped in principles of morality and supposedly rose after the Maoist revolution. The group staged a silent protest in 1999 against an incident of beatings and arrests in 1999, and China has censored and abused them since.
  11. Search engines are filtered: There is an effort on behalf of China to eliminate certain words from search engines like Yahoo! and Baidu.
  12. The pun that got through: Bloggers around the world laughed when a "dirty pun" leaked through China's censorship restrictions. A song about a grass-mud horse sprang up to poke fun at the censorship because the Chinese word for "grass-mud horse" sounds very similar to an obscenity that otherwise would have been blocked.
  13. University access blocked: Some online university systems have been blocked since 2004, making it impossible for students at schools like George Washington University to access assignments and notes from China.
  14. Rogue ways of getting past censorship: Some savvy Chinese citizens intent on getting past censored sites have created applications with names like Gollum and picidae to get past servers and browse pages as images.
  15. Forced restriction leads to self-restriction: Time reports that James Fallows of the Atlantic brought up a frightening reality: that Chinese who were afraid of being caught using the Internet in illegal ways were starting to censor their own use. Fallows wrote "The idea is that if you're never quite sure when, why and how hard the boom might be lowered on you, you start controlling yourself, rather than being limited strictly by what the government is able to control directly."