How and why do governments regulate the flow of people and information? Is the government’s interest always the same as the people’s?
An Epic National Project
The Great Wall stretches from Dandong in the east, to Lop Lake in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. A comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that the Ming walls measure 5,500 miles. This is made up of 3,889 miles sections of actual wall, 223 miles of trenches and 1,387 miles of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers. Another archaeological survey found that the entire wall with all of its branches measure out to be 13,171 miles.
The steppe societies of Inner Asia, whose climate favored a pastoral economy, stood in stark contrast to the Chinese mode of development. As animal herds are migratory by nature, communities could not afford to be stationary and therefore evolved as nomads. As the steppe population grew, pastoral agriculture alone could not support the population, and tribal alliances needed to be maintained by material rewards. For these needs, the nomads had to turn to the settled societies to get grains, metal tools, and luxury goods, which they could not produce by themselves. If denied trade by the settled peoples, the nomads would resort to raiding or even conquest.
Before the use of bricks, the Great Wall was mainly built from rammed earth, stones, and wood. During the Ming, however, bricks were heavily used in many areas of the wall, as were materials such as tiles, lime, and stone. The size and weight of the bricks made them easier to work with than earth and stone, so construction quickened. Additionally, bricks could bear more weight and endure better than rammed earth. Stone can hold under its own weight better than brick, but is more difficult to use. Consequently, stones cut in rectangular shapes were used for the foundation, inner and outer brims, and gateways of the wall. Battlements line the uppermost portion of the vast majority of the wall, with defensive gaps a little over 30 cm (12 in) tall, and about 23 cm (9.1 in) wide. From the parapets, guards could survey the surrounding land. Communication between the army units along the length of the Great Wall, including the ability to call reinforcements and warn garrisons of enemy movements, was of high importance. Signal towers were built upon hill tops or other high points along the wall for their visibility. Wooden gates could be used as a trap against those going through. Barracks, stables, and armories were built near the wall’s inner surface.
The Great Firewall
Modern China is a one party state – a country ruled by one authoritarian Communist Party that carefully limits dissent, protest, and alternative points of view. In fact, the Chinese government has a tradition of keeping its watchful eye on all media. Since the rapid growth of the World Wide Web in the 1990s it has constantly invented new ways of censorship to control the world’s most democratic medium, the Internet, as well. Not everything on the Internet can be accessed from within China. The sophisticated tools used by the government to block websites that might embarrass or weaken the party are referred to as the Great Firewall of China.
It is estimated that some 30,000 Chinese civil servants are monitoring Internet traffic and blocking content that is deemed undesirable. Typing in sensitive keywords such as “democracy”, “Dalai Lama” or “Tiananmen 1989” in a search engine results in an error message. Repeated attempts by a user to search for such a sensitive topic can result in temporary disconnection of internet service. Websites of a sensitive nature are blocked. Internet service providers also (self) censor, as do individuals: many people do not express their real thoughts because they know these will be censored anyway.
Censorship is practiced by various interest groups at various levels: The government, who regulates the internet by means of an extensive arsenal of laws and administrative regulations. Foreign, i.e. Western, companies such as Yahoo argue that if you wish to do business in China, you must obey its rules. The Chinese commercial internet providers have to adhere to government rules. The moderators of Chinese chat rooms and discussion forums block “sensitive” postings. Everyone who wishes to go online in an Internet cafe is obliged to register beforehand with an official ID.
This ‘voluntary compliance’ with existing regulations can have major consequences. According to ‘Reporters Sans Frontières’, in 2003 dissident Jiang Lijun was sentenced to four years imprisonment for ‘undermining the state’. His conviction was based on a draft email found on his Yahoo page. This draft contained proposals for a more democratic China, which, according to the prosecution, could be regarded as taking part in “subversive activities that aim to undermine the authority of the Communist Party”. Yahoo provided the necessary data to find Jiang.
According to ‘Reporters Sans Frontières’, in September 2006, 50 cyber dissidents were held in Chinese prisons, as far as we know. Prison sentences vary from 3 to 10 years.
Sites Blocked in China
Chinese Internet censorship programs have censored Web sites that include (among other things):
- Web sites belonging to “outlawed” or suppressed groups, such as pro-democracy activists and Falun Gong
- News sources that often cover topics that are considered defamatory against China, such as police brutality, Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, freedom of speech, and democracy. These sites include Voice of America and the Chinese edition of BBC News.
- Sites related to the Taiwanese government, media, or other organizations, including sites dedicated to religious content, and most large Taiwanese community websites or blogs.
- Web sites that contain anything the Chinese authorities regard as obscenity or pornography
- Web sites relating to criminal activity
- Sites linked with the Dalai Lama, his teachings or the International Tibet Independence Movement
- Most blogging sites experience frequent or permanent outages
- Web sites deemed as subversive
Erased from History
It is almost completely unrecognized within China, however. Images of the protest on the Internet have been censored, and searching for this image can lead to your internet connection being reset.
The Bottom Line