China and the Internet
Imagine your Internet world without Google. Then subtract Facebook, Twitter and myriad other websites, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Although I knew the Chinese government restricted many of these websites and programs as I landed in the so-called Middle Kingdom for a recent visit, I was unaware that WordPress, the blogging program I use for this website, was blocked. As a result, I was unable to post this blog for the past week. I apologize for my absence from this space.
Google faces restrictions in China because the mobile giant refused to filter content through its search engine as the government requested. Instead, Google moved its search engine to the somewhat more press friendly Hong Kong.
The New York Times has aggressively tracked the relationship between wealthy families and the government–a sensitive topic that drew the ire of the censors and left a few Times reporters with visa problems. But the censorship of the Internet in China is not as obvious as the problems journalists faced during the Cold War in the Soviet Union. Those days involved outright physical harassment. That’s not to say the censorship is better today than before, but the environment is a bit safer.
A website, greatfirewallofchina.org, allows people to see what websites may be completely or partially blocked in China.
Ironically, vice.com has its audio and video blocked but not its text stories. Amazon.com sails through, allowing me to watch “Elementary” and other programs I enjoy without interruption.
Many people in China use a virtual private network, or VPN, to outfox the censors. I had my VPN ready, but it worked much more slowly and not particularly well with audio and video. The use of a VPN is illegal and can result in deportation for a foreigner; the ramifications for a Chinese citizen are less clear.
Although China’s press remains tightly controlled, some subjects, such as local corruption, get the green light from the censors.
For example, a reporter from a Shanghai broadcaster secretly shot footage inside the food processing plant of Shanghai Husi Food, a subsidiary of U.S.-based food supply giant OSI Group.
The footage captured workers handling food with their bare hands. Several scenes showed them picking up meat that had fallen on the floor and returning it directly into the processing machine.
The company supplied beef and chicken to a variety of fast food outlets, including McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and others.
See more about my trip to China in the days ahead. Send suggestions and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.