China's Online Population: A Rapidly Growing Phenomenon
The figures are quite staggering especially when considering that according to news sources, China’s Internet users represent barely 8% of its entire population! If Internet use in China grows to the same levels seen in many of the western nations, figures could skyrocket up to 750 million users regularly going online. The online experience for the Oriental Internet user however, is far different from that in the West.
The West is attracted to the Internet because of the many freedoms it offers in terms of reading or saying almost anything under the sun. For the Chinese, the Great Firewall, which was built into the country’s basic net infrastructure, acts as a censor. According to a report issued by a US firm, Dynamic Internet Technologies, which monitors Internet use in China, authorities have used various methods to “sanitize” online viewing. It seems innocuous enough on the surface: the firewall blocks direct access to those sites it doesn’t want the general populace to see. Anyone who attempts to visit these sites is informed that the page either cannot be found or does not exist.
China has changed its core net address books, known as Domain Name, and the sites that are blocked by these techniques include the many dealing with taboo subjects such as Tibet and Falun Gong as well as the BBC News website, search engine Google, sex sites such as Playboy and many blogs.
But the people, who gave the world fireworks and spaghetti just to name a few things, are a clever lot and reports indicate that many of China's net users know how to get around these restrictions. Still, the consequences of posting “subversive information” can be severe. Currently 54 people are thought to be in jail because they were judged to have distributed “illegal” information via the net.
The Internet in China can be compared in some ways to the American frontier town in the latter part of the 19th century; a wild and dangerous place of challenges and vigilante power. Time will reveal the ramifications of these arrests and the slow but steady climb of defiance in the face of civil liberties restrictions in China.
M Dee Dubroff