The Chinese economy is one of the fastest growing countries in the world which led to the emergence of China as the 21st world economic power. Chinese authorities have used billions of dollars to market the country to foreign investors as if they had an open economy. However, the communist government has punitive censorship laws that have had positive and negative effects on the economy. In the administration of these laws, Chinese regulators have banned the use of the following things in recent years.
Although it ranks first in the Alexa ranking and is the number one search engine in the world, Google is banned in China. The ban also includes sites affiliated with Google such as Gmail, Picasa and Google Maps. Google was blocked by the Chinese government in 2014, but some Google-affiliated sites like Google Plus and Google Docs were blocked earlier in 2011. The Chinese government justified the ban due to the fact that Google intended to store usage information Chinese on non-Chinese servers unacceptable for China. Even the Beijing government is not comfortable with the freedom of access of Google users, and therefore Chinese citizens could potentially have access to inflammatory content from the Internet and filtering such content individually is problematic even using the Great Firewall.
The largest social media site, Facebook was blocked in China in July 2009. The social media site had enjoyed widespread use throughout China, but events in 2009 led to the Chinese government’s decision to stop it. In July 2009, Xingjiang activists used Facebook to organize violent violent clashes that led to the death of about 200 people, many of whom were women and children. These protests that became known as the Urumqi riots were the last straw and led the Chinese government to block Facebook in China. China resisted this decision despite frequent visits by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to Beijing.
The popular image sharing app, Snapchat has also been blocked by the Chinese government. Snapchat was blocked because the app could store personal information about Chinese citizens on servers outside of China. However, Chinese citizens do not seem to require the app based on mobile devices due to the exponential growth of a Chinese equivalent known as QQ which has estimated 73 million users across the country.
A social media giant, Twitter was banned in China in June 2009 while the country was about to observe the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. Beijing was nervous about the use of social media by Chinese citizens whom the government believed could be used by dissidents to spread inflammatory information. According to the Chinese government, the social media website has been banned to contravene Chinese media censorship laws. However, the absence of Twitter in China does not create a vacuum since Chinese social media fanatics use the famous local equivalent, Weibo. Despite the ban, Twitter has around 10 million users in China who use VPNs to break the government’s firewall.
Instagram was another great mobile application for sharing images to ban in China. The Chinese government banned the mobile app in September 19th, 2014. The ban was due to the use of the mobile application by the participants in the 2014 pro-democracy protests that had swept over the city of Hong Kong. Protesters have used Instagram to share images about events in the city while urging other citizens to participate. Despite the end of the protests, the ban on using the app for mobile devices has never been revoked and is still applied until today.
Pinterest has become the most recent website to be banned by the Chinese government after the popular image-sharing site was banned in March 2017. The ban was quite surprising, to say the least for its users, since the content usual of Pinterest is not considered polarizing or sensitive to national security. The content shared by Pinterest users is usually fashion-oriented, so critics do not believe that the ban was instigated politically, but could be a protectionist move from Beijing. Several local websites have sprung up to fill the void left by Pinterest including BABA, an Alibaba affiliate.
China actively blocks the use of thousands of websites every day as it continues to implement its censorship laws. Websites that are viewed as spreading false information or inflammatory content are selected by the Internet police force of China which is estimated to have at least one million officers 2. China’s Internet censorship is operated on a scale that is not found in no other country in the world with the country employing highly advanced technologies to eradicate any controversial web content.
- Foreign films
Hollywood movies are loved around the world with blockbusters that have millions of followers in China. However, the Chinese government has placed a limit on the number of foreign films that will be presented in cinemas in China, with the current maximum number of films 34 per year. The selected films are also subjected to heavy censorship with government censors removing any content deemed defamatory or offensive to the communist government.
- E-books and videos
E-books and videos have not been spared from the elimination of web-based content by the Chinese government. DisneyLife, a video-streaming service was banned by government regulators in April 2017 with little explanation on the reasons for the ban. DisneyLife was supplied by the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and was operational for only five months. The ban came a year after Chinese regulators banned the iBook Store, an Apple E-book service in April 2016.
Gambling was outlawed by the Chinese government in 1949, but the ban was not applied correctly with Chinese entrepreneurs who set up underground casinos. The culture of underground gambling is more widespread in Macau, whose casino industry is larger than the American one in Las Vegas. However, in recent years, Beijing has launched an intense anti-corruption campaign aimed at eradicating underground casinos in the country.
Criticism of China’s strict policies
China has received widespread criticism and even condemnations both nationally and internationally for government control and Internet censorship. Critics see digital media censorship in the country as dictatorial and detrimental to economic growth. On the flip side of the coin, the ban on large digital platforms has provided opportunities for websites developed locally such as QQ and Alibaba to flourish.