Monday, August 20, 2018

The Reality of China's Internet Censorship

I live for the internet. I’m not alone in this way of life as most of my friends, instructors, and co-workers cannot live without the internet. Almost everything is done from a computer, smartphone, and tablet. I see more kids running to the computer than I do see who read a book.

When we have a question, we Google it. When we go on adventures, we post or tweet to Facebook and Twitter. When we are frustrated, we go to forums. Medical questions? Reddit or the handy dandy Google.

Regardless of if you are a Google, Yahoo, or Bing fan, these search engines have made our lives easier. Instead of researching in a library, sifting through countless numbers of books and then trying to find the answer, we can easily type in the question and have a detailed answer within seconds.

The world has changed since the invention of the computer and then the internet. For better or for worse, our society lives a technological world. I wonder, sometimes, what this world would be like if the internet or all electronic devices stopped working. I wonder how Americans would react if nearly 70% of all popular websites were taken down and there was no way to access them. I wonder how America would run with censorship laws taking away information centers and replacing them with state-run propaganda. I wonder …

Life in the Countryside of Northeast Wisconsin

As an entrepreneur who lives and was raised in Northeast Wisconsin, I’ve had a pretty uneventful upbringing. I live in the country where I see more cattle than humans and I am surrounded by cornfields and hay fields instead of mountains of concrete.
 
I learned to deal without the necessities of people who lived in town had. If I wanted to go to the store, any store, I would need to drive for fifteen minutes. If I wanted to watch a movie, I needed to strap myself in for at least a thirty-minute ride. Instead of driving everywhere in the country, I biked to my destinations. If the power went out, my dad would light every candle in the house and illuminate the dark skies.

There were more times where I watched Caveman TV than the actual TV. What is Caveman TV? Go outside at night and sit and watch the stars. Every hour-in-a-half, a mysterious shining light, that looks like a star, will scurry across the sky. That light is the International Space Station. This is my TV.

By the time I was old enough to use the internet, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to use it like everyone else. The internet is notoriously slow where I live. Loading my email can sometimes take twenty minutes and posting on Facebook or any social media site can sometimes be an impossible task because of the slow upload speed.

Yet, even though the internet is slow, I at least have the internet. I can use my email, check Facebook, tweet on Twitter, binge-watch Netflix shows, investigate YouTube, and pin on Pinterest. I have it good considering what Chinese citizens must deal with.

The China Situation

As an entrepreneur, I utilize Google. My website is a Google Blogger. I purchased a URL from Google. My email is a Google service. Google slide and docs are my best friends.

Facebook dominates my life, even if I don’t like it, as I religiously check in almost daily. My first business page on social media was on Facebook and later LinkedIn.

Twitter makes me happy when I see my favorite singers and artists post updates. I tweet new blog posts and advertise my tutoring business on Twitter.

Pinterest is my go-to for pinning my blog posts and business ideas. I partner or collaborate with other Pinterest Boards like mine to help boost views.

There is a problem, though. Every one of these services I use to run my business and share updates with clients, parents, and friends are blocked in China.

Google—Blocked.
Facebook—Blocked.
Twitter—Blocked.
Pinterest—Blocked.
Bing—Unblocked?

My go-to search engine while in China was Bing. The only difference was that I was only allowed to access the Chinese version of the search engine. If I typed in certain keywords, I was only given websites that have been approved and most likely created by the Chinese government.

There were a few websites I used a home that was unblocked in China. Archive of Our Own loaded as fast as it does in America and The Wealthy Accountant blog was completely open beside any Google ads that may have been placed on certain pages. Wikipedia was unblocked and so was most forums that weren’t Google.

Alternatives

I had purchased a VPN for my computer before I arrived. I thought I would be all set, but I quickly learned that not all VPNs work. The Chinese government allows VPNs and has authority to block them whenever they see fit. That is what happened to me five days into my trip. The VPN I purchased worked in the beginning but was quickly taken down after the Chinese government cracked down on many VPNs.

Though, there are alternatives. Instead of using Google, I used Bing and allowed my computer to translate the pages I wished to access. The search engine, Baidu (which is more than a search engine), became my best friend. Baidu also has features to call a taxi, GPS, nearby restaurants, and bus routes. Youku, Chinese YouTube, was also a viable alternative for video streaming. My all-time favorite app was WeChat.

WeChat is the alternative to Facebook, Twitter, and Skype. WeChat was the way I communicated with my parents when I was in Beijing and it was FREE! The app has voice recording features, video recording features, texting capabilities, video and photo sharing capabilities, and so much more. I utilize WeChat today. My PenPal and host family contact me every week on the app.

Conclusion

It was difficult, especially in the beginning, to deal with the censorship in China. Yet, the less I was able to access stopped me from spending extended periods of time scrolling through Facebook posts, watching YouTube videos, tweeting, and pinning.

I was more productive in China. I got what I needed to get done on my computer and then was able to be productive for the rest of the day. I paid less attention to other people and their lives online and worried about myself and the people around me.

I’m not saying that I didn’t complain in the beginning or ever wonder what I was going to do with myself without Google, my email, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I was still able to access YouTube with a VPN I had on my phone. Dora, my host sister, loved it when I played the lyrics videos for Good Time by Owl City and Hey Brother by Avicii on YouTube.

I wasn’t alone. When the reality finally set in that I was no longer on American soil, I adjusted. I stopped feeling the need to post on Facebook, to tweet on Twitter, and to pin on Pinterest. The hardest thing to overcome was not being able to use my email, but I found a way around that, too. I didn’t need to use my email if I had WeChat. I was in good hands and had nothing to worry about.

Chinese censorship is extreme. Many of the websites we use like Facebook and Google are blocked. I can understand why the Chinese government does this. Without going into politics or the stories about corruption, I can see why the Chinese government wants the citizens in China to use Chinese services and products. This helps their economy.


Have you visited China? And have you dealt with some of these struggles? Have you ever used WeChat? Leave your comments below, like, and please share this post with friends and family.  

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