The Chinese economy is one of the fastest growing in the world which has led to the emergence of China as a 21st-century global economic power. Chinese authorities have used billions of dollars to market the country to foreign investors as having an open economy. However, the communist government has punitive censorship laws which have had positive and negative effects on the economy. In the administration of these laws, Chinese regulators have in recent years banned the use of the following things.
Despite ranking at first place in the Alexa Rankings and being the number-one search engine in the world, Google is banned in China. The ban also encompasses Google-affiliated sites such as Gmail, Picasa and Google Maps. Google was blocked by the Chinese government in 2014 but some Google-affiliated sites such as Google Plus and Google Docs were blocked earlier in 2011. The Chinese government justified the ban due to the fact that the Google intended to store information about Chinese use on non-Chinese servers which is unacceptable to China. The Beijing-based government is also not comfortable with the freedom of access Google users have, and therefore Chinese citizens could potentially have access to inflammatory content from the internet and filtering of such content individually is problematic even using the Great Firewall. Other explanations are rather controversial including a theory which claims that the decision to block Google in China was to encourage the domestic use of the Chinese-alternative search engine, Baidu whose content is subject to Chinese censorship.
The biggest social media site, Facebook was blocked in China in July 2009. The social media site had enjoyed widespread usage all over China but events in 2009 led to the decision by the Chinese government to block it. In July 2009 the Xingjiang activists used Facebook to organize widespread violent riots which led to the death of about 200 people, many of whom were women and children. These protests which became to be known as the Urumqi Riots was the last straw and caused the Chinese government to block Facebook in China. China has stood by this decision despite frequent visits by Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg to Beijing.
The popular image-sharing mobile app, Snapchat was also blocked by the Chinese government. Snapchat was blocked on the grounds that the app could store personal information about Chinese citizens on servers outside China. However, Chinese citizens do not seem to require the mobile-based app due to the exponential growth of a Chinese equivalent known as QQ which has an estimated 73 million users all over the country.
Social media giant, Twitter was banned in China in June 2009 as the country was about to observe the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre. Beijing was nervous of the use of social media by Chinese citizens which the government felt could be used by dissidents to spread inflammatory information. According to the Chinese government, the social media website was banned for contravening China’s media censorship laws. However, the absence of Twitter in China does not create a vacuum as Chinese social media fanatics use the popular local equivalent, Weibo. Despite the ban, Twitter has about 10 million users in China who use VPNs to breach the government’s firewall.
Instagram was another major image-sharing mobile app to be banned in China. The Chinese government banned the mobile app on September 19th, 2014. The ban was as a result of the usage of the mobile app by participants of the 2014 pro-democracy protests that had engulfed the city of Hong Kong. The participants of the protests used Instagram to share images on the happenings in the city while urging other citizens to join in. Despite the protests ending, the ban on the mobile app was never lifted and is still enforced to date.
Pinterest became the most recent website to be banned by the Chinese government after the popular image sharing website was banned in March 2017. The ban was quite surprising, to say the least to its users as the usual content on Pinterest is not considered as polarizing or sensitive to national security. The content shared by Pinterest users is usually fashion oriented and therefore critics do not believe the ban was politically instigated 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 which are seen as spreading false information or inflammatory content are selected by China’s internet police force which is estimated to have as many as 2 million officers. Internet censorship in China is operated on a scale not seen in any other country in the world with the country employing highly advanced technology to root out any controversial web content.
8. Foreign Films
Hollywood films are loved all over the world with the blockbusters having millions of followers in China. However, the Chinese government has put in place a limit on the number of foreign films to be showcased in theatres in China with the current maximum being 34 films per year. The selected films are also subjected to heavy censorship with government censors removing any content which is deemed as defamatory or offensive to the Communist government.
9. E-books and videos
E-books and videos have not been spared by the Chinese government's purge of web-based content. DisneyLife, a video-streaming service was banned by the government regulators in April 2017 with little explanation being given on the reasons behind the ban. DisneyLife was provided by China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba and had been operational for only five months. The ban came one year after Chinese regulators banned iBook Store, an Apple E-books service in April 2016.
Gambling was outlawed by the Chinese government in 1949 but the ban was not properly enforced with Chinese entrepreneurs establishing underground casinos. The underground gambling culture is more prevalent in Macau whose casino industry is larger than that of America’s Las Vegas. However, in recent years Beijing has begun an intensive anti-corruption drive which aims to root out underground casinos in the country.
Criticism Of China's Strict PoliciesChina has received widespread criticism and even condemnation both domestically as well as internationally for the government’s control and censorship of the internet. Critics see the censorship of digital media in the country as dictatorial and detrimental to the growth of the economy. On the flipside, the banning of the large digital platforms has provided an opportunity to locally developed websites such as QQ and Alibaba to thrive.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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