When you connect to the Internet in China you don’t get the real Internet you get a government controlled version, which limits access to sites that are offensive to/or go against the political views of the Chinese government. This is known as the Golden Shield Project or by its lovable nickname, ‘The Great Firewall of China’.
The Golden Shield Project is an estimated $800m project of the Chinese government to not only control online content but use modern technology to monitor the movements and activities of their people.
In simple terms as a visitor this means that they block a bunch of websites, for anything about human rights for example Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org), anything that mentions Tiananmen Square, the Dalai Lama and a whole bunch of other stuff, they particularly don’t like anything with user generated content that allows their people to express their views to the world or for their people to see what the rest of the world is up to.
In practical terms this was annoying for me because, it meant all the following are blocked
- BBC News (http://news.bbc.co.uk)
- Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org)
- YouTube (http://www.youtube.com)
- Flickr (http://www.flickr.com)
If you want to see a more thorough list (and you aren’t inside China), then there is a nice article on Wikipedia here.
In truth though the firewall represents little or no challenge to circumvent, not only due to the amount of proxying sites available, but also if you have access to machines outside of China you can easily VPN or SSH your traffic via them circumventing the problem.
The blocking isn’t just IP based either, they also do some nasty DNS poisoning, which causes you to be misdirected to another site rather than the one you intended, again this wasn’t a problem for me as I run my own DNS server on my laptop, but in general a little irritating.
You can’t help but feel then that the Chinese efforts to control Internet access are more than a little futile…