After arriving in China I gained internet access through both WiFi and a local SIM card. However, I soon realized that I did not have access to some important information and services. No Google services would work in China, and I was unable to access any social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and could not update this blog. Neither could I read the New York Times and other news from sources in the USA.
I was aware that China censored internet access but I expected this would be limited to certain sensitive issues such as news about Tibet, Taiwanese politics, the Chinese Army’s killing of nonviolent protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989, etc. However, I found that the censorship by the Chinese government was massive. Outside China, it is referred to as The Great Firewall of China.
Prior to entering China I was already using a VPN but it did not work in China. After some research I was able to find a VPN that worked in China and regain full access to Google, social media, and all news sources. (See this NY Times article).
In general it seemed that all of the young Chinese people I met who spoke English were aware that the government censored the internet and that they could get around this by using a VPN. However, most people did not use VPNs due to the relatively high cost. Also, since few had ever had access to the uncensored internet, they did not have an awareness of how much they were missing.
I did not initiate any political discussions with the Chinese citizens I met during my travels in China, but many of them voluntarily offered their opinions and ideas. A young man who went by the English name of Johnny said “I love my country but I hate my government” and he had a few colorful words to further describe his feelings. Like me he had studied social work but was not working as a social worker because, “the government only hires social workers to monitor and control people they think might cause problems, not to actually help them.” Interestingly, he said he was a member of the Communist Party.
One young woman named Jo An referred to the 1989 Tiananmen killings as an “accident,” in comparison to the western media’s description of it as a “massacre.” Sadly, Jo An said “I think we have had many accidents in the past,” but she said she did not really know for sure, due to the lack of a free press. She spoke about her admiration for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. She said, “I think he really loves his country.” Going through the VPN on my smartphone I found some news about Liu but we decided it would not be a good idea for me to send her the link or a copy of the article. However from our discussion it was obvious that she was really starving for more information about Liu and other Chinese dissidents.