Saturday, May 2, 2015

Censorship in China

To note--I am not criticizing the way the Chinese Communist Party works, but revealing fascinating information about a cultural/governmental difference. It is not a bad thing or a good thing-just a way that a different country governs the world's largest population. I am a bit taken away by some of the facts I came across while writing this. Chinese people are extremely tolerant/accepting of their conditions. 

So my job is to teach an American curriculum here in China to students who will one day be going to top American universities. In the AP curriculum content cannot be blacked out because the students may need to know it for the test. But in the Pre-AP world history curriculum...the book is full of blacked out maps, ripped out pages, or censored passages:

The political maps show Taiwan as a different country (as opposed to being a part of China), so it is blacked out in every map.

As you guys know, the Chinese Government censors the information that Chinese citizens have access to via the internet or online applications.

"The apparatus of China's Internet control is considered more extensive and more advanced than in any other country in the world. The governmental authorities not only block website content but also monitor the Internet access of individuals" (

Certain websites or applications (over 18,000 altogether), such as New York Times, Facebook, Twitter, various blogs, Instagram, Snapchat, Google, Gmail and individual stories that the government does not want the people of China to see. Many people refer to it as the "Great Firewall" and let me tell you, it's a pain sometimes (apparently there were about 2 million "internet police" in 2013- There are many English websites that are still accessible, but they can be very slow.

Why? One reason is to "protect" people from information and keep the country orderly--to avoid protest and instability (many social media websites offer a way for people to organize). Or to create "tolerance" as they say. Another reason is so the government can keep "face" or reputation, something that is very important to Chinese people.

Let's check out some examples:

1. One of the three T's that you should NEVER talk about in China: Tiananmen Square Incident (June 4, 1989) 

In the summer of 1989, thousands of Chinese people (mostly college students) protested in Tiananmen Square (Beijing) for democracy. On June 4th, the government shut down the protest with violence. The number of people who died in the incident is unknown and it is something that is not talked about.

A search for anything related to Tiananmen results in nothing. Around the anniversary the internet is censored very closely and works incredibly slow.  

5 Things you Should Know about Tiananmen

Here is a really good blog post about a young American woman who was teaching at Beijing University and witnessed/went through the event:

2. Various riots between different ethnic groups. 

Riots in Tibet in 2008, the Urumqi Riots in 2009

Article about Urumqi Riots (A Clash between Urumqi Muslims and Chinese Han-the ethnic majority of China)

After this Facebook and Twitter were blocked in China

Article About Tibet (Tibet does not want China ruling or making political decisions about it's region)

This man is protesting for the UN to interfere with China's rule of Tibet. He is on a hunger strike and will later light himself on fire. 

Here is the Dali Lama meeting with George Bush, asking him to do something about China's interference with Tibet

This is in the summer of 2008...while Beijing is preparing to hold the Olympics, Tibet are showing their defiance 

3. Lu Xiaobo--a Chinese human rights activist, critic, writer and professor who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. His name was blocked from social media (Sina Weibo) and he is now a political prisoner in China. 

4. Ai WeiWei, an artist and political activist. His Sina Weibo (similar to Twitter) was shut down because of his critical commentary on the government. 

He investigated the Sichuan earthquake of 2008--he wanted to know the names of each child who died in the earthquake to remember them. RED FLAG: many kindergardens and primary schools had been made out of sod in Sichuan. People were more concerned with cheap school infrastructure than with student safety.

In order to cover this up, the government did not want the world to have a compiled list of all the schoolchildren who died in the earthquake. They paid off families and kept it on the hush hush. However, Ai WeiWei's little project made this difficult for the government.

He was beaten by the police and had brain injuries. He also faced 81 days of jail time for "economic crimes" He documented his experience using Twitter and other social media sights and would post pictures or video tape the injustices that he faced, Here is a picture of him in a German hospital, recovering from his brain injuries.

5.  The recent democracy protests in Hong Kong (2014) 

A lot of this information was censored. This was the point when China blocked Instagram- they did not want Chinese citizens seeing what was going on in HK They did not want to risk Chinese mainlanders joining the movement. This protest was different than the ones in Tibet or in Urumqi because the whole world was watching.

This is a photo I took while I was there in October: 

It's kind of funny because while I was in Hong Kong mainlanders could care less about the protests there. Instead, they were in Hong Kong to shop and buy clothing and Apple products for 20% less than in the mainland.

Someone in the city I live in tried an "occupy" Jinan movement--but it was censored from the news and quickly shut down. A student and a fellow colleague told me about it, but when I went to look it up I could not find any information. Did it happen? Did it not happen? I'll never know.

6. A documentary Under the Dome was recently removed from Chinese media (it is still on youtube however)

As a foreigner, one of the most challenging aspects of life in (Northern) China is the air pollution. During winter, it is especially bad in the North because people are burning coal. Everyday I check my AQI (Air Quality Index) before I plan my day. Here are some pictures to show you just how bad it really is: (photos taken in Beijing)

Beautiful day for a marathon...

This documentary was done in TED style and really shows the effect of air pollution on the people. The documentary was very well put together and includes so much research and data. It includes a lot of background information on the air pollution that plagues many Chinese cities. For example, many truck drivers should not have passed the test that gives them the approval to drive because their engines produce too much exhaust. It also shows a surgery on a 55 year old woman's lungs. She has lung cancer and her lungs have huge black particles in them--something that is common in a smoker. However she is healthy and has never smoked in her life. The cause? Air pollution.

The documentary was aired on Chinese media, but it calls on the people to work for change. So many people watched it and it sparked an emotional response from many Chinese people through comments online. This is a red flag in China. The government is the one who makes policies and creates change (not the people). It was removed from Youku (the Chinese youtube) and is no longer talked about.

The documentary is still on youtube with English translation: Under the Dome It's really long but I would check out the first 10 minutes and last 10 minutes.

More on pollution: this guy documents one year of Beijing in pictures

7. A fast rail train crash in Wenzhou in 2011

In 2011, two fast rail trains crashed in the city of Wenzhou. The government quickly moved to monitor media and cover up the cause of the crash (they blamed it on lightning). They told journalists specific rules for covering the crash, which was exposed to citizens. Someone told me that they wanted to cover it up altogether. Social media went CRAZY. They were extremely dissatisfied with the government's action towards the crash and their disregard of human life.

The cover up was to save face-or reputation. The fast rail construction was quick and safety standards were not as adequate as they should have been. The cause was a design flaw and a failure to signal to the second train that there was a train stalled on the track. Embarrassed, the government did not want anyone to know this.

This man lost his wife and he wants to know what happened.

Check out this ABC news coverage

To me and other people who live in countries that value freedom and freedom of the press, this is crazy! It feels like the government is trying to hide or cover something up. But in China when it comes to politics, many people are uninterested or do not get involved. They trust their government and let it take care of political matters (or they know they have no choice). Some people in China would argue that they actually have more freedom than people in other countries. They go to America and there are strict laws about drinking, about driving and other things that affect the daily lives of people. In China these laws do not exist or are not very strictly enforced.

The consequence of this Firewall? According to wikipedia, China has the largest number of imprisoned journalists in the world and it is a "prison" for citizens who post comments online.
( It's no wonder that many people just stay out of politics altogether. 

Anyways, with the emergence and popularity of Chinese online applications such as Sina and Weibo (an application similar to instant messenger and Facebook) people can post opinions. This poses a new challenge for the government because they need to censor the comments and pictures that are present. (After the Wenzhou train crash the government experienced a huge problem with this)

Westerners and some businessmen/women use a Virtual Privacy Network which connects you to a domain in another country so you can access these websites or applications. Thank God.

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