With a unique Internet environment different from another world, the new generation of young Chinese is growing up gradually. For a long time, they have been considered proficient in using the Internet and open-minded to new things in the world. But under the continuous operation of the Great Firewall, the situation seems to have changed. The Chinese government has blocked thousands of foreign websites, including social media like Facebook or Instagram, and news websites in the past years. At the same time, there are a lot of Chinese local alternative websites to replace them with the same function. Indeed, they are under strict censorship. The influence of the Great Firewall is gradually becoming apparent. More and more young Chinese people do not know what Google, Facebook, or Twitter is. Like a real wall, the Great Firewall separates the world inside from the outside and creates a vast gap between them and the rest of the world. They become more and more closed. Instead, they get used to the local applications and websites, taking the strict online censorship they experience for granted. This has led to establishing a system of values and discourse in China that is entirely different from the West.
My personal experience
I first climbed the Great Firewall (翻墙) in middle school ten years ago. I did not know much about the wall at that time, but I knew there was something ‘invisible net’ to prevent us from so-called ‘foreign evils.’ One day after school, one of my friends told me, ‘ let me show you something fun.’ Then he unlocked his phone and opened the app called ‘XX VPN'(which I can not remember the name) skillfully, starting to browse contents that I considered taboo at that time, such as the Tiananmen Square protests 1989, Cultural Revolution, Fa LunGong and so on. I was so scared and said, ‘close it! I don’t wanna see these anymore!’. But he laughed at me for being such a coward and said he would send me this VPN. When I got home, he did send this software. I was still a little scared but couldn’t resist my curiosity. In the end, I installed this software on my phone. After that, it opened the door to a new world for me. I have learned a lot about the outside world, and I think this has also planted a seed for studying abroad.
At the same time, climbing the Great Firewall also needs to take risks. If you’re unlucky, you’re highly likely to be invited by the police to ‘drink tea’ (喝茶), which means that they may catch you. In front of a powerful state machine with nearly unlimited funds and human resources, scattered individuals, who cannot openly identify themselves, can only work clandestinely and underground. Within the system, the technicians who maintain the Great Firewall are the elite of the top universities, the most powerful computers, and the cyber police continuously monitoring you.
I’m deeply interested in what life is like behind the curtain, drawn tight around China by Xi Jinping; this article provides a great insight. After doing an article covering Skynet and how its expansion directly influences the surveillance of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, I had some background knowledge before reading the article but it has greatly added to my understanding of the practical nature of the situation in China. Being the most advanced digital barrier of its kind in the world, it’s very interesting how China still seeks to isolate itself in many ways and control what its population sees as a means of maintaining power and stability. From this standpoint, I can more easily understand the fear that you mention when a government has both the will and means to be able to censor so much content; only heightened by the fact that such means of enforcement are shrouded in obscurity.