Great Firewall

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Not to be confused with the Golden Shield Project, of which the Great Firewall is only one part.

The Great Firewall of China (Simplified Chinese: 防火长城; traditional Chinese: 防火長城; pinyin: fánghuŏ chángchéng, commonly known as "wall") is a blanket term with ironic connotations thought to have been coined in an article in Wired magazine in 1997[1][2] and used by international, including Chinese, media to refer to legislation and projects initiated by the Chinese government (which is controlled by the Communist Party of China, CPC) that attempt to regulate the internet in Mainland China. It is the main instrument to achieve Internet censorship in China. These CPC regulations include criminalizing certain online speech and activities, blocking from view selected websites, and filtering key words out of searches initiated from computers located in Mainland China.

Origins of Chinese Internet law[edit]

While the United States and several other western countries passed laws criminalizing computer crimes beginning in the 1970s, China had no such legislation until 1997. That year, China's sole legislative body, the National People's Congress (NPC) passed CL97, a law that criminalizes "cyber crimes" (计算机犯罪; jisuanji fanzui), which it divided into two broad categories: crimes that target computer networks and crimes carried out over computer networks. Behavior illegal under the latter category includes among many things the dissemination of pornographic material and the usurping of "state secrets."

Some Chinese judges were critical of CL97, calling it ineffective and unenforceable. However, the NPC claimed it intentionally left the law "flexible" so that it could be open to future interpretation and development. Given the gaps in CL97, the central government of China relies heavily on its administrative body, the State Council, to determine what falls under the definitions, and their determinations are not required to go through the NPC legislative process. As a result, the CPC has ended up relying heavily on state regulation to carry out CL97.[3]

The latter definition of online activities punishable under CL97, or "crimes carried out over computer networks" is used as justification for the Great Firewall and can be cited when the government blocks any ISP, gateway connections, or any access to anything on the internet. The definition also includes using the internet to distribute information considered "harmful to national security," and using the internet to distribute information considered "harmful to public order, social stability, and Chinese morality." The central government relies heavily on its State Council regulators to determine what specific online behavior and speech fall under these definitions.

Campaigns and crackdowns[edit]

As part of the Great Firewall, beginning in 1993 China started the Golden Shield Project (金盾工程; jindun gongcheng), a massive surveillance and censoring system, the hardware for which was provided by mostly U.S. companies, including Cisco Systems. The project was completed in 2006 and is now carried out in buildings with machines manned by civilians and supervised by China's national police force, the Public Security Bureau (PSB). The main operating activities of the gatekeepers at the Golden Shield Project include monitoring domestic websites and email and searching for politically sensitive language and calls to protest. When damaging content is found, local PSB officials can be dispatched to investigate or make arrests. However, by late 2007 the Golden Shield Project proved to operate sporadically at best, as users had long adapted to internet blocking by using proxy servers, among other strategies, to make communications and circumnavigate to blocked content.[4]

In February 2008, the Chinese government announced "Operation Tomorrow," an effort to crack down on youth usage of internet cafes to play online games and view content declared illegal.[5] Internet cafés, an extremely popular way of getting online in developing countries where fewer people can afford a personal computer, are regulated by the Chinese government and by local Chinese government officials. Minors (in China, those under the age of 18) are not allowed into Internet cafés, although this law is widely ignored and when enforced, has spurred the creation of underground "Black Web Bars" that will be visited by those underage. As of 2008 internet cafés were required to register every customer in a log when they used the internet there; these records may be confiscated by local government officials and the PSB. To illustrate local regulation of internet cafés, in one instance, a government official in the town of Gedong lawfully banned internet cafés from operating in the town because he believed them to be harmful to minors, who frequented them to play online games (including those considered violent) and surf the internet. However, internet cafés in this town simply went underground and most minors were not deterred from visiting them.[6]


Some research evidence has indicated that suspicion of the Great Firewall in China and the sense that one is being surveyed online leads to chilled speech and self-censorship, which has been more effective at blocking internet content than the Great Firewall has been.[7]

However, China has had some success in filtering key words out of internet searches and blocking access to selected sites from the everyday user in China who would not try to get around it. Furthermore, surveillance of online activities is an ongoing process and shows no signs of abating any time soon. Web sites that the government has blocked number in the hundreds and range from the obvious (that of Falun Gong, a quasi-religious group that China banned in 1999) to the unlikely (seemingly innocuous English language web sites for The New York Times and The Washington Post, which were blocked in Mainland China until 2002). Purportedly, words and phrases like "democracy" and "Tiananmen Square massacre" are filtered from searches through agreements with search providers like Google.


Chinese corporate statutes mandate that domestic and foreign internet companies doing business in Mainland China cooperate with its Great Firewall efforts. The Chinese businesses of American companies Yahoo!, Google, (Google is no longer allowed in China) and Microsoft comply with this condition of operating there.[8] While the leadership of these companies regularly express their distaste for China's Great Firewall policies, in the same vein they consider it a necessary part of doing business in China and better than the alternative, which would be to not have any China business at all. Jerry Yang, a founder of Yahoo!, additionally has implied that the presence of foreign internet companies in China will eventually help bring about less internet restriction in China.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The China Yahoo! welcome: You've got Jail!". 2005-09-09. Retrieved 2015-04-01. 
  2. ^ R. Barme, Geremie; Ye, Sang. "The Great Firewall of China". Wired. 
  3. ^ Keith, Ronald; Lin, Zhiqiu (2006). New Crime in China. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group. pp. 217–225. ISBN 0415314828. 
  4. ^ August, Oliver (2007-10-23). "The Great Firewall: China's Misguided — and Futile — Attempt to Control What Happens Online". Wired Magazine. 
  5. ^ "Website Test behind the Great Firewall of China". 
  6. ^ Cody, Edward (2007-02-09). "Despite a Ban, Chinese Youth Navigate to Internet Cafés". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-04-01. 
  7. ^ "China's Eye on the Internet". ScienceDaily. 2007-09-12. Retrieved 2015-04-01. 
  8. ^ Shemel, Sidney; Krasilovsky, M. William (2007). This Business of Music. Billboard Books. p. 441. ISBN 0823077233. 
  9. ^ Mills, Elinor (2006-03-08). "Yang speaks on Yahoo's China policy". CNET. Retrieved 2015-04-01.