The Great Fire Wall

Western society today is reasonably dependent on the use of technology and social media. From advertising events on Facebook, sharing a menu on Instagram to ordering an Uber. It’s our daily rituals checking our phones on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Whatsapp. But this is difficult in China, as there is a ban on these platforms.

What is the Great Fire Wall?

Access to many websites and media platforms is limited due to the government’s ban to enforce censorship. This happened in 1997, when the National People’s Congress of China passed the CL97, which is a set of laws for “cyber crimes”. More commonly known as the Golden Shield Project, it meant that search engines would not show results relating to:

  • Aggression and violence.
  • Distorted social media.
  • Sexually-suggestive and pornographic material.
  • Gambling.
  • Online networks used for criminal activity.
  • In particular, data and reports over the Tiananmen Square Protests in 2008.

There’s more than just social media sites and applications that are blocked. Most news outlets are not accessible, and access it monitored by the government. So, the argument is, how ethical is it to blind a nation of people to the rest of the world? Granted, most people in China have never heard of some celebrities, and I bet a lot of people would be thankful that personalities from reality TV such as Made in Chelsea, TOWIE, and Jersey Shore didn’t appear on their news feeds and television (I really miss binge watching the Kardashians). But many people do not know the real discussions over important issues. This was really apparent to me when I was asked about Brexit when I first arrived, and many people didn’t understand what Brexit or the European Union even is.

The ethical standpoint of the Fire Wall was discussed by Google in 2006. The no.1 search engine in the world is not accessible in China. This is due to the fact that when they tried to set their electronic foot in China, they had to abide by the censorship laws enforced by the communist government. This did not agree with the company view. The motto of Google is “Don’t Be Evil”, so only showing a small proportion of the information to an entire population went against Google’s values.

So how do I use my social media platforms in China?

I won’t lie, the communication was a large factor for me coming to China. I did some serious research into how I would talk to my friends, family and university back home.

To get past the Fire Wall, I use a Virtual Private Network, commonly known as a VPN. By my understanding, a VPN connects to a network in another country to allow you access to blocked platforms, websites and outlets. (I will link webpages at the end of the post to explain more about VPN’s).

You can get both free and paid VPN’s. Personally, I have found better use with the free VPN’s downloaded from the App Store for iPhone’s. In particular:

  • Turbo VPN
  • VPN Master

But my other friends have paid for VPN services and found them just as well. I, however, didn’t have a great experience with a VPN I was paying for.

What social media platforms do Chinese people use instead?

The Chinese have a selection of mobile app’s they use in replacement of Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Twitter and Google.

The Chinese version of Google is called Baidu. It is actually the 2nd most people search engine in the world. However, from a foreigners perspective, it’s a pile of ****. One search engine that you can use that isn’t blocked is Bing. It’s okay, it does the job.

Instead of Facebook and Twitter, the Chinese use sites Weibo and/or PengYou.

To watch videos, you would go on YouKu, the second largest video viewing website after Youtube. However, good luck finding the video you want to watch. It’s most likely not on there.

To me, the glory of all applications is WeChat. I think it’s better than all the applications we use at home. WeChat is a mobile message and voice text application, with similar use as WhatsApp. However, there is a much larger social presence on WeChat.

Within the section Moments, you can post photos and videos and share links and documents to your friends. The best part is that your moments are not public. The can only be seen by your contacts (unless you option to show up to 10 moments to non-contacts on your profile).

Another section, which is genius, is Wallet. Many businesses use WeChat pay to make transactions, by scanning QR Codes. You can top up the balance on your account, use it to pay with your card (similar function as Apple Pay, which is also accepted at some outlets in China). Not only can you pay, but you can receive money.

However, the other functions within wallet are what make this a truly fantastic application. From the one menu, you can top up your mobile, pay your utilities, order a taxi, book your train tickets, order a takeaway or look at movie times. All in one menu. Rather than having dozen of apps, it’s all conveniently compressed into one!

So basically, you can talk to a friend, organise a dinner with a group chat, order a DiDi (taxi), share a photo, reserve a table. Then order a ride back, pay the restaurant and leave a review, all in the comfort of one app!

What is the future of the internet and the impact of Chinese social media?

With no chances of the Firewall being conquered anytime soon, and the steps the government are taking against the use of VPN’s, it does not look like China is going to let western websites and applications be used. However, many western companies are adopting some of the features that Chinese applications hold. I noticed that Facebook messenger now allows you to order and Uber whilst talking to friends.

So whilst China is not making a move to be more westernised in the internet sector, I hope that when I return to the UK that the diverse application features will be more frequent and usable on the applications we already operate.

For further reading:

The Great Firewall:


Social Media in China:


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