As an online geek, one of the most inconvenient aspects of living in China is being trapped inside the infamous Great Firewall. Stuck inside the wall, technically I am unable to access YouTube, Facebook, all blogging platforms (WordPress, Blogspot, Tumblr, etc. including my own blog), Twitter, FourSquare, Google Documents & Google Calendar at times, and the list continues. You can imagine sheer frustration of those unfortunate ones, confined to an unnatural limited cyber space. World Wide Web in China doesn’t read exactly World Wide Web, but more like Webs Within the Wall.
From my experience, Internet users in China split into three camps – the Rebels, the Don’t Cares, and the Completely Unawares.
As the name suggests, the Rebels refuse to be grounded. These are people who seek out for VPNs that tunnel through the government firewall systems. They are happy to pay to get on Facebook, to tweet, or to check in at various locations on FourSquare. Sometimes the Rebels can go pretty hardcore and end up paying hefty prices in getting the VPN to work on their android phones. But hey, it’s totally worth it.
The Don’t Cares obviously don’t give a damn about this restricted situation. They may try using some ‘free, but often unreliable and will eventually be blocked’ VPNs, and consequentially will be able to connect to the real world Internet at that VPN’s mercy. When they can’t access blocked websites during down times, the Don’t Cares just leave it at that. They don’t push further. Simply put, their mantra is “If it’s blocked, it’s blocked”.
While most foreigners living in China tend to lie somewhere between the Rebel and the Don’t Care territories, the majority of local Internet browsers could be identified as the Completely Unawares, whose levels of Internet savviness and usage patterns suggest that they don’t really notice that traffic outside of the Chinese Internet is being filtered. Hence, they don’t find the necessity to break away from it.
Of those major international websites that manage to get through the Great Firewall, a fierce competition with local websites lies ahead. In general, Chinese sites are very advanced and independent of the global Internet community. Why would you need a Facebook access when you can just log on to Renren.com. Want to bid stuff? Forget international shipping and stick with Chinese version of EBay at Taobao. Need to pay for your online shopping? Alipay can help you out. Itch to tweet? Try Sina’s microblog platform. Google left China? We still have Baidu.com. Find a desire to Yelp? Head to Dianping.com to find all raves and rants on restaurants across Chinese cities.
In a strange way, I am truly impressed by how Chinese websites use this limited-access condition to build a very powerful World Wide Web that almost exists as its own entity. The ability to meet the desires of billions of curious Mainland Internet users so that they won’t look elsewhere outside of the ‘.cn’ realm is a remarkable accomplishment. For Chinese Internet Masters, their mantra would go something like this – So it’s blocked? Never mind we’ll build our own.
Of course, the success of Chinese local websites versus international websites does not entirely stem from the Great Firewall as the sole contributor. This also has to do with how local sites tend to understand Chinese users’ needs better and consequentially deliver better, localized solutions.
There is a much ongoing debate on how the Great Firewall is currently serving as a great hindrance to China’s path to becoming the world’s next leader. How can China be completely in sync with the rest of the world when they still limit the access to such great and open service like the Internet? My fellow Twitter friend @Niubi wrote an insightful article about this here.
I’m not going to bombard you by getting into another vast realm of this profound issue. But before I end this post, let’s just say I am extremely thankful that my VPN gets me out of the Great Firewall.
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