Features of the Internet in China.

Features of the Internet in China.

– What is it like, the Internet in China? What does this offshoot look like?

Alice Su: Most resources cannot be accessed from China. You have to use a VPN to open Google, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. It’s the same with apps. We recently bought a Chinese phone for one-time use, and it can’t download Western apps.

When Google announced it would close the Play Market for Huawei phones, it was a big deal, but in China most phones can’t access the store anymore. You can’t download Gmail, Google Maps, or any of those apps.

If I need to access a Chinese site, such as the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I have to turn off the VPN, because if I’m on the Western Internet, I can’t open the Chinese site. I don’t know if I can open that site in Los Angeles, but here in Beijing, I always turn the VPN on and off to see the Chinese version and then go to the one the Western world sees.

In China, everyone uses the social service WeChat. You have to set up WeChat or Alipay to order food or call Didi. But these apps only work with Chinese bank accounts. You can also use WeChat to pay for utilities, book a hotel, donate to charity, book airline tickets or buy movie tickets.

Chinese subway passengers with smartphones

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There are strict identity verification rules now that didn’t exist a few years ago. Many apps ask you to take selfies, holding your passport next to your face, and send a picture of your passport to the app.

Frank Shen: It’s like you’re going through customs to get into that segment.

Alice Soo: You can see it as apps having to check that everybody is using real identifiers because there’s a lot of scams in China. But you can look at it differently. The point is that everything you do is saved on your device and tied to your face, location, bank account, and ID.

This is another source of information for government surveillance, in addition to the cameras and facial recognition technology that is already being used everywhere.

– What about members of the Chinese community in the U.S.? Are they using the Chinese version of the Internet?

Frank Shen: Among those I’ve talked to, everyone who speaks Chinese in Los Angeles adds me on WeChat. There are restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley that now accept payment through WeChat. They’ve been using Alipay for a while now. When I use the Internet in the U.S. to write about the Chinese community, I’m on the American Internet, just the part of it that’s in Chinese.

The parallel internet in Chinese helps immigrants navigate American life.

Entrepreneurs in California’s San Gabriel Valley have developed ETAcar, Uber in Chinese, and dating service 2redbeans. Instead of Yelp, there’s a foodie site called Chihuo. There are also sites like ChineseInLA.com and news resources. There is a classifieds service called MITBBS, and it is popular among graduates of major Chinese and Taiwanese universities.

Alice Su: Why do people use WeChat in the U.S. to communicate with each other when they have iMessage and Facebook?

Frank Shen: To communicate with all their Chinese friends. If you use iMessage, only your Chinese friends and relatives in the US are there. You can’t text everyone at the same time.

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– Does information flow or information manipulation affect how people understand news?

Alice Su: In China, most of the news resources are state media, state news. Everything is about the same. You can see the same headline in 10 different newspapers.

There’s a joke that if you read or watch the news, there will always be 20 minutes of good news about China and 10 minutes of bad news about the rest of the world. People laugh about it, but it really affects their worldview.

I hear Chinese people say all the time, “It’s really safe here. If you go to the U.S., they’ll warn, ‘Be careful, it’s dangerous.

The difference between WeChat and Alipay and resources like ChineseInLA.com is that the Chinese government has access to apps from China. They are obviously censored in China, and everyone knows it. It’s a common experience to publish something and 10 minutes later it’s gone because the text is about a sensitive subject. And sometimes you try to publish something and you can’t do it.

In some cases, people subject themselves to self-censorship by refraining from sharing anything meaningful.

– Americans fear that the Chinese government’s access to technology and media allows them to censor information, spread propaganda, or spy on users. Do you see this happening?

Frank Shen: It’s hard to say. I haven’t personally encountered censorship, but there are indeed rumors of Chinese censors influencing some Chinese-language newspapers in the United States, or that some local WeChat-based site was run by a former intelligence officer. In some Chinese-language sources, you do see editorial columns that express support for China and criticism toward the U.S.

Rumors are almost impossible to verify, but they keep popping up. This possibility cannot be ruled out, but I think there is another factor to consider: immigrants, depending on when they arrived, represent different historical and political eras of China. This means that they will hold different views.

Alice Su: Researchers say WeChat applies different policies depending on where the account was registered.

According to researchers at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab who analyzed trends in WeChat censorship, Chinese accounts are censored more than foreign ones, but even if a Chinese account is later upgraded to a foreign phone number, it will be treated the same as if it were in China.

If a US account sends messages with sensitive topics to a group with Chinese accounts, Chinese users will not receive them. All censored articles are completely deleted from WeChat, so they cannot be seen even from US accounts.

– How are things in China? Who’s using a VPN?

Alice Su: Chinese people are worried about the fact that China doesn’t have a good search engine. There is Bing, but more and more people are using Baidu – and the results are often really bad. People looking for cures for diseases will get fake ads. Most of the information is not verified, and there is no way to know if it is correct.

As for politically sensitive information, there is no way to get it. Unless you have a VPN, which used to be downloadable in China. But now this is not possible, only if you buy and install the program outside the country.

browsing a Chinese website

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There are people who get over the firewall and use a VPN, but they are a minority. And state media, such as the New China News Agency and Global Times, use Twitter and Facebook for propaganda. I don’t know if they use VPNs or if they have special access, but they constantly post on banned social platforms.

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– As the information worlds split and mistrust between the U.S. and China grows, what does that mean for your job as a journalist working on both sides?

Frank Shen: Telling stories becomes even more important. People tend to fill the void left by a lack of truth and facts with even more terrible fictions. But explaining the motivations that exist on both sides of the cultural divide can bring us closer together. The current state of relations between the U.S. and China does not help. However, xenophobia existed before.

All of these unique apps and sites reflect amazing diversity and language barriers.

They are simply people trying to interact in today’s society, using technology and apps tailored to their needs.

The news they read, the algorithms that guide them, the apps they trust, the way they use social media, the types of news that go viral are all very different.

Alice Soo: If Frank is reporting on a world that has seceded of its own volition, I’m reporting from something that is under control. I interview a lot of Chinese people, and most of them can think a certain way. If I quote something from Weibo, I need to consider that much of it is carefully fabricated.

There is also a separate Chinese world here, but the reason it is separate is because there is a party and a government that sets boundaries and decides what can and cannot be said.

Sometimes I see on Twitter a person from China expressing thoughts, and he is accused of being controlled by the party. But his opinion may also simply be a product of the environment he is in and based on the only information available to him. I don’t want to refute his opinion, but I want readers to be aware of the context.

Cover photo: mundissima / Shutterstock

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The Truth about the Internet and Censorship in China


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The truth about the internet and censorship in China

How the Golden Shield works, popular Chinese websites, and other interesting facts.

Recently, Russian providers have been blocking site after site. Some journalists accompany news about the banning of another resource with comments like, “Russia is going the way of China,” “soon we will have a site like China. What does that mean? Are we really approaching the level of Internet censorship to an authoritarian state? How do we live with this? This article will help answer such questions.

Besides, China is very close. China shares 4,209 kilometers of border with Russia. In some cities in the Far East, there is a clear abundance of immigrants from the Celestial Empire. You can meet a Chinese person in many parts of our country. And the modern Russian should have a general idea of life in China, including the peculiarities of the national Internet.

How many Chinese use the Internet?


The table shows how the number of Internet users among the Chinese has changed from 2000 to 2016. 600 million people in the country don’t use the Internet at all! . This fact would shock you a little less if you remember that China has relatively few young people (because of the government’s “one family, one child” program), which is a major engine of progress.

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This chart shows the percentage of people of different genders and ages in the population. Notice that there are noticeably fewer girls than boys. The fact is that because there could only be one child, some mothers terminated the pregnancy if the sex of the fetus did not suit them.


And here is the percentage distribution of Internet users in different age groups. The older generation actively avoids modern technology.


And this chart shows how popular mobile Internet is among Chinese people. Nine out of 10 Internet users access it from a smartphone.


And almost everyone communicates using one or more messengers.

What is the great Chinese firewall?

The Internet in China appeared in 1994. The first connection took place at the Institute of High Energy Physics. A few years later, large company offices and wealthy Chinese began to connect to the network. In 1998 the government realized that it was time to think about protecting the masses from malicious information and began developing the system “Golden Shield”, which was launched in 2003.

What does the Golden Shield protect against?

First of all, from pornography and political disinformation. Criteria for blocking sites are constantly changing and improving.

Blocking can be based on keywords (“porn,” “Tibet,” “human rights”) and blacklists. At the moment there is a transition from blacklists to whitelists. That is, now a Chinese can go to any site that is not blocked. And in the future he will be able to visit only allowed resources.

Wikipedia has a list of popular sites that are blocked by the Golden Shield. They include Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and a bunch of other social resources that are hard to imagine life without.

But just because a site isn’t blacklisted doesn’t mean it’s okay to use it. Here you can find out how fast a particular resource will load in different Chinese regions.


All Tor and I2P addresses have been blocked in China.

How are they blocked?

The book “Outstanding programmer: first hand how-to” contains a ten-page interview with a Russian who emigrated to China and has been working for six years in the government agency in charge of the Golden Shield and knows the system from the inside. Here are the most important facts about the structure of the “Great Chinese Firewall”, which this man told us:

  • There are three technologies on which the firewall is based: Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), Connection probe and Support vector machines (SVM);
  • Deep Packet Inspection is a low-level content filtering technology (the standard firewall filters only the headers);
  • Connection probe is a mechanism that terminates each connection attempt to connect to a server located outside the national network gateway and retries the attempt with DPI enabled;
  • Support vector machines (support vector method) is a set of algorithms to analyze filtered content.
  • About two million Chinese people are engaged in monitoring speech on social networks on behalf of the government;
  • They don’t touch ordinary people who are unhappy with the government. They are free to write “Xi Jinping is stealing and oppressing the people. Content controllers only pay attention to intellectual, structured and reasoned criticism that can translate into real action;
  • According to the hero of the interview, Russia will never be able to reach the same level of Internet censorship for financial and technical reasons.

How can the “Great Chinese Firewall” be bypassed?

Like in other countries with strict Internet censorship, the Chinese use VPNs. Some Internet service providers actively block such activities, but nevertheless, the Chinese do not yet have a particular problem with access to the “big Internet”. It would be a wish.

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The government in the last couple of years is actively fighting against VPNs, and providers log all the facts of using such services. It is impractical to punish such a mass phenomenon, but in case of any misconduct, this fact can become an aggravating circumstance.

Anonymous sites are also popular. You go in, enter the address and they redirect you to the page. Such projects are like one-day butterflies, because they quickly fall under the state ban.

Some tourists point out that all Internet resources are available to foreigners in roaming (entering from their cell phone). And Hong Kong and Macao (regions with special status) are not subject to blocking.

Is there anonymity in the Chinese Internet?

On March 1, 2015, China passed a law requiring that all accounts in social networks, microblogs, forums and other sites must be registered with real passport data. Anonymity is considered a crime.

What sites are popular with the Chinese?


Despite severe blockades, only one in five Chinese (among Internet users) uses a VPN. This is not surprising, since the Chinese segment of the Internet has everything you need to live. Let’s talk about a few popular sites in this country.


Instead of Google, the Chinese have Baidu. 4 out of 5 searches in China are carried out through this system. In addition to search, the company owns a file storage service, online maps, a social network and dozens of other resources.


QQ.com is one of the most visited information portals, and messenger with the same name is a popular means of communication.


Taobao is a world-famous store of Chinese junk of universal proportions.


By the way, the Chinese are very active in online shopping. Every second user of the network does it.

Instead of Twitter, the Chinese have Weibo (it didn’t open for me, so a screenshot of Google’s cache):


This service has rabid popularity among the population:



Instead of YouTube, the Chinese have Youku:

Instead of FaceBook, it’s Renren:


And instead of Pinterest – Huaban:


Also in China, Wikipedia doesn’t work. The first blockage happened in 2004, because of an article about the 1989 revolutionary events in Tiananmen Square.

But the Chinese have their own Hudong encyclopedia. The number of articles in it is ahead of the English-language wikipedia.



To conclude the review of sites, it should be noted that the Chinese Internet is huge and each of the above services has a dark analogues.

Why do the Chinese need digital addresses?

One of the characteristic features of the Chinese Internet is domain names consisting only of numbers. For example, 4399.com is the home of a large portal with flash games:


300 million Chinese learn/learn English but find it difficult. A number sequence is easier for many to memorize than the Latin alphabet. In addition, many Chinese have e-mail-addresses, the first part of which consists of digits.

The order of numbers in website names is often not random at all, but phonetically justified. For example, the Alibaba store is located at 1688.com. And the numeric sequence “1, 6, 8, 8” sounds like “yau-lio-ba-ba” in Chinese.

How do the Chinese feel about porn?

It’s no news to anyone that China penalizes the creation of porn sites and that they are filtered by the national firewall. But last year there was an unprecedented case that made the rounds of the world’s media. Thirty thousand people were arrested for looking at porn.And that’s just the beginning.

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Where do the Chinese get online other than at home/work?


In the 2000s, Internet cafes began to gain popularity (entry only with a passport), some of which had a capacity of several thousand people. You’ve probably read horror stories about Middle Easterners sitting in such places 24 hours a day. Sometimes it ends up being fatal.

In 2012 it cost about 1.5 yuans or 7,5 rubles per hour to visit. Young Chinese like to stay in such establishments instead of hotels.

Currently, chain bars are becoming a thing of the past and are disapproved of by the state.

Just like in Moscow, the subways in major Chinese cities have Wi-Fi. Wireless Internet is easy to find in any metropolis. Travelers recommend looking for it at Starbucks.

Many tourists find themselves unpleasantly surprised that in hotel rooms instead of Wi-Fi they are offered wired Internet access (and often not included in the room price).

In 2013, there were only 1,400 McDonald’s across the country with free Wi-Fi. While in Russia it is a mandatory option for outlets of this chain of fast food restaurants, for China it is not! And they try to refuse from Wi-Fi, because the Chinese are big lovers of freebies and take all the seats at the tables without ordering anything.


They sit for hours on the floor in bookstores not to buy anything.


And they slowly dismantle the Great Wall of China for household needs.

Do the Chinese like online games?


The Chinese are not only huge fans of free stuff, but also avid gamers. Every second Internet user plays online games.

Is it that bad for the Chinese?

The level of Internet censorship in China is far from the highest. In neighboring North Korea, only certain organizations with special permission (according to anecdotal evidence, there are about a thousand and a half) have access to the Internet. Foreign embassies, for example. They are allowed to have Internet access but not to distribute Wi-Fi so as not to scare the locals.


Ordinary Koreans use their own Kwangman network (via Dial-Up) about which foreigners know very little. And even this local network can only be accessed from work computers. When a well-to-do North Korean gets to China, the first thing he does is run to a network bar.

Egypt and Libya were also cut off from the Internet completely in 2011. In 2014, the Russian authorities began to think seriously about the possibility of cutting off access to the World Wide Web to residents of our country (in case of an emergency). I hope that this will not go any further than talk.

But the actions of Roskomnadzor suggest that soon we may have our own analogue of the Golden Shield. VPN-providers are paying close attention to Russia and happily rubbing their hands.



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How the “Golden Shield” works, popular Chinese web-sites, and other interesting facts. Lately, Russian ISPs have been blocking site after site. Some journalists accompany news about another site being blocked with comments like “Russia is following China’s path,” or “soon we’ll have China-like sites. What does that mean? Are we really approaching the level of internet censorship to an authoritarian state? How.

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