I landed in China after a thirteen hour non-stop flight from Chicago, feeling elated, excited, tired and uncertain about what to expect. I had been to Asia before with a visit last year to India and Nepal and trip to Japan years ago.
I’ve found these countries fascinating, yet, for some reason, I was unsure what my expectations would be of China. I had heard a lot about it both, good and bad. It was time for me to experience it for myself.
I knew there would be tons of amazing history and culture to see. Not many other places in the world can boast about having a 5,000 year-old civilization. Yet, I also read it would be crowded, polluted, controlled, different, and, perhaps, confusing, given the huge paradox between the old and the new.
As I got off the plane and entered Beijing’s new Terminal 3, one of the largest terminals in the world that was completed just before the 2008 Olympics, my eyes widened. It was so huge, so modern, and so clean. It caught me by surprise.
Photo taken just past midnight at Beijing International Airport’s Terminal 3.
We retrieved our luggage, and wearily followed the clearly marked signs in English pointing to the taxi line. Everything was so organized. Then, my balloon burst. As we stood there, waiting patiently in line, there was a mad dash of people pushing past us and jumping into cabs haphazardly. It was organized chaos compared to what I was used to.
We arrived at our hotel well past one am, while in a trance-like mood after so much travel. I hardly noticed the row after row of street food canteens lining the brightly lit streets. Instead, what I noticed was the Soviet-looking appearance of our Trip Advisor rated hotel. The outside was just plain old ugly. Yet, the inside was surprisingly nice.
We checked in to silence. No one was around except a few late night stragglers coming back extremely late. Since we were going on a twelve-hour time difference, there was no way I could fall asleep. It was 1 am, yet, my body was telling me it was noon. Thus, I decided to unpack my belongings and hop online, one of my favorite pastimes back at home.
I went down to the lobby to check my emails and enter my first blog post, when I had my first real dose of serious culture shock. I entered www.wordpress.com and nothing happened. Hmmm. I was tired, but I couldn’t quite understand why on earth it wasn’t working. I next went to my email and tried reading some of my fellow blog posts. I could read the emailed short version but then when I clicked on the link to read more, it went blank.
Frustrated, I decided to try going on my Facebook page to send out a message to my friends that I had arrived and was here. No dice. It went blank.
It took me a day until it finally hit me that these sites, as well as other social networking and media sites, are blocked in China. I couldn’t believe it. I guess when I look back, it all makes sense to me, and I should have known that this would be the case. I had read that China’s government censors all its media including the internet. Yet, for some reason, I was completely taken aback. I never realized how important the freedom of speech was until I did not have it.
I’ve heard stories off CNN being cut off right in the middle of a program. Words being mysteriously erased from Obama’s speeches. I’ve heard about the jailed and imprisoned writers, journalists and human rights activists who tried to speak their mind. Yet, I was absolutely stunned by the level of censorship on the big wide web.
How in the heck do they do it? And how do the Chinese people accept this stark reality when the freedom of speech and expression is one of the fundamental human rights granted to citizens from many countries around the world? I simply didn’t understand.
A timely November 7, 2011 article in the Financial Times claimed that:
The heads of China’s leading information technology companies have pledged to censor internet content more strictly as the Communist party tries to tame the country’s boisterous online media.
“While the Communist party regards the internet as making a positive contribution to economic development, it runs a vast censorship machine to ensure that online information does not challenge its grip of power.”
For a country that is advancing at lightning speed, with its 1.3 billion people wanting more and more of a piece of the economic pie, I find this situation to be completely mind-boggling. In my experience as an American, I’m used to being able to say or do what I want. I had never realized how much I’d taken this liberty for granted until I was in a place where freedom of speech was gone.
Another big surprise was how incredibly slow the internet is in China. Whenever you do a search, the internet runs at a snail’s speed to find or not find the answer. I could just picture the giant censorship apparatus at work. How do they do it?
With anything illegal, of course, there are ways around it. Censorship can become uncensored. You can use a proxy service to sneak into blogging sites or Facebook, if you like. Likewise, many times things written in English from foreign sources are not censored (yet the Chinese versions are).
An American businessman I met traveling in China told me he could access Facebook only on his Blackberry. And China does have their own Chinese versions of Facebook and Twitter-like tools which are in demand and growing. Yet, it leads me to wonder how long this can really go on. The estimated 500 million internet users in China only continues to grow, as does the breadth of the wild, wild web.
Will censorship be possible forever in China?
This post has been adapted for World Moms Blog from a previous post written by thirdeyemom of Minnesota, USA. To read more of her blogs, please visit either www.thirdeyemom.com or www.thethirdeyeworld.com.
Photo credit to the author.