Great Firewall of China – what is it, how does it work?

Over the years, many web pages have been blocked in China. The long blocklist was extended to include Wall Street Journal and Reuters. These are not the only English-language web pages that cannot be accessed from China. It is all because of the “Great Firewall of China.”

Great Firewall of China

“Golden Shield Project” is a security management system in the PRC. The main purpose of its project, the “Great Firewall of China,” is censorship and invigilation of the Internet. It was developed by the Ministry of Public Security in 1998 and became operational in 2003.

The theoretical fundament of the whole project can be summarized by the Chinese proverb: “If you open a window to let in some fresh air, some flies may also enter.” Therefore, the government aims to manage content on the Internet and keep citizens from sharing critical opinions (especially with the help of popular social networks). The dangerous domain may be blocked for some time or permanently. Sometimes the keyword in the URL address is also blocked, preventing from accessing the particular webpage. The same rule applies to search engines. Sensible content cannot be searched, and the ban is either permanent (“Tibet independence,” “Taiwan independence”) or temporary.

The main methods used by the Great Firewall of China include IP address blocking, DNS filtering and redirecting, URL and URL keywords filtering, filtering data packets, and disrupting connections. Frequently blocked pages include political pages, foreign informational portals, religion pages, and international social media services. The degree of censors’ attention changes, but the content of two types are deleted immediately: pornography and calls for rioting. Among the blocked pages are Facebook, Twitter, Google (YouTube, Gmail), WordPress, and Dropbox. If we want to know whether the webpage is being blocked, we can use online tool.

Will the “Great Firewall of China” be shut down?

Will the Great Firewall ever fall? Certainly, it won’t happen soon. We heard stories about uncensored internet connection in Shanghai Free Trade Zone, which turned out to be false. The rest of the world starts following China’s food steps. More and more elaborated systems of online invigilation are being developed; the US government monitors web traffic worldwide, and the EU and Australia are also considering a less liberal approach.

But Internet freedom activists are also seizing the opportunities. Recently, they managed to find a way around the Great Firewall. They created mirror sites to enable access to the recently blocked Wall Street Journal and Chinese Reuters. Those sites are hosted on Amazon web servers, so any attempt to block them may cause disruptions in the operations of Amazon, which will severely affect many Chinese companies. Many Western websites started using https connection instead of the most common http. Under a secure protocol of https the web page content cannot be censored selectively. It must be either blocked as a whole or accessible as a whole.

This cyber war rages on, and sometimes one side is winning, sometimes the other. There are some reliable ways for foreigners in China to bypass the Great Firewall. If we want to access all web pages without problems, we should either install VPN software, such as ExpressVPN.