Where Censorship in China is Headed

Chinese censorship is gradually becoming more and more refined and undetectable. This is happening in two ways. First, advancements in technology are continually increasing the sophistication of the mechanics of censorship. As described in How The Great Firewall Works, increasing computing power and more advanced network analysis technologies (much of it purchased from the United States) are allowing Chinese authorities to cast a very targeted net over only the content which they find objectionable, while letting everything else through. While blocking based on keywords is currently done, continued technical refinement of these techniques will undoubtedly continue. In particular, advancements in voice recognition might allow the Chinese government to block online videos based on banned spoken words. Further, while many foreign news websites are currently available in China, some, most notably the BBC, are still banned. Refinement of China's technique of blocking websites based on keywords will allow Chinese access to all foreign news websites and only restrict the few web pages on the website which discuss politically sensitive issues.

As China continues to embed itself in the global economy, it will increasingly employ targeted loosening of internet restrictions to keep freedom disposed foreigners from experiencing and subsequently becoming activists against the Great Firewall. In James Fallows' recent Atlantic Monthly article, he relates confidential discussions he has had with the maintainers of the Great Firewall about how they intend to allow unrestricted internet access during the 2008 Summer Olympics to the Olympic village and various other hotels and cafes around Beijing which they expect westerners to frequent. The censors' idea is that by not exposing outsiders to the Great Firewalls, they decrease the publicity that the Great Firewall receives, which correspondingly decreases the amount of outside opposition and pressure China receives over its internet censorship. These techniques will no doubt continue and expand as China tries to maintain its Great Firewall.

The third way in which censorship in China will change is that the Chinese have been, and will continue to be, increasingly selective in what they try to censor. From when the Chinese first tried to censor the Internet in 1998 to around 2003, the government attempted not only to squelch politically unsettling content, but also sexually explicitly content. However, the rising affluence of the Chinese populace is causing greater interest in the recreational portions of the internet, such as internet dating and pornography. The government, who's primary aim in controlling the Chinese Internet is to prevent political upheaval, is starting to have to administer censorship triage. That is, in order to limit the population's agitation from the Great Firewall, the government has to let the majority of people get what they want out of the internet &emdash; vicarious sex. This scaling back of the reach of the Great Firewall has been well documented both in and outside of China. In 2003, blogs detailing the sex lives of emerging hip Chinese bourgeoisie started to appear. Most famously, Muzi Mei, a journalist in Guangzhou, started publishing a blog in 2003 which detailed her sexual exploits with various men, and which has now expanded to include podcasts of her encounters with strangers. Consequently, her name has at times been the most popular internet search term in China.

While the government still blocks many pure pornography websites and adult themed dating sites like adultfriendfinder.com, the government has been slowly easing its restrictions on sexual content over the internet, and will continue to relax its grip in the future. This is because the content the government most fears on the internet is not sexual, but political, and to keep the masses from noticing and complaining about the Great Firewall, the government must make sure that most people are satisfied with their internet experience. In the future, pornography specific websites will probably become allowable as an increasingly sexually liberalized Chinese society starts searching for it. The government will ease the restrictions on sexual content because it will feel that it has to if it wants to keep its restrictions on political content intact.