Oh China, how you’ve changed! Part 3

This is Part 3 of a three part series exploring the tremendous changes that have occurred in China since the author last visited as a tourist in 1995. To start reading from the beginning, click here.

On my most recent visit to China a few weeks ago, I noticed that Chinese communism is becoming increasingly schizophrenic. On the one hand, capitalism is alive and well in China as businesses boom and entrepreneurship thrives. On the other hand, the government stubbornly holds on to communist ideals and iconography that has been stripped from the rest of this planet. As a result, it was a bizarre disconnect to see an animated hammer and sickle icon appear every night before the evening news while a capitalist free-for-all was simultaneously occurring everywhere around me.

In addition, the government continues to idolize Chairman Mao, the country’s legendary communist leader. Statues of the former ruler remain in prominent locations throughout China, including a massive one I came across in Shenyang. And yes, fresh flowers appear every day to pay tribute. In this respect, China has changed very little since 1995.

Be sure to visit our gallery featuring detailed photographs of this amazing statue. %Gallery-10067%

Censorship and the Internet

Naturally, the internet did not exist in China 12 years ago. Today the world’s most populace country is indeed wired, but only to a limited extent.

Although the government has allowed the internet to develop within China, they have not allowed it to do so freely. Censors ensure that anti-government sites and negative content is kept from Chinese web surfers. In fact, the Chinese government operates what is undoubtedly the world’s largest and most thorough attempt to censor and monitor the web: the Golden Shield.

The Golden Shield is a $700 million firewall through which all Chinese internet traffic passes. Servers electronically monitor suspect sites and deny access when content is not appropriate. In addition, human censors surf the web in search of additional sites the computers may have missed.

And so one afternoon I found myself in an internet café in Shenyang. It was crowded, but no one was really online; the entire café was full of gamers. Out of curiosity, I did a quick Google search for the most sensitive of Chinese topics: Tiananmen Square. Up popped the typical links you might suspect for such a search, but something was slightly wrong; I was not able to click on a single one of them.

I switched to Google Image Search to see if I could find any man-standing-in-front-of-tanks photographs. In a non-censored country, nearly 75% of images that pop with a “Tiananmen Square” search are of that iconic photo. In Shenyang, only two photos appeared. I was shocked that even this many got through the censors. When I clicked on the links, however, I discovered why; there was no text about the demonstrations. It was just a photograph with no description of what was going on. Until censorship technology is able to recognize “dangerous” photographs, random shots of that brave, but now very dead protestor will continue to surface occasionally.

Lastly, I tried accessing Wikipedia. I was hardly surprised to discover this simply wasn’t happening. And I found it rather poetic: Just like some of the less scrupulous contributors to this online encyclopedia, China also writes its own version of history and politics.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, Gadling is indeed accessible in China.

Final Thoughts

Looking back on my recent time in China, I am left with a conflicting opinion: so very much has changed since 1995, while at the same time, nothing has changed at all. In other words, China has always been an enigma to the Western world and it continues to be so.

The Olympics, however, may be just what China needs to pull its head even further out of its shell–although there is still a lot more that needs to come out. In the meantime, the Summer Games are going to be very interesting times for this confused, schizophrenic nation.

Yesterday: Oh China, how you’ve changed! Part 2