Great Firewall of China

Great Firewall of China

The Golden Shield Project (Chinese: ; pinyin: jīndùn gōngchéng), colloquially referred to as the Great Firewall of China[1] () is a censorship and surveillance project operated by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) division of the government of the People's Republic of China. The project was initiated in 1998 and began operations in November 2003.



The political and ideological background of the Golden Shield Project is considered to be one of Deng Xiaoping's favorite sayings in the early 1980s: "If you open the window for fresh air, you have to expect some flies to blow in." The saying is related to a period of the economic reform of China that became known as the "socialist market economy". Superseding the political ideologies of the Cultural Revolution, the reform led China towards a market economy and opened up the market for foreign investors. Nonetheless the economic freedom, values, and political ideas of the Communist Party of China have had to be protected from "swatting flies" of other unwanted ideologies.[2]

The Internet arrived in China in 1994 as an inevitable consequence of, and supporting tool for the "socialist market economy." With gradual increasing penetration, the Internet has become a common communication platform and an important tool for sharing information.

The Ministry of Public Security took initial steps to control Internet use in 1997 when it issued comprehensive regulations governing its use. The key sections, Articles 4-6, are: "Individuals are prohibited from using the Internet to: harm national security; disclose state secrets; or injure the interests of the state or society. Users are prohibited from using the Internet to create, replicate, retrieve, or transmit information that incites resistance to the PRC Constitution, laws, or administrative regulations; promotes the overthrow of the government or socialist system; undermines national unification; distorts the truth, spreads rumors, or destroys social order; or provides sexually suggestive material or encourages gambling, violence, or murder. Users are prohibited from engaging in activities that harm the security of computer information networks and from using networks or changing network resources without prior approval."[3]

In 1998 the Communist Party of China feared the China Democracy Party (CDP) would breed a powerful new network that the party elites might not be able to control.[4] The CDP was immediately banned followed by arrests and imprisonment.[5] That same year the Golden Shield project was started. The first part of the project lasted eight years and was completed in 2006. The second part began in 2006 and ended in 2008. On 6 December 2002, 300 people in charge of the Golden Shield project from 31 provinces and cities throughout China participated in a four-day inaugural “Comprehensive Exhibition on Chinese Information System”.[6] At the exhibition, many western high-tech products including Internet security, video monitoring and human face recognition were purchased. It is estimated that around 30-50,000 police are employed in this gigantic project.[7]

It has been nicknamed the Great Firewall of China (防火长城) in reference to its role as a network firewall and to the ancient Great Wall of China. A major part of the project includes the ability to block content by preventing IP addresses from being routed through and consists of standard firewalls and proxy servers at the Internet gateways. The system also selectively engages in DNS cache poisoning when particular sites are requested. The government does not appear to be systematically examining Internet content, as this appears to be technically impractical.[8] Because of its disconnection from the larger world of IP routing protocols, the network contained within the Great Firewall has been described as "the Chinese autonomous routing domain".[9]

During the 2008 Olympic Games, Chinese officials told Internet providers to prepare to unblock access from certain Internet cafés, access jacks in hotel rooms and conference centers where foreigners were expected to work or stay.[10]


In September 2002, Li Runsen, the technology director at Ministry of Public Security and member of the Golden Shield leadership, further explained this broad definition to thousands of police nationwide at a meeting in Beijing called "Information Technology for China’s Public Security".

In October 2001, Greg Walton of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development published a report; he wrote:

Old style censorship is being replaced with a massive, ubiquitous architecture of surveillance: the Golden Shield. Ultimately, the aim is to integrate a gigantic online database with an all-encompassing surveillance network – incorporating speech and face recognition, closed-circuit television, smart cards, credit records, and Internet surveillance technologies.[11]

The empirical study by the OpenNet Initiative (collaboration between Harvard Law School, University of Toronto Citizen Lab, and Cambridge Security Program) found out that China has the most sophisticated content-filtering Internet regime in the world. Compared to similar efforts in other countries, Chinese Government effectively filters content by employing multiple methods of regulation and technical controls. In contrary, the PRC-sponsored news agency, Xinhua, stated that censorship targets only "superstitious, pornographic, violence-related, gambling and other harmful information."[12]

In July 2007, authorities intensified the "monitoring and control" of The Great Firewall, causing email disruption, in anticipation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting scheduled for August 2007.[13]

Some commonly-used technical methods for censoring are:[14]

Method Description
IP blocking The access to a certain IP address is denied. If the target Web site is hosted in a shared hosting server, all Web sites on the same server will be blocked. This affects all IP protocols (mostly TCP) such as HTTP, FTP or POP. A typical circumvention method is to find proxies that have access to the target Web sites, but proxies may be jammed or blocked. Some large Web sites allocated additional IP addresses to circumvent the block, but later the block was extended to cover the new addresses.[citation needed]
DNS filtering and redirection Doesn't resolve domain names, or returns incorrect IP addresses. This affects all IP protocols such as HTTP, FTP or POP. A typical circumvention method is to find a domain name server that resolves domain names correctly, but domain name servers are subject to blockage as well, especially IP blocking. Another workaround is to bypass DNS if the IP address is obtainable from other sources and is not blocked. Examples are modifying the Hosts file or typing the IP address instead of the domain name in a Web browser.
URL filtering Scan the requested Uniform Resource Locator (URL) string for target keywords regardless of the domain name specified in the URL. This affects the Hypertext Transfer Protocol. Typical circumvention methods are to use escaped characters in the URL, or to use encrypted protocols such as VPN and SSL.[15]
Packet filtering Terminate TCP packet transmissions when a certain number of controversial keywords are detected. This affects all TCP protocols such as HTTP, FTP or POP, but Search engine pages are more likely to be censored. Typical circumvention methods are to use encrypted protocols such as VPN and SSL, to escape the HTML content, or reducing the TCP/IP stack's MTU, thus reducing the amount of text contained in a given packet.
Connection reset If a previous TCP connection is blocked by the filter, future connection attempts from both sides will also be blocked for up to 30 minutes. Depending on the location of the block, other users or Web sites may be also blocked if the communications are routed to the location of the block. A circumvention method is to ignore the reset packet sent by the firewall.[16]

Censored content

Mainland Chinese Internet censorship programs have censored Web sites that include (among other things):

  • Web sites belonging to outlawed or suppressed groups, such as pro-democracy activists and Falun Gong
  • News sources that often cover topics such as police brutality, Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, freedom of speech, democracy, and Marxist sites.[17] These sites include Voice of America and the Chinese edition of BBC News.
  • Sites related to the Taiwanese government, media, or other organizations, including sites dedicated to religious content, and most large Taiwanese community websites or blogs.
  • Web sites that contain anything the Chinese authorities regard as obscenity or pornography
  • Web sites relating to criminal activity
  • Sites linked with the Dalai Lama, his teachings or the International Tibet Independence Movement
  • Most blogging sites experience frequent or permanent outages
  • Web sites deemed as subversive

Blocked Web sites are indexed to a lesser degree, if at all, by some Chinese search engines. This sometimes has considerable impact on search results.[18]

According to The New York Times, Google has set up computer systems inside China that try to access Web sites outside the country. If a site is inaccessible, then it is added to Google China's blacklist.[19] However, once unblocked, the Web sites will be reindexed. Referring to Google's first-hand experience of the great firewall, there is some hope in the international community that it will reveal some of its secrets. Simon Davies, founder of London-based pressure group Privacy International, is now challenging Google to reveal the technology it once used at China's behest. "That way, we can understand the nature of the beast and, perhaps, develop circumvention measures so there can be an opening up of communications." "That would be a dossier of extraordinary importance to human rights," Davies says. Google has yet to respond to his call.[20]


A number of methods are available to bypass Internet censorship in China, including:[21]

  • Using a proxy server located outside of China.
  • Using Onion routing, as is done by the I2P and Tor systems.
  • Using Freegate, Freenet, Psiphon, Ultrasurf, and other free programs that can circumvent Internet censorship and/or provide anonymous communication. Ultrasurf also scans for various government and commercial websites from the user's computer and may be used to monitor dissidents.[22]
  • Using the open application programming interface (API) which is used by Twitter and which enables posting and retrieving tweets on sites other than Twitter. "The idea is that coders elsewhere get to Twitter, and offer up feeds at their own URLs—which the government has to chase down one by one." says Jonathan Zittrain, co-director of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.[23]
  • Obtaining professional advice from any one of the many companies offering bypass services from outside of China.
  • Establishing regional Web sites within China. This avoids having traffic go through the Great Firewall; however, it requires companies to apply for a local ICP license.
  • Reconfiguring the end points of communication to discard reset packets generated by the Great Firewall by using the TTL value (time to live) to distinguish resets generated by the Firewall from more legitimate resets.[24]


Certain sites have begun to be partially unblocked, including:

  • The English-language BBC website (but not the Chinese language website).[25]
  • YouTube,[26] although it has been subsequently re-blocked.[27]
  • Wikipedia (, including the Chinese-language edition, although photographs and certain pages remain inaccessible.[28]
  • Social websites and free web hosting websites. However, these have also been re-blocked.
  • Some foreign news websites.

Exporting technology

Reporters Without Borders suspects that regimes such as Cuba, Zimbabwe and Belarus have obtained surveillance technology from the People's Republic of China.[29]

Protest in China

Despite strict government regulations, the Chinese people are continuing to protest against their government’s attempt to censor the Internet. The more covert protesters will set up secure SSH and VPN connections using tools such as UltraSurf. They can also utilize the widely available proxies and virtual private networks to fanqiang, or "climb the wall." Active protest is not absent. Chinese people will post their grievances online, and on some occasions, have been successful. In 2003, the death of Sun Zhigang, a young migrant worker sparked an intense, widespread online response from the Chinese public, despite the risk of the government’s punishment. A few months later, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao abolished the Chinese law which led to the death of Sun. Ever since, dissent has regularly created turmoil on the Internet in China.[30] Also in January 2010, when Google announced that it will no longer censor its Web search results in China, even if this means it might have to shut down its Chinese operations altogether, many Chinese people went to the company’s Chinese offices to display their grievances and offer gifts, such as flowers, fruits and cigarettes.[31]

See also


  1. ^ Norris, Pippa; World Bank Staff (2009). Public Sentinel: News Media and Governance Reform. World Bank Publications. p. 360. ISBN 978-0-8213-8200-4. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  2. ^ R. MacKinnon “Flatter world and thicker walls? Blogs, censorship and civic discourse in China” Public Choice (2008) 134: p. 31–46, Springer
  3. ^ “China and the Internet.”, International Debates, 15420345, Apr2010, Vol. 8, Issue 4
  4. ^ Goldman, Merle Goldman. Gu, Edward X. [2004] (2004). Chinese Intellectuals between State and Market. Routledge publishing. ISBN 0415325978
  5. ^ Goldsmith, Jack L.; Wu, Tim (2006). Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of Borderless World. Oxford university press. p. 91. ISBN 01895152662. 
  6. ^ 首屆「2002年中國大型機構信息化展覽會」全國31省市金盾工程領導雲集 (Chinese)
  7. ^ "What is internet censorship?". Amnesty International Australia. 28 March 2008. Retrieved 21 February 2011. 
  8. ^ Watts, Jonathan (20 February 2006). "War of the words". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 May 2010. 
  9. ^ "Costs and Benefits of Running a National ARD". 
  10. ^ Fallows, James (March 2008). "The Connection Has Been Reset". The Atlantic. Retrieved 22 May 2011. 
  11. ^ "China's Golden Shield: Corporations and the Development of Surveillance Technology in the People's Republic of China" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-06-13. 
  12. ^ China and the Internet. International Debates, 15420345, Apr2010, Vol. 8, Issue 4
  13. ^ "Chinese Internet censors blamed for email chaos". Reuters. 18 July 2007. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  14. ^ "Empirical Analysis of Internet Filtering in China". Retrieved 2011-06-13. 
  15. ^ For an example, see Wikipedia:Advice to users using Tor to bypass the Great Firewall
  16. ^ "".,39044215,39372326,00.htm. Retrieved 2011-06-13. 
  17. ^ Marquand, Robert (24 February 2006). "China's media censorship rattling world image". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 22 May 2011. 
  18. ^ "controlling information: you can't get there from here -- filtering searches". The tank man. Frontline ( 
  19. ^ Thompson, Clive (23 April 2006). "Google's China Problem (and China's Google Problem)". The New York Times: p. 8. Retrieved 22 May 2011. 
  20. ^ Will Google's help breach the great firewall of China? By: Marks, Paul, New Scientist, 02624079, 4/3/2010, Vol. 205, Issue 2754
  21. ^ Everyone's Guide to By-passing Internet Censorship, The Citizen Lab, University of Toronto, September 2007
  22. ^ "Ultrasurf is malware - Wilders Security Forums". Retrieved 2011-06-13. 
  23. ^ As quoted in "Leaping the Great Firewall of China: How Twitter and other technologies are keeping one step ahead of the censors", Emily Parker, Opinion Section, Wall Street Journal, 24 March 2010
  24. ^ Ignoring the Great Firewall of China, Richard Clayton, Steven J. Murdoch, and Robert N. M. Watson, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, accessed 17 September 2011
  25. ^ "BBC website 'unblocked in China'". BBC News. 25 March 2008. Retrieved 22 May 2011. 
  26. ^ "Readers from China react to BBC access". BBC News. 25 March 2008. Retrieved 22 May 2011. 
  27. ^ Helft, Miguel (24 March 2009). "YouTube Blocked in China, Google Says". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 May 2011. 
  28. ^ A page on Chinese Wikipedia which is for visitors to report how/from where/via which ISP they can access Wikipedia (Chinese)
  29. ^ "Going online in Cuba: Internet under surveillance". Reporters Without Borders. 2006. 
  30. ^ August, Oliver (23 October 2007). "The Great Firewall: China's Misguided — and Futile — Attempt to Control What Happens Online". Wired. Retrieved 4 February 2011. 
  31. ^ Ramzy, Austin (13 April 2010). "The Great Firewall: China's Web Users Battle Censorship". Time.,8816,1981566,00.html. Retrieved 4 February 2011. 

External links

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