How does the Great Firewall of China work?

2019/11/19 | 3 mins

Before diving deep into creating websites for the Chinese market, it is imperative to understand what the popular Great Firewall of China is all about. Is it just an anecdotal name for another Internet meme? Well, no. It is literally what the name implies. Think of it as the digital version of the Great Wall, with the wall itself made up of both legislative mandate and technological tools that aim to regulate China's domestic Internet usage. Pretty much like the Great Wall, the aim is to protect China from external influences which are deemed harmful to its national security.

In theory, the Firewall aims to balance China's Internet economy by limiting foreign access and focusing on China-based businesses instead. While it doesn't completely ban foreign websites from coming into the country, and being accessible among its citizens, it subjects these foreign websites to certain regulations that fit into the government's interests when it comes to national security and Chinese digital capital.

If you read up on the Firewall's history, you would probably come across this famous line supposedly spoken by Deng Xiaoping (perhaps in Chinese), "If you open the window, both fresh air and flies will be blown in". This provides a metaphorical but sensible reason for building the Firewall. China is seen as an opportunity that must be protected at all costs. This reasoning was also closely tied to the social market reforms that were being implemented in the 90s, as China slowly opened itself to participate in the global economy. There was a need to diversify but still maintain the social ideals that have governed China from within. As a result, China's Ministry of Public Security took the initiative to filter Internet usage and they drafted a plan that would make the Internet safe for public access.

Eventually, the Great Firewall of China became an essential part of the Golden Shield Project, introduced in 2000, which is a database-driven security system that allows China's government to access its citizens' records while simultaneously being connected to its national security governing units. There's been a lot of debate about the impact of censorships and restrictions, but it's fascinating to note how these restrictions have allowed most homegrown Chinese companies, such as WeChat and Alibaba, to flourish from within.

In truth, nobody can say for certain how the Great Firewall works. But some studies have theorized that China employs sophisticated content-filtering measures. These measures may include IP blocking, packet filtering, and IP address denials resulting from keywords, credit records, even speech and facial recognition of individuals deemed dangerous to China's best interests. The government has control over its citizens' records. Therefore, access to the network is highly regulated. For a deep dive into China's Great Firewall, check out our complete guide to the Great Firewall of China (GFoC).

China itself has published an article that details its implementation of Internet usage. In summary, the publication touches on the following aspects:

  • Internet service providers (ISPs) must have a license to operate within China.
  • The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for managing overall Internet security protection within China by promoting censorship against the following types of information:
    • Resistance to government regulations and spreading rumors
    • Inciting divisions within the country or against the government
    • Promoting intolerance and discrimination against ethnic groups
    • Promoting violence, obscenity, and related acts
    • Exposing sensitive state information that may or may not result to defaming the government

Because of the Great Firewall, VPN usage has become a thing in China so that people can continue to access popular sites such as Youtube or Instagram. However, VPN usage can be limiting and not everyone can get easy access to it. So as a business entity, it wouldn't be wise to rely on VPNs for target reach. It's still best to just comply with the latest Chinese Internet regulations so you can freely pass through, like getting an ICP license and using effective China based hosting and CDNs. With all these details in mind, it's best to partner with experts who know the ins and outs of the Great Firewall. Check out GoClick China and see what they can offer you as your eyes behind the wall.

To learn more about succeeding in the China, check out our other articles.
If you want to learn more about testing in China, check out our solutions.