Surfing the Web last fall, a Chinese high-school student who calls himself Zivn noticed something missing. It was Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that accepts contributions or edits from users, and that he himself had contributed to.
The Chinese government, in October, had added Wikipedia to a list of Web sites and phrases it blocks from Internet users. For Zivn, trying to surf this and many other Web sites, including the BBC's Chinese-language news service, brought just an error message. But the 17-year-old had loved the way those sites helped him put China's official pronouncements in perspective. "There were so many lies among the facts, and I could not find where the truth is," he writes in an instant-message interview.
Then some friends told him where to find Freegate, a software program that thwarts the Chinese government's vast system to limit what its citizens see. Freegate -- by connecting computers inside of China to servers in the U.S. -- enables Zivn and others to keep reading and writing to Wikipedia and countless other Web sites.
That's from this Wall Street Journal article ($$$) published on Feb 13th, 2006 on so-called "Hacktivisits."
Roughly a dozen Chinese government agencies employ thousands of Web censors, Internet cafe police and computers that constantly screen traffic for forbidden content and sources -- a barrier often called the Great Firewall of China. Type, say, "media censorship by China" into emails, chats or Web logs, and the messages never arrive.
Even with this extensive censorship, Chinese are getting vast amounts of information electronically that they never would have found a decade ago. The growth of the Internet in China -- to an estimated 111 million users -- was one reason the authorities, after a week's silence, ultimately had to acknowledge a disastrous toxic spill in a river late last year. But the government recently has redoubled its efforts to narrow the Net's reach on sensitive matters.
...It has required all bloggers, or writers of Web logs, to register. At the end of last year 15 Internet writers were in jail in China, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York group. China also has gotten some U.S. Internet companies to limit the search results they provide or the discussions they host on their Chinese services. A tiny firm Mr. Xia set up to provide and maintain Freegate had to lobby computer-security companies such as Symantec Corp., of Cupertino, Calif., not to treat it as a virus.
In response to China's crackdown, and to restrictions in many Middle Eastern countries as well, a small army has been mustered to defeat them. "Hacktivists," they call themselves.
It is already happening. As technology improves, it will become harder and harder to suppress political freedom. Can China stop political freedom now that they've opened up to economic freedom? Can they even hope to contain it?