Free speech and human rights remain controversial in China. However, the Chinese government’s present attitude toward free speech and human rights is not unprecedented. Google Inc., the public American search engine corporation, suspected that the Chinese government had hacked into the accounts of Chinese anti-government activists in order to persecute them, so Google is considering pulling out of China. In the past, Google has been widely criticized for cooperating with the Chinese government in the censorship of its search engine. Doug Stiffler, associate professor of history, explains further:
What conditions or events have led to the Chinese government’s disregard for free speech and human rights?
China is a freewheeling capitalist economy today, and the paradox is that an authoritarian Chinese Communist Party oversees China. Most other communist parties have collapsed in a wave of political changes; only a few countries are still run by Cold War era communist governments. China has changed since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, both socially and economically, but the government remains authoritarian.
[The condition of China] is not only the doing of the Chinese Communist Party but also part of a long imperial tradition, which was also authoritarian and didn’t encourage free speech or political competition. Free speech and political competition were never legitimate under imperial Chinese dynasties or governments in 20th century China, including the current government.
How much control does the Chinese government have over information technology in China?
Censorship of the Internet works by blocking Web sites and keywords such as Amnesty International and the Tiananmen Square protests. You cannot readily access the Web page of Amnesty International. Google agreed to the Chinese government’s list of banned words when they went into China. Facebook has been banned, but you can access it through a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or by connecting to an outside server. For ordinary Web surfers, the government does fairly effectively block access. You must want information and know how to get it, which is not hard, but you risk getting into trouble.
Why block Facebook?
The Chinese government watched how social media was used in Tehran, Iran over the last six months since the election. In Tehran, demonstrators were able to mount anti-government protests through social media, so if social media was [fully] available in China, people could compare and see contrast between the government and demonstrators.
Do you think that Google will stay in China?
The Chinese government’s initial approach was to treat it as a business problem. Google received much criticism for appearing to suppress information. On the other hand, Google doesn’t want to lose access to Chinese markets. So if China and Google are to find a formula that both find acceptable; Google might need to give something up.
-Aaron Adams ’12, Juniata Online Journalist