China has two Great Walls. Both of them were built to protect Chinese civilization and culture from the barbarians outside the Middle Kingdom. The first one is made of stone but the second one, the Great Firewall of China, is made of computers.
The Great Firewall
Just what is the Great Firewall of China? Internet traffic from outside of China has to pass through servers that filter some websites and block other websites completely. For example you can search on Google but you might not be able to search certain phrases like “Tiananmen Square” that might produce politically uncomfortable images for the Chinese Government. Social Networking sites are commonly blocked as well. The firewall also tries to block sites like child pornography to protect its citizens. All traffic that is leaving China can also be monitored by the government.
Why Can’t I get to Facebook from China?
China’s policy about the internet does not affect most outsiders until they travel to China. Then they start asking questions like “why can’t I get to Facebook from China?”. You are on vacation and you would love to tell mom and Uncle Billy about what a great time you are having but you can’t because Facebook is one of those sites that is blocked completely (as this site might soon be).
Can I get around the Great Firewall of China?
There are mechanisms for working around the Chinese web censorship. There are some sites like SecuriTales.com which will sell you a service that allows you reach sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Gmail from China. Technically what they are doing is connecting to the outside world through a proxy server and rerouting and encrypting your traffic to get through the firewall. If you know what all those terms mean you can probably setup your own free solution, but this is a great site for those of us who just want a simple solution. They even offer a 10 minute free trial.
Before You Go
Before you go to China you can check if a particular website is blocked via a tool at Great Firewall of China. You should also expect that even if you get a fast connection in China, the firewall will slow down the connection to the rest of the world. Plan accordingly. Because of internet speeds you may not always be able to back up all your photos to the internet from your digital camera, for instance, so you may want to make sure you have other options to back up your photos like a portable hard drive or multiple memory cards.
You should definitely go to China and see the original Great Wall. You need to be aware of the internet issues you may have but you should not let them stop you from visiting this wonderful country.