China is 60 times the size of Saudi Arabia, and most experts agree that the sheer volume of traffic would be impossible to police. But Beijing has risen to the challenge, throwing people, money and technology at the problem. The more lurid accounts talk of an e-police force of 100,000 people employed to scour the net, blocking sites and checking e-mails. The numbers are exaggerated, but analysts agree that teams of computer scientists run a firewall with at least four different kinds of filter.via Google News
Second, look at what the Chinese are censoring. Much of the commentary suggests that China is an iron-clad Stalinist state, shielded from global events by the "great firewall of China".
But analogies with Russia and eastern Europe in the 1980s are misleading. The governments of the Soviet bloc looked on powerlessly as their grey world of propaganda was eclipsed by Technicolor images of a better life in the West.
But China is already part of the capitalist world. It is awash with information, products and all the baubles of the consumer society. With every year that passes, the number of people with access to these goodies grows.
What Google has been asked to censor are perennial political taboos: articles on Tibet, Taiwan, Tiananmen Square and Falun Gong - as well as pieces criticising the Communist Party's rule. But this kind of censorship is relatively subtle, aimed not at shutting China off from the world, but zeroing in on political controversy. Google estimates that less than two per cent of internet searches will be affected.
The third lesson is the most profound. What worries China the most is not information coming in from outside. It is Chinese people talking to one another. China's laws on the freedom of assembly are Draconian. Charities, trade unions and religious groups are kept under close surveillance and regularly banned. The ferocity with which the Communist Party suppresses the herbivorous and mild-mannered Falun Gong has puzzled many outside observers. But Beijing is not afraid of the content of their meetings; it is afraid of them meeting at all....
But however impressive the Chinese mastery of the internet has become, it is hard to see how the profusion of information circulating around China can fail to leave its mark on the country's politics. The great firewall is already springing leaks....
Many Chinese are also taking refuge in the world of digital images, which can be sent between mobiles or e-mailed as attachments, escaping the filters of the censor. Finally, there is the ingenuity of the Chinese people, who often write to each other in coded language (using stories as allegories). This has led many cyber-pundits to predict that, although Google's avant-garde credentials have been tarnished, the dream of a democratic China has not been deferred.
Rebecca MacKinnon's RConversation blog is among the best English-language sources about censorship and the Chinese blogosphere.
I wonder how many people incensed at Google's compromises with the Chinese government are equally incensed about the myriad of much nastier compromises routinely tolerated by the multitude of NGOs, news reporters, and "peacekeepers" trying to make a small difference under conditions of far deadlier tyranny and chaos around the world.