From The Good Tourist

China is a whole continent: from the tundra in the north to the tropical island of Hainan in the south; from the Taklamakan desert in the west to the economically booming east coast. You can climb mountains in the Himalayas, travel by camel, sunbathe on tropical beaches and see your reflection in skyscrapers. You’ll meet trendy Shanghainese of delicate build and burly salt-of-the-earth Beijingers.[1]

The Great Firewall of China[2]

1n 1957 Ryszard Kapuściński visited China and noted that the Great Wall is actually several walls, constructed at various times, covering thousands of kilometers and made from a mass of different things. He was fascinated by the Chinese obsession with barriers and how each new ruler, over hundreds of years, set to building the Great Wall. These vast structures marked borders, divided hostile principalities, cut off whole regions and protected cities, serving to guard and defend incessantly, until they naturally extended into the lives of ordinary citizens, and began to separate villages, neighbours and families, one from the other. For Kapuściński it was all a colossal waste of time and energy; flawed thinking that demonstrated an innate defensiveness. He lamented the thousands of days spent erecting this vast wall-fortress that, he believes, might have been better spent ‘learning to read, acquiring a profession, cultivating new fields, and breeding robust cattle.’ [3]

Like Kapuściński I find myself fascinated by a great wall; one that requires several hundred hours of manpower and regular maintenance. This is not one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but a virtual barrier that has been erected to keep citizens in check, to censor information and to block undesirable websites. The great firewall of China involves a system of surveillance that is probably one of the most complex and effective in the world, involving the manipulation of routers, filters, Internet service providers, Internet content providers, and other technology.

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[1] Strittmatter, Kai, China A-Z; Haus Publishing 2006

[2] Various human rights groups and media refer to the complex Chinese internet surveillance as ‘The Great Firewall’.

[3] Described in his engaging autobiography Travels with Herodotus based on his early travels in the 1950s and 1960s; first published in English translation in 2007

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