“The World is so big, I want to have a look”

Freedom of Speech on Chinese Internet

As a Chinese student studying in the US, I can feel my world expand and shrink every time I cross the borders of these two countries. In America, I am free to post personal updates on Facebook or send a Snapchat of my meal to a friend studying abroad in Europe. I have a network of classmates, friends, family members, and professional connections across all social media platforms. I feel free to be myself and express my own observations, whether they are regarding my dinner at a new restaurant, my view of a historical movement, or my beliefs on the coming up presidential race.

It wasn’t until every time I return home in Shanghai did I realize that I had taken all of my internet rights in the US for granted. In China, my main social media networks, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube are all blocked. Although if anyone tries hard to “jump over the firewall” by purchasing a VPN, anyone can still visit these websites. But the bigger concern in China is the freedom of speech. Over the course of this quarter with MS&E 135, I have always wondered how network systems, especially on the internet, is different in countries that enforce internet censorship, especially in China. Recently, Quartz’s news article on the popular memes in China caught my eyes.

“The World is so big, I want to have a look”

Above is one of the most popular memes of this past year. It is a quote from a Chinese middle school teacher, Gu Shaoqiang, from central China’s Hunan province as she resigned her job in 2015. This quote became viral on the internet— mostly from Chinese people who are also tired from their jobs. But to me, I believe citizens have been spreading this quote as a message against the Chinese internet censorship. They know that the world is much more complicated and stories can potentially be much different from the national news that display on Chinese news and TVs. There is a longing for freedom of speech.

Such a limit in freedom of speech also limits people’s self-expressions on the web. For instance, if anyone posts about an anti-Chinese view or a quote on Chinese chatting platform WeChat or Twitter Weibo, these posts usually get erased within five minutes. No one wants to mess with that, and as a result, cascading effects take place and views on Chinese social media become more conformed and less “extreme.” People who are anti-internet censorship are blamed as having “Cold War mentality” or hatred towards the country. For example, as Chinese journalist was accused of “arrogance” and “prejudice” for mentioning the lack of human rights in China during a press conference in Ottawa. It is ironic that the Chinese government also uses exactly the same medium— the media— to counteract and oppose those who are “rebellious” against freedom of speech on the internet, by spreading these negative perspectives and ideas of human rights activists. After all, our freedom and rights dictate our expressions, which in turn shape who we are and who we become.

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