by: Hugo Polanco

The reality of life in China is much different than people expect. As stated in an earlier post, China has a difficult time spreading their culture around the world. So while the average foreign citizen is aware of China’s past cultural achievement such as the great wall, often they know little to nothing of how average Chinese people live. I had the opportunity to live in China for a semester, and given the multitude of foreign students and teachers I met over there, it is clear this is no longer a rare or especially unusual. However I hope to challenge several misconceptions about Chinese life.


Chinese censorship is a hot topic in Western news sources; the whole internet security apparatus even has a name, The Great Firewall. However this system of censorship is nowhere near as pervasive or onerous as one may think. As a foreigner, the Great Firewall barely impacted my life. This is because of VPN. VPN stands for virtual private network, once a VPN is installed on a computer all network traffic is routed to a point outside of China. This means expats and Chinese citizens in the know can gleefully sidestep the Great Firewall with a press of a button and search for Tank Man, the Dalai Lama, and caricatures of Mao Zedong to their hearts content. Even without a VPN, the only burden that the Great Firewall imposed was denying me access to Facebook. Most English language news was uncensored and the only blocked article I came across was the Wikipedia article on the Dalai Lama. In an attempt to test the limits of the Great Firewall me and my roommate began emailing each other phrases such as “Mao is fat and worthless”, “Free Tibet”, “Democracy in China, Now!” All the emails went through and we were not visited by any government thugs in the dead of the night.


Access to foreign media is also surprisingly easy to come by. As part of the government’s censorship policy foreign shows, movies, and music are not broadcast on tv and the sale of DVD’s and CD is restricted. All this is circumvented by the bootleg DVD stores. These stores are all pervasive throughout Chinese cities, and carry an incredibly large collection of foreign media that would put the average American video store to shame. All the DVDs cost roughly $1.20 per disc and are of very high quality to the point there is virtually no difference between them and legitimate copies. Chinese consumers are hungry for these shows and movies and this is one reason why intellectual property theft is so widespread in China, simply because there is no legal access for these products.


China censorship is bothersome for the poor and rural population, who know neither English nor how to access a VPN. The censorship also affects prominent dissidents who are arrested at the slightest provocation. There are 1.3 billion people in China and the Chinese government has nowhere near the ability to control the access of information to all these people especially for the rising middleclass. What’s clear is the Chinese citizens are not kept in the dark, they know how democracy works, they know how foreigners especially in the West live, and if they wanted to they could find out about unpleasant events such as the Tiananmen Protests. It’s hard for us in the West to accept, given the very unpleasant aspects of the Chinese government, but in many ways there is a social contract between the Chinese public and the government. They will accept one party rule for the time being in exchange for spectacular growth.  China is many things but what is not is George Orwell’s 1984. 

This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.


This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.

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