The Great Firewall, planned and developed in the first few years after the Chinese public began to access the Web in 1995, is a cordon sanitaire that prevents unhealthy foreign influences from corrupting the minds of China’s Internet users. From the start, it blocked websites run by banned religions and cults, those advocating Tibetan and Taiwan independence and the sites of some Western news organisations. The New York Times site, walled out in the 1990s, was back in by 2001, reportedly on the orders of then president Jiang Zemin. In the run up to the 2008 Olympics, the government unblocked a number of sites, some only temporarily.
In 2009, as the role social media played in the Arab Spring led to talk of Facebook and Twitter-led ‘revolutions’, and riots broke out in Xinjiang (where some advocates of Uyghur independence communicated via Facebook), the Great Firewall blocked Facebook, Youtube and Twitter. Since Google shut down its Chinese search server in 2010, many Google sites and services have been inaccessible. The firewall had previously barred Wikipedia but restored access in 2014 while denying access to dozens of individual articles on topics concerning recent Chinese history.
Investigations into the wealth of the families of party leaders by Bloomberg and The New York Times in 2012 resulted in the banning of their websites, while The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal and Reuters have all seen their websites blocked intermittently over the course of 2013 and 2014. The authorities also deny access to Taiwan- and Hong Kong-based news sites including the Apple Daily, United Daily News, Economic Daily News, Kinmen Daily News, The Sun, Oriental Daily News, Sing Tao Daily and Ming Pao.
Although it is relatively easy to ‘jump over the Great Firewall’ 翻墙 by using such technologies as a virtual private network, the vast majority of China’s hyperactive Internet users do not use them.