Once little more than a glorified porn filter, China’s ‘Great Firewall’ has evolved into the most sophisticated system of online censorship in the world. Griffiths pushes back on the longstanding excuse that the internet is too big to be contained and makes the case that censorship tools are becoming more sophisticated at the very same time that users are becoming more complacent.
... excellent ... The detailed historical picture that he draws of the Chinese authorities’ approach to the online world over the last three decades is nonetheless fascinating and eye-opening ... As a China specialist, he travels to Beijing, Hong Kong and elsewhere to interview brave individuals, and draws a compellingly atmospheric picture of modern arguments about control and self-determination, and even the dangerous politics of drop-down menus in web-forms ... This is an exciting and sobering account of how freedom, which was never in the internet code in the first place, can be effectively curtailed with the tools that were supposed to liberate us.
Griffiths stitches events and issues, most of which are—individually—reasonably well-known, into a coherent narrative. The result is a readable, well-documented history of the internet in China ... The book’s strength is in Griffiths’s measured tone—this is no polemic—and general even-handedness. He is as critical—more despairing than scathing—of the American tech industry as he is of Chinese government policy and notes that much of the technical apparatus used to enforce China’s restrictive version of the Internet was supplied, at least initially, by American firms. Griffiths writes in a fluent, storytelling style, making use of the journalistic-style vignettes that now seem de rigueur in books that might otherwise purport to be analytical. These add color if not necessarily evidence; at least Griffiths does it well. The technical passages on, for example, the various international organizations that struggle for international control over the internet or how domain name routing works, are clear and to the point. The book is however perhaps longer than it need be ... But stylistic pros and cons aside, The Great Firewall of China’s recapitulation of the history, and discussion of how many of the best-laid plans went awry, is a good jumping-off place for, if one likes, discussion of the 'larger issues' ... In the end, it seems Griffiths sees the 'Great Firewall of China' more as a lesson about the internet itself than a story about China per se.
Why did so many fail to anticipate that the Communist Party would extend its control over cyberspace as it had over physical space? And how, exactly, has the Chinese government created its own heavily surveilled domestic intranet? In The Great Firewall of China, James Griffiths traces the development of Chinese cyberauthoritarianism and censorship from the 1990s to the present. In his useful but alarming account, Mr. Griffiths, a journalist for CNN based in Hong Kong, explains why the Communist Party came to focus on internet control and how the pieces of the Great Firewall function.