Before I left for China I was told a number of different things about the levels of security – my ability to use Facebook (or lack thereof), ability to visit websites like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and YouTube.
As you can see from the photo, security is not always quite as tight as I would have expected. The photo was of a security guard in a building in Shanghai out of the center city.
In the hotels where I stayed there was full access to all sites I tried to access. Facebook, YouTube, NY Times and Wall Street Journal were all readily accessible. However when I was traveling from Shanghai to Beijing we went out of the commuter airport in Hongqiao (Hong-zhio) and when I used the ‘free’ internet access all of those sites were blocked. So internet access is somewhat dependant on geography – or so it appears.
The Chinese government does monitor internet traffic and individual behavior to some degree but I don’t believe at an individual level unless that individual has distinguished him or herself as a person of interest as the saying goes.
Nor did I see the cameras in the trees as I did while in Singapore ten years ago. That was really creepy. The Singaporean authorities had video cameras everywhere and our friends in Singapore noted that ‘they know when you come and they know when you go’. I guess it’s just that much more difficult when you are trying to somehow monitor the comings and goings of 1,400,000,000 people.
There were police cars and sirens and policemen around but I felt a much greater police presence while I was in Hanoi earlier this year. And in no way did I find the police presence off-putting or intimidating in China.
I’m not attempting to represent that the Chinese government does not shut down things it does not like. It does and keeps things as quiet as it can but today’s media outlets have much greater reach and penetration than ever before and it seems that eventually things do come to light – even unpleasant things that do not depict the Chinese government in a positive way.
But all in all the two major cities I visited seemed like – major cities – the same as anywhere I’ve visited around the world. I always felt safe and never had the feeling I was being ‘watched’.
What are your thoughts on China – have you been there yourself? If so what did you think? If not do you want to visit it more than before?