Chinese Public Opposes Great Firewall

A Chinese flag flies over the company logo outside the Google China headquarters in Beijing on Jan. 14. (Photo: Liu Jin/ AFP-Getty Images)

In the land of over 300 million Internet users, and a firewall that controls access to politically sensitive topics, most of the people feel that their government should not be able to limit what they read online.

The conflict between Google and the Chinese government over hacking and Internet censorship has put these Internet censorship issues back in the news. Secretary Hillary Clinton made a speech on January 21 in which she talked about "being able to surf the Internet without restrictions."

Two-thirds of the Chinese public said that they "should have the right to read whatever is on the Internet" when they were asked in January 2008 by Only 21 percent said "the government should have the right to prevent people from having access to some things on the Internet."

In fact, more Chinese favored such Internet rights than did people in many of the 21 countries polled, including citizens of Britain, France, Russia and India.

While the Chinese public sees their government as quite responsive to the will of the people, they nonetheless appear to have a realistic and critical view of their government's control of the media. Only 12 percent of the public say the media in China have a lot of freedom, the second-lowest number among the 21 countries polled.

Moreover, they say they want more freedom for their media. 66 percent say that "in China media should have more freedom," rather than the same amount of freedom or less freedom. This desire for greater media freedom in their country put them above the average of the 21 countries polled in 2008. 

The Chinese government has considerable political capital among its people, but seems unduly concerned about media control. Chinese nationalism is strong; there is immense pride in the rise of China economically and politically. Indeed, China's economic progress is admired around the world. Yet government media control is misaligned. The Chinese themselves give their country low marks on media freedom and world opinion gives China similar poor grades on human rights.

This survey was originally published by