If you have been to China before and tried to access any popular Western websites like Facebook or Google, you may have been surprised to discover they were blocked. This is because of the Great Firewall of China, which is part of a rigid regime that heavily regulates the internet. This includes the Chinese Government blocking any western websites or social media platforms as a measure to ‘protect’ Chinese citizens.

Why does China censor the internet?

In 1980, the leader at the time, Deng Xiaoping famously said “If you open the window for fresh air, some flies will be blown in.” This referred to the dangers of letting in the rest of the world. Whilst steadily opening up China to global trade has allowed for economic growth, the “unwanted influences” (in the eyes of the Government) from western culture and politics were going to come with it. The Chinese Government, lead by the Communist Party of China believed that western ideologies would corrupt Chinese culture. After all, opening up the previously closed off and strongly communist nation was only for economic purposes.

China has been incredibly successful in growing its economy at the fastest rate ever seen, and lifting 800 million  people out of poverty. But to achieve this incredible goal with such a massive population and in such a short space of time, there have been side effects. One of those side effects is total political control and media censorship to keep driving the growth train forward, unencumbered.

As the presence of internet and the number of users in China grew, the government’s same fears of unwanted influences remained. The Communist Party decided that the way to shield China and retain control was to totally block access to the ‘Western’ internet. By 1998 the Golden Shield Project came about, which planned and introduced several projects, which together have become known as  ‘The Great Firewall.’

How does the firewall work?

One of the reasons the firewall was created was to make allow consistent surveillance of Chinese citizens. It also acts as a censor to any unwanted sites – both within China and outside of it. It works by blocking and filtering sites that the Chinese communist party views as uncontrollable or ‘dangerous’ in nature. Most Western sites (especially social media platforms like Facebook and search engines like Google) fit into this category.

It was found that as of 2018, China has the worst abuser of internet freedom, having declined from previous years.

If foregin companies want to enter the Chinese market, it is really important to figure out a way to navigate around Chinese restrictions, particularly as these restrictions are increasing. Seeing as most businesses will not be able to use their usual software and internet services they must adapt.

How to get beyond the Great Firewall

To launch into China, you’ll need to adopt Chinese technology. To get a website in China, you’ll need to first get an ICP Licence – which requires a Chinese registered business – to get the official stamp of approval.  Next, your website should be hosted in China. FInally, you’ll need to make sure your web developers know the ins and outs of Chinese websites – there are some modifications needed to code.

Of course, you’ll also want to ensure your website is translated into Chinese, and if you’re selling products, you have an ecommerce system that can take payments from Chinese providers – most people in China don’t use a visa or mastercard.

This is all quite a bit of work, but luckily there’s another solution: WeChat. WeChat is a social media mega-platform, that incorporates almost all of the functions you could imagine in an app and even hosts mini-websites. Not only is it easier and faster to get a WeChat account (without requiring a Chinese registered business), but it’s actually a better way to get to your target audience. Chinese consumes are incredibly mobile-savvy, and with the rise of WeChat, consumers do most of their interactions with businesses within the app. From online banking, payments, shopping, calling, messaging, ordering food, ride sharing and more, it’s all possible within the app.

To learn how international businesses can get a WeChat account, click here.

The Great Firewall may seem hard to comprehend and have origins in controversial political policies, but it is real, and a huge barrier for any businesses that want to target Chinese consumers. If foreign businesses cannot adapt, they will not survive in the Chinese market.