CHAPTER NINE Internet, Books & Dissidents
The number of Internet users in China quadrupled over the past year - with 2.1 million hooking up the global network in 1998, according to a Xinhua News Agency report.
The Ministry of Information Industry forecast that the number of users will grow by 1.5 million in 1999 and will exceed 4.5 million in 2000, the agency said.
To accommodate the growing number of users, China will invest US$1.7 billion per year over the next three years to construct wideband networks to provide more people with access to the Intornet, it said.
About 5,300 Websites have reportedly opened on ChinaNet, the official Internet server in China. (1)
The land that brought the world the Great Wall has built a new barrier on its ultimate frontier. Like its predecessor, it is designed to repel invaders and protect China from their foreign ideas" wrote the Los Angeles Times Maggie Farley from Shanghai.
Dubbed "the Great Chinese Firewall." It is a serious of Internet blocks and filters intended to stop Chinese citizens from seeing on-line news and opinions that differ from the government's political line. But just as the miles of mud and stone erected centuries ago failed to keep China's citizens in and invaders out, a new generation of computer experts is finding ways through this barrier.
They call themselves "hacktivist" electronic guerrillas with a political agenda that ranges from ending censorship to considering outright sabotage.
With such names as Bronc Buster, Cult of the Dead Cow and the Hong Kong Blondes, they sound more like rock bands than enemies of the people. But the Chinese government is taking them seriously.
They claim to have defaced government Websites, torn down firewalls, disabled a satellite and to possess the tools to infiltrate government computer networks. They have linked up with political activists who want to challenge Beijing.
"We are computer experts, and above that we like the concept of free speech," said the Chinese editor of VIP Reference, an electronic magazine based in Washington that is e-mailed into China. The Chinese-born editor uses the English alias Richard Long to protest his family on the mainland.
"We are destined to destroy the threat of censorship over the Internet," the editor said. "We believe that the Chinese people, like any other people in the world, deserve the rights of knowledge and free expression.