Member of Chinese Business Elite Calls for an End to Internet Blockade

December 15, 2014 Updated: December 16, 2014

The Chinese regime’s strict control and censorship over the Internet in China has been a source of frustration among the public for many years. But in a slight shift from the usually complaisant attitude adopted by the business elite, signs of dissent are stirring.

This was most visible recently when billionaire real estate developer Pan Shiyi, the chairman of SOHO, one of the largest real estate companies in China, called for an end to the Great Firewall.

“Some government officials are here today,” he said at a conference. “I want to make an appeal. … Don’t make us climb over the wall any more. It doesn’t comply with the spirit of the Internet.”

The “wall” he was talking about was the Great Firewall, using the Chinese phrase “fanqiang,” which literally means, “Scale the wall,” and is used in contemporary Mandarin almost exclusively in reference to circumvention technology to access the free Internet.

Pan was among an exclusive crowd at CVW 2014, the first large-scale conference for discussing the Internet’s impact on industry, held in Beijing on Dec. 12, according to the Chinese Web portal Sina.

He said that the kind of Internet censorship practiced in China is against the idea of the Internet, which is to be “diverse and inclusive.”

As top leader of SOHO China Limited, the largest prime office real estate developer in China, Pan said he believes that the Internet gives hope to the Chinese real estate during its current period of slowing, because it can boost efficiency and lower costs.

The Chinese Communist Party has always held tight control of ideology and information in China, since the establishment of the regime in 1949. From the beginning of the Internet era in the 1990s, the Party began establishing its Great Firewall, a sophisticated system of censorship and surveillance operated by the Ministry of Public Security. By 1998 it was able to block foreign and domestic websites that carried information unwelcome by the Party.

Using circumvention software to freely view websites blocked by the Great Firewall has become a popular and common practice in China—virtually everyone in a knowledge-based industry has become accustomed to “scaling the wall” to get the information they need for their jobs.

Among the topics most thoroughly blocked in China are news about the persecution of spiritual groups, human rights abuses, and elite political intrigue. Chinese netizens can’t access Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube either.

Dong Xiaoxing, an expert on China’s Internet policies, said in an interview with Radio Free Asia that censorship doesn’t completely stop information from spreading, but primarily increases conflict between the government and the people. “Since the Internet is very advanced, even if a post is deleted within one minute, tens of thousands of netizens may have read it, and continue to spread the information.”

Translated and written in English by Lu Chen.