Update, June 6: We are reluctantly removing this essay from our list of winners. Our rules state that each writer must cite at least one New York Times source and at least one non-Times source. We regret that we discovered post-publication that this essay cites only Times sources, and we therefore have to disqualify it.
We are publishing the work of all the winners and runners-up this week, and you can find them here as they post. Excerpts from some will also be in the special Learning print section on Sunday, June 9.
China Needs Freedom of Information
China is the world’s second largest economy. People marvel at its newly-built highways, skyscrapers, and airports, but few know that, while modernizing the country, the Chinese government has also built a Great Firewall on the internet, blocking Western and American websites they deem dangerous to the Chinese minds.
I and my fellow 1.4 billion Chinese citizens are victims of that Wall.
The Great Firewall is blocking the free flow of information into China. When you try to get on The New York Times, The Washington Post or Google, you’d usually get a message that says, “system error.” When you try to search some politically sensitive contents, such as Taiwan, Tibet or “June 4th,” the message could even be threatening: “The content you are searching for is illegal. Report anyone posting such contents.” My government is afraid of anything on and off the internet that goes against it, even mild criticism.
Yet, some have found a magic tool, a VPN, to go around the information control. A VPN is a computer system that can be used to break free from the Great Fire Wall and is being used as a secret tunnel to get to websites outside of China. Many of my schoolmates are using it to get on to Instagram or Youtube, and I use it to read American newspapers. But it stopped working just recently when the Chinese National People’s Congress was in session. I was almost kicked out of WeChat for my “crime” of trying repeatedly to open a New York Times link my tutor sent me from America.
What is tragic is most Chinese don’t even know what they are missing out on. On the surface, they are pretty self-sufficient. They use Weibo, so no need for Twitter. They use WeChat, so Facebook can shut its book. They have Bilibili, so YouTube is useless. They have Baidu, so Google can go away. But there is a fundamental difference between the American sites and their Chinese counterparts—our lack of freedom to access information. What we have is what our government allows us to read, to listen to and to watch. But what about our right to the free flow of information?
China may have the fastest 5G networks powered by Western technologies, but it does not afford its citizens basic human rights, and Western trade negotiators should raise this issue when discussing tariffs with our government. The Western countries should put pressure on Beijing to loosen up its political control over its people.
An enlightened mind is a well-informed one. We young Chinese don’t want to be benighted in the Internet age. So help us.