The Great Firewall of China

How to Build and Control an Alternative Version of the Internet

By (author) James Griffiths

Publication date:

14 March 2019


Zed Books



ISBN-13: 9781786995353

Once little more than a glorified porn filter, China’s ‘Great Firewall’ has evolved into the most sophisticated system of online censorship in the world. As the Chinese internet grows and online businesses thrive, speech is controlled, dissent quashed, and attempts to organise outside the official Communist Party are quickly stamped out. But the effects of the Great Firewall are not confined to China itself.

Through years of investigation James Griffiths gained unprecedented access to the Great Firewall and the politicians, tech leaders, dissidents and hackers whose lives revolve around it. As distortion, post-truth and fake news become old news James Griffiths shows just how far the Great Firewall has spread. Now is the time for a radical new vision of online liberty.

Key features

A fascinating exposé of the world’s biggest and most sophisticated system of internet censorship.
A completely unique angle on the unfolding internet freedom story – in this case the censoring power house is a nation rather than multinational corporation.
Features unprecedented access and information on:
 - Highly restricted piece of internet infrastructure (F-Root server)
 - Leaked government documents (US state department cables, Chinese censorship directives, Green Dam Youth Escort software documentation)
Features interviews with dissidents who were unable to reveal their identity for fear of retribution as well as one of China's original internet dissidents, Li Hongkuan
Author is a lead CNN reporter and producer with extensive experience reporting from China and across Asia.
Links China’s ‘war on the internet’ to fake news, post-truth, official distortion and the complicity of giants such as Facebook and Google.
Exposes how the Great Firewall of China is affecting internet freedom across Asia, Europe, Australia and the US, as regimes in Russia and elsewhere begin to imitate it.

'An excellent book on China’s online strategy ... Fascinating and eye-opening ... This is an exciting and sobering account of how freedom, which was never in the internet code in the first place, can be effectively curtailed with the tools that were supposed to liberate us.'

‘The internet has long been a boon for the free exchange of information, but Griffiths argues that China’s success at monitoring and censoring web traffic poses a cautionary tale for users around the world.’
New York Times

'Superb and perfectly timed. James Griffiths’s The Great Firewall of China tells the twenty-year story of how the Chinese authorities have brought the internet to heel by slowly developing and enforcing the doctrine of "cyber-sovereignty" ...  Griffiths has the journalist’s knack of finding fascinating stories, and write[s] in an economical, highly readable style.'
Literary Review

'A timely look at the world’s most sophisticated censorship system. Griffiths explains a technical subject — Beijing’s internet controls — through the lens of Chinese politics and the logic of social movements.'
Financial Times

'A useful but alarming account. James Griffiths traces the development of Chinese cyberauthoritarianism and censorship from the 1990s to the present.'
Wall Street Journal

'The Great Firewall of China is a riveting read, revealing the questionable acts of states and corporations as they vie to shape the internet to their own ends. And Griffiths has an eye for the detail that brings anecdotes to life. Many of his stories show how offline and online lives merge in bizarre ways.'
New Scientist

‘Griffiths has an eye for character and writes with impartial rigour. He effectively details how China built its alternative internet.’
New Statesman

'An eye-opening historical picture shows how China’s online strategy takes aim at the solidarity of its citizens – aided by US tech companies.'

'Engaging storytelling and careful research ... authoritative and compelling. It is a cautionary tale for us all.'
Science Magazine

'The book’s strength is in Griffiths’s measured tone and general even-handedness. He is as critical – more despairing than scathing – of the American tech industry as he is of Chinese government policy, and notes that much of the technical apparatus used to enforce China’s restrictive version of the internet was supplied, at least initially, by American firms.’
Washington Monthly

'The book is well worth a read for anyone who wants to know more generally about online censorship, China's emerging social credit system, and the concept of cyber-sovereignty (in which each nation controls its own Internet). Griffiths also provides food for thought for the coming conversations about human rights online and whether and how we can regulate the Internet in a way that serves the common good.'

'A readable, well-documented history of the internet in China ... Griffiths writes in a fluent, storytelling style.'
Asian Review of Books

‘The definitive guide to the development of the internet in China. Griffiths' book is also an urgent and much needed reminder about how China's quest for cyber sovereignty is undermining global Internet freedom.’
Kristie Lu Stout, host of CNN’s News Stream and On China

‘Readers will come away startled at just how fragile the online infrastructure we all depend on is and how much influence China wields – both technically and politically.'
Jason Q. Ng, author of Blocked on Weibo

‘Griffiths has written an important and incisive history of the Chinese internet that introduces us to the government officials, business leaders, and technology activists struggling over access to information within the Great Firewall.’
Adam M. Segal, author of The Hacked World Order

‘A gripping and illuminating account of how the Chinese state fell in and out of love with the internet – and what it means for China and for the rest of the world.’
Jonathan Sullivan, Director of the China Policy Institute

‘Griffiths’ vivid and compelling account untangles the complex evolution of China’s internet controls, providing both valuable context for recent events and a solid foundation for understanding future developments.’
Samuel Wade, Deputy Editor, China Digital Times

‘A savvy journalist with a keen eye for the telling anecdote and an interest in big questions, Griffiths skilfully traces China’s efforts to control the internet. He also makes important moves beyond China's borders to highlight the global implications.’
Jeffrey Wasserstrom, co-author of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know

‘Exhaustively researched and wonderfully written, the book moves effortlessly between gripping narratives from the frontlines of digital struggle to trenchant analysis of the formation and evolution of China’s Great Firewall.’
Eli Friedman, Cornell University