The Internet has been on a roll in China. About 46 million Chinese are now online, and in a nation that has long censored its media, the Internet has been a powerful force for free information and modernization. Chinese Web surfers have recently been allowed access to leading Western news media sites, including those of The New York Times and CNN. The Google search engine has been particularly popular in China because it allows searches of the World Wide Web using Chinese characters.
Lately, however, China has been cracking down. Upset that Google was bringing Chinese Web surfers to sites operated by Falun Gong, an outlawed [spiritual practice], and [..] critics of the government, the Chinese government blocked it. Chinese Internet users who went to www.google .com found that they were automatically redirected to search engines that are registered with the Chinese government and whose contents are censored. In recent days, China has unblocked Google but is using firewalls and a variety of other technological approaches to prevent Web surfers from using the search engine to access Web sites with banned material.
By cracking down on search engines, China is not only suppressing free speech - it is ultimately hurting itself. It has been trying to increase private investment and to encourage young Chinese who have been educated in the West to return to start new businesses. Blocking the free flow of information cuts the lifeblood of modern entrepreneurship. If China wants to compete in the global market, as it says it does, it cannot afford to limit its people to a government-filtered version of cyberspace.
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