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Want to set up an interview or looking for expert analysis on China, internet censorship, social media and related topics? Please email james@greatfirewall.xyz.

An alarming and essential read on how the internet turned into the splinternet.

The Great Firewall of China: How to Build and Control an Alternative Version of the Internet

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. Even as the Chinese internet grows and online businesses thrive, speech is controlled, dissent quashed, and any 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. More and more, China is threatening global internet freedoms as it seeks to shore up its censorship regime, with methods that are providing inspiration for aspiring autocrats the world over.

As censorship, distortion and fake news gain traction around the world, and internet giants such as Facebook show ever greater willingness to compromise internet freedoms in pursuit of the Chinese market, James Griffiths takes a look inside the Great Firewall and explores just how far it has spread, arguing that its influence can only be countered by initiating a radical new vision of online liberty.

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James Griffiths

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Director — Marketing and Publicity, Zed Books

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Reviews + coverage

London Review of Books: ‘A detailed and compelling account of Chinese online censorship.’

Financial Times: Summer books of 2019: ‘So much for the hope that the internet was going to set all information free. A Hong Kong-based journalist explains how China has systematically built an electronic surveillance state — and how it is subverting free expression abroad. An alarming and essential read on how the internet turned into the splinternet.’

New Scientist: ‘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.’

Financial Times: ‘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.’

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

Science: ‘Engaging storytelling and careful research ... authoritative and compelling. It is a cautionary tale for us all.’

New York Times: ‘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 Statesman: ‘Griffiths’s strengths are as a reporter: he has an eye for character and writes with impartial rigour.’

South China Morning Post: ‘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.’

The Guardian: ‘The detailed historical picture that (Griffiths) draws of the Chinese authorities’ approach to the online world over the last three decades is … 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.’

Washington Monthly: ‘Though he delivers a powerful denunciation of China’s firewall, Griffiths is no fan of the West’s internet either. In the early days of the web, tech pioneers trumpeted the libertarian ideal that “information wants to be free” and speculated that an unregulated internet would lead to freedom around the world. But as Griffiths notes, tech companies have hidden behind these ideals to dodge regulations and build monopolies. These monopolies now control a dangerous amount of our data, and they buy upstart competitors to ensure continued dominance.’


Australian Strategic Policy Institute — 31 May 2019

ABC’s The World — 29 May 2019

Lowy Institute — 29 May 2019

PM on ABC Radio — 27 May 2019

Al Jazeera — 26 April 2019

Theory of Everything Podcast — 24 April 2019

NPR — 10 April 2019

Salon — 25 March 2019

Monocle — 18 March 2019

BBC Radio — 15 March 2019

Chatham House — 14 March 2019

The Frontline Club — 13 March 2019


Weibo’s Free-Speech Failure (The Atlantic)

Nailing the Jello: Chinese Democracy and the Great Firewall (LA Review of Books)

When Chinese hackers declared war on the rest of us (MIT Technology Review)

Will China’s ever-growing digital firewall wreck the internet? (LitHub)

China's paranoia and oppression in Xinjiang has a long history (CNN)

Trump is right that China uses its media to influence foreign opinion, but so does Washington (CNN)

Badiucao: A Chinese political cartoonist reinvents himself in Australia (CNN Style)

China is exporting the Great Firewall as internet freedom declines around the world (CNN)

Further praise for The Great Firewall of China:

‘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