Recently, newswires have been flooded with stories about the Chinese surveillance system in local schools and colleges. Using facial recognition software, the facial expressions of students can now be monitored digitally. The reason for this intrusion, government officials explain, is to improve the performance of students in China.
Facial recognition technology records and evaluates expressions of boredom, disinterest, lack of focus and other “problematic” attitudes. This is just the latest in the countrywide Chinese surveillance plan.
Around 750 million Internet users in China are strictly regulated. In 2017, the Cyberspace Administration of China set restrictions around what news could be produced and distributed. Online blogs, websites, social media apps and forums must now be managed by party-sanctioned staff which need to obtain approval from the government.
Under this tight control, it is almost impossible to obtain accurate data or statistics or political information about China or the rest of the world. The WeChat messaging app is kept under surveillance by Chinese “Internet police” so it’s not even possible to privately share information.
What About VPNs?
Tempting to say the least, and the Chinese government have created a grey area around VPN networks. Caught in the web of political restrictions, Chinese citizens have long made use of VPNs to access the Internet. While Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites are the main targets of the restrictions, there are also restrictions on academic sites.
News, archives, medical and political research are also banned under Chinese Internet restrictions.
Lecture Plans: Tips for Teachers
1. Using VPNs to free up research sites
Using a Virtual Private Network is probably the best way to circumnavigate China’s harsh controls and allow college and university students to access the subject matter they need to present accurate projects and practical assignments. VPNs like Express VPN, NordVPN, Surfshark and VyprVPN are a great choice when it comes to using the Internet for research in China. At present, a question mark hangs over the legality of VPNs.
China announced plans to ban all VPNs in April 2018 and then removed them from its Apple stores. However, users report that they can still use some VPN technology eg. well accredited ExpressVPN. In general, the use of VPNs has not been blocked completely as China uses them to conduct business – which is vital to the economy. In Tibet and Xinjiang people have been prosecuted for surfing on VPNs but private individuals may be less subject to this than businesses.
2. How students in China can use a VPN to do academic research
At its most basic level, researchers need Google search engines. Many academics use Twitter to keep pace with new research and developments. With such strict controls, the academic world will crumble as no student can access information. Whether using a personal VPN or one installed in a college or university network it is still possible to bypass strict firewalls and access the World Wide Web.
3. Dropbox and Google Drive
Using a VPN, students and academics will still be able to access apps like Dropbox and Google Drive to store and share work or archive research. These are a valuable platform for the sharing and dissemination of new topics of research.
4. Teaching resources
While Facebook and Twitter might be restricted by a firewall, numerous teaching resources may still be available without using a VPN. Teachers and students may also be able to use Gmail to share information but should copy all documents digitally and have them sent to a friend outside of China for storage.
Websites like Youku and Sohu offer teachers and students a valid alternative to Youtube, and there are ESL teaching resources, films and historical series available. QQ and WeChat may still be used for basic student and teacher communication as long as they remain within the governmental restrictions. These can replace Facebook and Whatsapp for social purposes as well as to create groups to communicate with students by passing on documents and information.
Many Chinese universities provide access to databases like JStor. In this case you may need to disable your VPN or the server assumes you are not in China and denies access. Books and other resources can be accessed through some Chinese sites.
A Word About Free VPNs
There are many free VPNs available online but as the old adage goes: you really do get what you pay for. Using a VPN like Freegate may seem to offer a solution, but free VPNs can be sluggish and unstable. You can get a vastly superior service using a paid VPN provider.
Overall, even a reliable VPN programme may still encounter limitations in China and could even be disabled by government Internet blackouts. In the best case scenario, there are still going to be limits on what kind of internet resources you can share with your students. Do not encourage your students to acquire a VPN and make sure that, if you direct them towards a specific internet resource or online document, they can access it without a VPN. Also, avoid personal comments and opinions about internet restrictions with Chinese citizens.
This is a press release. Trustnodes has not undertaken any verification of any of the above statements and any statement or project contained therein is not necessarily endorsed by Trustnodes. Readers are strongly urged to do your own research.