Yao Nie

McKelvey School of Engineering: Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering | PhD


Cohort 2013


Graduated 2018

Partner University:

Tsinghua University

Scholar Highlights

We are engineers, try not to be nerds.

A post by Yao Nie on the Aerosol and Air Quality Research Laboratory (AAQRL) Blog was published on November 6, 2017.

Yao Nie states, “Networking is very important, but it can only be useful when you have enough other hard skills. Try to be valuable to others. As a PhD student, never stop promoting yourself by publishing papers, attending conferences and learning new knowledge.”

Read the entire blog article on AAQRLBlog.

The Great Firewall

If you are trying to access a website which doesn’t exist, a common error that you will receive is “404 page not found”. 404 is the error code, which means the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is invalid. However, in China, when you are accessing some websites such as Facebook, Dropbox, Google, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, which are real existing websites, you will also get a 404 error. This is due to a special project in China, called the great firewall of China (GFW).

The Great Firewall is used by the media and by netizens to refer to the undocumented Internet censorship project in China. Research shows that GFW collocates with the Chinese root Internet service provider. All Internet traffic between China and the rest of the world is filtered by GFW. Any network connection will be blocked once any keyword is seen in its content.

For instance, since “Facebook” is a sensitive keyword, any attempt to connect to Facebook from a computer inside China will fail. What’s more, if the connection content contains “Facebook”, the connection will also be taken down. For example, a webpage with the title “Facebook interview experience” will also be blocked. Another category of blocked keywords is the partial name of political leaders. If you are searching these sensitive words in a censored search engine, it will provide you with censored results. But using an uncensored search engine, you will get a “404 page not found”.

The history of how Google got blocked is a long story. In 1998, Google started to provide search engine services. Later in 2000, Google began to provide search engine interface in Chinese, which returned uncensored search results until 2002 when Google was completely blocked by GFW. In 2005, Google set up a Chinese branch located at Beijing, China. Later Google China was released which provided censored search results. However, YouTube, a leading online video service provider which had been acquired by Google by then, was blocked by GFW in 2009. After that, Google suddenly shut down the Beijing branch and suspended Google China. As the media reported, the reason behind this is that Google was forced to quit China as it stopped cooperating with the Chinese government to filter out sensitive search results.

Unhappy with the censorship by the government, Chinese citizens sometimes fight back. On January 21, 2013, Github, one of the most famous programming websites which was hosting more than 2 million open-source projects was blocked by GFW. Software developers in China started to protest this action. Kai-fu Lee, a famous IT engineer, posted a protest tweet which was retweeted more than 78,000 times. After this event, GFW unblocked Github on January 23, 2013.

By blocking foreign websites, GFW promotes the development of local alternatives. Instead of YouTube, Chinese people can use Youku, which has a similar interface as YouTube to watch videos. The alternative to Facebook in China is Renren, which is a commonly used social website among Chinese users. Baidu is the most used search engine in China, although it only provides censored results. With the withdrawal of Google from the market in China, Baidu gained a lot of benefits.

In my view, the GFW project has both positive and negative impacts on the development of the Chinese information technology industry. It enhances national security because many anti-government organizations like to use these websites to publicize their views on politics. GFW also brings technology development to computer networks, as GFW is a large project in which many scientists participate. In addition, as stated above, GFW benefits local Internet products as well. However, the adverse effects of GFW are also significant and cannot be ignored. With the blocking of Google Scholar, Chinese researchers cannot easily search and download academic articles. In addition, it negatively impacts Chinese citizens’ communications with the international community.

In summary, it is hard to say whether GFW is good or not from the view of China. One thing which is definitely true, is that Chinese netizens will never give up fighting for a freer Internet environment.