Regional Variation in Chinese Internet Filtering

22 Pages Posted: 18 May 2013

See all articles by Joss Wright

Joss Wright

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Date Written: August 31, 2012


Internet filtering in China is a pervasive and well-reported phenomenon and, as arguably the most extensive filtering regime in the world today, has been studied by a number of authors. Existing studies, however, have considered both the filtering infrastructure and the nation itself as largely homogeneous in this respect.

This article investigates variation in filtering across China through direct access to internet services across the country. This is achieved through use of the Domain Name Service, which provides a mapping between human-readable names and machine-routable internet addresses, and is thus a critical component of internet-based communications. Manipulation of DNS is a common mechanism used by states and institutions to hamper access to internet services that have been deemed undesirable.

Our experiments support the hypothesis that, despite typically being considered a monolithic entity, the Chinese filtering approach is better understood as a decentralised and semi-privatised operation in which low-level filtering decisions are left to local authorities and organisations.

This article provides a first step in understanding how filtering affects populations at a fine-grained level, and moves toward a more subtle understanding of internet filtering than those based on the broad criterion of nationality. The techniques employed in this work, while here applied to geographic criteria, provide an approach by which filtering can be analysed according to a range of social, economic and political factors in order to more fully understand the role that internet filtering plays in China, and around the world.

Keywords: China, censorship, DNS

Suggested Citation

Wright, Joss, Regional Variation in Chinese Internet Filtering (August 31, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Joss Wright (Contact Author)

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

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