Never Take Freedom of Speech for Granted

Tweeting from the Great Wall—Not!

In this 3.0 world we enjoy business tools such as Constant Contact WordPress and Reddit as well as the ability to communicate through numerous social networking platforms. I had to fly 6,000 miles to China before I realized that as westerners we tend to take our freedom to communicate for granted. Of course we frequently hear about

incidents of people being imprisoned, beaten, and accused of espionage in foreign countries for exercising freedom of expression—but I naively thought that censorship could never happen to me.

When I gleefully tweeted that we had made it to the top of the Great Wall of China, I was gratified to receive immediate comments from our friends at home. The tweets and Facebook posts continued….I’m skipping thetrip to Ming Tombs, What is so forbidden about the Forbidden City? A friend sent us to her favoriterestaurant The Green Teahouse in Beijing. These micro-blogs added a new dimension of fun to our travels: exchanging commentary across the Pacific via our miraculous mobile device.

Three days later the miracle ended. We were in Yichang, home of the Three Gorges Dam, when a big red X appeared on my smartphone screen. China Mobile had caught up with us. “Facebook Access Denied!”“Twitter Access Denied!”

The Chinese government truly tracks and censors communication—and there was nothing we could do. That old expression, “You can’t fight City Hall,” kept popping into my head—because you really cannot fight

China! China is indeed enjoying modernization and global commerce—but the government is likely to continue blocking access to information. They view it as critical to controlling their nearly 2 billion residents. As a person who has always thoroughly enjoyed freedom of expression, I felt a bit crippled without it. This experience has reminded me to appreciate the freedoms that the western world continues to offer. At a time

when a lot of Americans are voicing disappointment with their government, a trip to China reminded me to step back and enjoy the freedom we have.

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