You have, of course, heard of - and maybe seen for yourself - the Great Wall of China. In the modern Middle Kingdom there also looms the Great Firewall of China, the Beijing government's rather successful attempt at restricting access to the Internet from its territory.
I ran headlong into the Great Firewall this week upon alighting in Shanghai, when I discovered I couldn't get onto Blogger.com to post new writings on this blog. Couldn't get onto Twitter.com, either. This is, alas, a common experience, as the Chinese government is not at all comfortable with allowing freedom of personal or political expression for the millions of bloggers and social-networkers in China who would like to have some.
This was a momentary inconvenience for me, preventing me from posting for a week during my current trip to Asia. The real problem, of course, is for the people who live in the People's Republic of China. Getting information in and getting information out is tough, even in the Age of the Internet. In the medium- and long term, the government's restrictions will probably be for naught. For now, they are simple but effective. As long as restrictions on the Net, and on established print and electronic journalism, remain in place, China will have difficulty building a stable civic society to go with its new glittering shopping malls and designer duds.
China is still very much worth visiting. I'll be writing about my visit both online and on paper in the days, weeks and months to come. As great as digital media can be, this is a useful reminder just how useful travel, with its face-to-face, real-time experience, really is.