The following is adapted from LikeWar by P. W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking, a book by two defense experts—one of which is the founder of the Eastern Arsenal blog at Popular Science —about how the Internet has become a new kind of battleground, following a new set of rules that we all need to learn.
“Across the Great Wall we can reach every corner in the world.”
So read the first email ever sent from the People’s Republic of China, zipping 4,500 miles from Beijing to Berlin. The year was 1987. Chinese scientists celebrated as their ancient nation officially joined the new global internet. As the Internet evolved from a place for scientists to a place for all netizens, its use in China gradually grew—then exploded. In 1996, there were just 40,000 people online in China; by 1999, there were 4 million. In 2008, China passed the United States in number of active internet users: 253 million. Today, that figure has tripled again to nearly 800 million (over a quarter of all the world’s people online).
It was also clear from the beginning that for the citizens of the People’s Republic of China, the internet would not be—could not be —the freewheeling, crypto-libertarian paradise pitched by its American inventors. The country’s modern history is defined by two critical periods: a century’s worth of embarrassment, invasion, and exploitation by outside nations, and a subsequent series of revolutions that unleashed a blend of communism and Chinese nationalism.
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