Chinayouren has a delightful new post that reminded me yet again of how much the outside world still doesn’t understand China. It’s a great post on a couple of levels, but this section, written in response to readers outside of China who wrote to Chinayouren “proposing ideas to help ‘free the Chinese’ from the claws of the GFW,” really jumped out at me:
But listen, the sad reality is, the CCP’s systems of censorship are so effective not because they are diabolically sophisticated, but because… because the Chinese netizens can’t give a damn if they are being censored by their government or not.
You don’t believe me? Then perhaps you have a better theory to explain why nobody uses the widely available, free web proxies to surf the internet. Or why the majority of Chinese netizens still use Google.cn when they have an identical search engine that is not manipulated on Google.com
Shocking, right? But not so much. The truth is that, in spite of popular funny memes and the occasional juvenile rant, the majority of Chinese who are rich enough to use the internet are happy with the status quo. They do find it mildly annoying to be treated like children by the CCP, but as long as the bills are paid, they don’t think so much of it.
And this is also why, if someone wants to create a device against the GFW, the user activated systems like proxies or Tor are not effective, because people simply don’t use them.
I’ve written about this before more than a year ago, when I said Westerners need to understand that what seems awful to us doesn’t seem nearly so awful to those we are trying to “protect.”
[W]e can’t distort what the actual situation is in China. 99.9 out of 100 people here will tell you this [Internet censorship] is not a problem to them, and even to those who see it as such, it does not rank high on their list of urgent needs.
Most Chinese aren’t trying to circumvent the Great Firewall. Those who want to look at blocked sites know how to do it, and they are, I believe, a very small minority.
Chinayouren then rails against another shibboleth, and what he says here is far more controversial. He shatters – to his own satisfaction, at least – the widely held belief (shall we call it a “meme”?) of many English-language China bloggers that a censored google.cn was far better than no google.cn. A belief, I have to admit, I’ve held myself, though maybe I’m not so sure after reading this. He points out what should be an obvious fact, but one that we may tend to overlook, namely that the very essence of a censored google.cn is, after all, SEM (search engine manipulation).
The most amusing thing in the Google crisis is all the commentators crying about the loss of Google.cn and its negative consequences for the freedom of the Chinese. In fact, I maintain that Google.cn is the most evil product to ever have existed in the Chinese internet, and the World will be a better place without it.
That is because, unlike the Chinese official sites that practice censorship, what the search engines do is manipulation. Why? Because Google.cn is not a content site in itself, it is a gateway to the internet. When people type in a keyword into the search field, they are actually trusting it to return a fair picture of what is on the net.
When you type a “sensitive” term and G.cn removes all the results except the People’s Daily and Xinhua, Google’s responsibility is double: not only it supports those often objectible views on the first page, but it also implicitly states that it is the ONLY opinion existing in the World.
And the worse is, the Chinese who believed that would be right to do so, because Google’s well known principles clearly specify their commitment to give all the information available in a democratic way. The little warning message that is displayed on Google.cn SEM searches is meant to avoid this situation, but it is tiny and often placed right at the bottom of the page, so most Chinese users just ignore it.
In the case of Google.cn, SEM is not about “good” or “evil”. It is about breaking the very principles that give a sense to the Google company, and it is understandable that Google has never been comfortable with it.
I have to give this post, and this blog, very high marks for laying its argument on the line without sentimentality or coddling, even if what he says flies in the face of what a lot of us want to hear. This is just one of many excellent posts on the subject over at Chinayouren.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.