If Google stays in China, are they vacillating cowards?

Absolutely not. James Fallows, in another splendid update on the Google drama, notes the various reports coming out that it’s business as usual at Google’s Haidian headquarters – which in no way contradicts anything Google has said about the situation.

{The latest reports] indicate that Google has not pulled up stakes from China and is still operating as if it might have a future there. Is that hypocritical? I don’t think so: I think it’s in keeping with the initial announced intention to reconsider all options. As I mentioned the first time around, I think this situation is likely to turn out either lose-lose-lose — for Google (outside the Chinese market), for the Chinese government (publicly embarrassed, which will bring out worse rather than better tendencies), and for the Chinese public (symbolically cut off that much more from the mainstream of modern development, and with an internet ecology worse than it could be, with the absence of a major innovative competitor) — or win-win-win for the same parties, if the government can address Google’s complaints in a way that allows the company to remain. I assume that off-stage action toward that end is underway now.

My trolls have already started blasting Google as if it suddenly realized it made an awful mistake and is changing its mind. Not true. That may happen; I don’t know. But Google never said they were leaving China.

Fallows also posts a moving letter he was sent from a non-Chinese reader living in China. I just want to paste the powerful closing lines.

I recently showed a friend what it was like to surf the internet on the other side of the chinese firewall (thank you for your long ago recommendation of witopia). After showing sites with pictures and info regarding topics such as Tiananmen Square, the Dalai Lama, Falun Gong, etc my friend was in tears. She had been very aware that China was censoring information and putting its own spin on events, but she never grasped its extent. The next day she said to me “I hate what my country has done and feel very sad. But I also still have a love for China. I don’t know what it is I really feel.” I told her that in this case I might be able to appreciate exactly what she was feeling and welcomed her to the world of far from perfect countries.

I remember at my office in Beijing when I showed my Chinese colleagues photos of Tank Man, a photo that practically none had ever seen. They told me the only photos they’d seen of June 4 were of Chinese soldiers murdered and burned by angry workers. They were amazed when I told them about Tank Man and why he captured the imagination of the world outside of China. And I remember one of them arguing with me that he should have conformed and not meddled in affairs that weren’t his business. But hey, at least we were having a dialogue about it.

This all brings back to mind a conversation I had with one of the very first friends I had in China back in 2002. I asked about how she felt about her country, and she said how much she loved China. “I love my country,” she said, “but my country doesn’t love me.” (I think she told me that was a popular saying, but honestly I don’t remember so well.) Very powerful words. The girl referenced in the letter above who suddenly realizes all that her government is hiding from her, she is actually saying the same thing. She loves her country, but her country doesn’t love her. They don’t trust her enough to know and learn and think for herself.

“I love my country, but my country doesn’t love me.”

The Discussion: 36 Comments

From what I have read off Chinese news papers, Google has terminated it’s cell phone project with China, unilaterally.

January 20, 2010 @ 10:37 am | Comment

Honestly I am quite surprised that nobody in your office have seen the Tank Man photo. I have seen it quite a few times in 1990’s in China and surely numerous times in 2000’s in the States when somebody want to vent some anger. I can be sure that most of my friends, both inside or outside China, have seen them. I am starting to wonder what people you are hanging out with….

January 20, 2010 @ 12:22 pm | Comment

They were actually newspaper editors. One of the five or six I asked had seen it, but she had worked in the US for years. Looking at the letter Fallows posted, it’s not hard to believe. How would they have seen it? What would have led them there? We had quite a long talk about it, too. They were totally fascinated.

Where in China did you see the Tank Man photo? I was there for years and the only place I ever saw it was on blocked web sites.

January 20, 2010 @ 12:26 pm | Comment

Most of my friends in Beijing are familiar with the Tank men photo, and have quite good understanding of what happened in 6.4, though some of them do put more emphasis on the hurt soldiers than the slaughtered civilians (but they too know it happened). Some witnessed the events themselves, some remember news reports, and some of my younger friends heard stories from their parents.
People I know in rural Yunnan, on the other hand, have only a very faint idea anything happened at all.

January 20, 2010 @ 12:49 pm | Comment

Thanks Rachel. It may have to do with who you ask. It was one of the most interesting conversations I had when I lived in Beijing, hearing all of my colleagues’ impressions of what happened and sharing my own.

Also, these were very young ladies, most just out of college. That may have had something to do with it.

January 20, 2010 @ 12:51 pm | Comment

I’ve found that pretty much anybody 30 years or younger has NO idea about Tian’anmen, and those that do know about it pretty much believe that the students involved were murderers and savage traitors to their country. It will be an incredibly awkward wave of cognitive dissonance when the truth comes out.

January 20, 2010 @ 1:00 pm | Comment

The truth will not come out for decades, and after 50 or 100 years no one cares.

January 20, 2010 @ 1:46 pm | Comment

By the way, it’s already been more than 20 years… A helluva lot of Chinese people think that is a “very long time ago”…

January 20, 2010 @ 1:48 pm | Comment


In China, this is a sensitive topic .We do not want/fear to talk about this.

“and those that do know about it pretty much believe that the students involved were murderers and savage traitors to their country.”—How could we trust a guy who forbid us to explore the truth.

January 20, 2010 @ 2:05 pm | Comment

We love China but the CCP doesnΒ΄t love her, he just keep raping her.

January 20, 2010 @ 2:51 pm | Comment

And interesting twist to the story from foreign policy


And a insightful comment in slashdot

“When the Chinese became part of the WTO, they signed treaties stating:

“China will provide non-discriminatory treatment to all WTO Members. All foreign individuals and enterprises, including those not invested or registered in China, will be accorded treatment no less favourable than that accorded to enterprises in China with respect to the right to trade.” – WTO, 2001 [wto.org]

In other words, “all foreign enterprises will be treated the same as domestic enterprises in China”.

By pulling Avatar in favor of domestic movies, limiting foreign films to 10 days run time, and limiting the number of screens available China is violating its commitments under the law. It would be like the US banning Chinese manufactured imports because those imports were too successful compared to domestic brands.

China needs to honor its commitments to free trade, or be kicked out of the WTO. Which, coincidentally, would make it legal for the US to ban their imports.”

January 20, 2010 @ 4:10 pm | Comment

My sister in law’s son knows about the Tank Man (definitely does now as there was a documentary on it in NZ recently) and he tells me a lot of his friends know too. He’s 19. My sister in law, as I said once, stayed up til late reading all about it.
It is a sensitive subject, but then so is Abu Graib (sp?) for the US Army and that was uncivered by a US reporter and reported in the US media. Did that cause riots and stuff in the US? Britain, Belgium, Germany…all have had their very dirty laundry aired in public by their own media…yet nothing. So what does the CCP fear? Or is, maybe, China not as cohesive a society as we are constantly told it is (and this I very much doubt…though I’d hedge my bets wrt restive “autonomous” regions…).

Eco, how do you kick someone out when they’ve got the rest by the short and curlies?

January 20, 2010 @ 4:58 pm | Comment

You let go your curlies πŸ˜‰

January 20, 2010 @ 5:26 pm | Comment

This topic is just a laugh, I mean Tian’anmen whatever you like to call it. But will history forget it as some of you have suggested? well, I have my doubts…

January 20, 2010 @ 9:04 pm | Comment

I fail to see what’s the big deal to show them pictures of Tank man, falun gong, Dalai Lama among other things. Sure, they won’t see China as the all-righteous country. But I doubt that most will people go in an all out protest against the government to uncensor the stuff because they have other things to worry about.

January 20, 2010 @ 11:06 pm | Comment

True, pug. So you are in favor of lifting the censorship? I’m impressed.

January 20, 2010 @ 11:12 pm | Comment

Tiananmen, Falun Gong, and the Dalai Lama are three totally different cases. Here is my simple, yet absolutely correct, attitude:

Tiananmen: Government bad, students good.
Falun Gong: Government bad, wheelers bad.
Dalai: Government good, Dalai bad.

January 21, 2010 @ 1:43 am | Comment


I don’t like censorship and I rather see censorship lifted. However, I also see a more troubling problem with information manipulation and misdirection. For example, if tomorrow China’s censorship was lifted and someone wants information about Tiananmen square, do you think an average Chinese wants information on Tianamen square as a tourist sight or 1989 Tiananmen square. The ‘uncensored’ version of google certainly wants to tell you what you want to see. I’m sure that in some hindsight they would know like to know what happened in 1989 but we should give them the information and let them judge for themselves instead of telling them what they should think.

January 21, 2010 @ 4:00 am | Comment

Google’s algorithm doesn’t work the way you may like, but it assumes the person doing the searching has a mind, so if they don’t find what they are looking for up at the top they can scroll down or refine their search. If they search for Tianamen Square and the first listing is a Wikipedia entry on the 1989 demonstrations, Google assumes the user will see that directly below it is an entry on the history and details of the square, and if they scroll further they’ll find other non-1989-related links. What goes at the top depends on a number of factors, like the page’s google ranking (Wikipedia almost always becomes the No. 1 hit because its ranking is as high as it goes), inbound links, etc. Everyone in the world has figured out how to get through the clutter to find what they are looking for using Google, and I know the Chinese who are new to it can do the same. They don’t need to be coddled or protected.

January 21, 2010 @ 4:16 am | Comment


Regarding the Dalai Lama – how is is government good, Dalai bad? He was kicked out in 1959 – what reference can one have for the government?DL being good or bad in this case? For all we know, the DL might have been the best thing since the wheel for Tibet…or the worst. But we will never know and we cannot make assumptions.

January 21, 2010 @ 5:02 am | Comment

Mike, that is such a loaded question.

January 21, 2010 @ 5:08 am | Comment

I am too tired to explain to you why China is good and the Dalai bad. Go read this yourself.


January 21, 2010 @ 5:14 am | Comment

Serve, Dalai’s involvement stopped in 1959. A whole heap of zeitgeist and stuff has moved on since then. Even China is not the same as 1959. All I am saying is…how can you compare unless you have a model showing what Tibet would be like had DL still been head honch πŸ™‚ I am not saying China has not been good for Tibet or bad. I think it has been quite good.
I dare say Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan etc were pretty backward in 1959. Are they still the same today as they were then?

Sorry, it’s the scientist in me. Can’t make assumptions without evidence otherwise it’s just opinion. We can say why we are as we are by looking at the past but we cannot say we’d be this or that way had the past been different because we don’t know what the intervening years would have been like as they didn’t exist in the form we want them to exist as. Saying China good, DL bad is pointless as we have no idea what DL would have been like for Tibet between 1959 and the present.

I’ll try for an example – was Mao in 1948 the same guy as Mao in 1966? Or another – was the CCP in 1959 the same as the CCP now?

My apologies, Richard πŸ™‚

January 21, 2010 @ 5:33 am | Comment

Compare today’s Lhasa to today’s Dharamsala.

Lhasa has train service and airport; Dharamsala has no paved roads.

January 21, 2010 @ 5:42 am | Comment

Mike, you should know the answer by now – we’ve discussed it a thousand times here, and every Chinese friend of mine has the exact same answer as Serve does, and I understand it. They even use the same words and images when they discuss it (paved roads, more money spent than on any other minority, better infrastructure, end of serfdom, higher income, improved standard of living, etc.). If you don’t know this argument, go here and read the best article I know about it, then come back and argue with Serve. But it would create serious thread drift if we go in that direction now, and history shows no one gives an inch on this topic.

January 21, 2010 @ 5:48 am | Comment

True…but is Dharamsala today the same as 1959? And is Dharamsala today equivalent to Lhasa? Don’t forget, Lhasa is the capital of an autonomous region, Dharamsala is a town in India. Again, we’re talking apples and pears here. Lhasa has infrastructure paid for by the state but I dare say Dharamsala gets little from the state.

I stress again I’m not being “pro-Tibet” or anything. I didn’t say anything about your other comparisons as I think the evidence is there. Just in this case we don’t have enough evidence to make a meaningful comparison.

I have these arguments with my wife all the time πŸ˜€

January 21, 2010 @ 5:49 am | Comment

Sorry again, Richard. Like I said, it’s an argument I have with my wife. Totally neutral on this stance. I do know the arguments showing why China is good – I guess Britain should ask for India back again…after all, their trains run on ex-British rails πŸ˜‰
I’ll stop.

Mind you, regarding the inch giving, my wife now sees my point and she now questions stuff. Even does the same to me which makes me question stuff I say too.

Here endeth the red herring.

January 21, 2010 @ 5:52 am | Comment

My client in China used to lecture me about “the Dalai Lama clique.” Aaargh. I had no choice but to smile and nod.

January 21, 2010 @ 5:58 am | Comment

No, Google is just another company that knows where money is.
After bedding the CPP for 4 years but still could beat the local boy Baidu, Google finally figured it might be good PR move to make some noise.

There is an old Chinese saying: “Whores want their Paifang, too”.

January 21, 2010 @ 10:57 am | Comment

Observer, that’s a pure and total crock. Google had enough cash in the bank to hang on as No. 2 for many years to come. They were pissed about China;s policies and dirty tricks. There’s no doubt about that. Sure, they generated a lot of PR, that was partly the point. But it wasn’t about market share. And the effect is going to be a whole new look at China from global investors, something China won’t be happy about. Google wins. Even if they go (which they probably won’t.)

From Henry Blodget today, writing for AdAge:

Google matters in China now. The announcement that Google was threatening to pull out spawned public support for the company in China. It got Secretary of State Hillary Clinton into the act. It forced the Chinese government to respond with a statement. It has grabbed the attention of investors, as well as the hundreds of other companies that do business in China and are forced to play by Chinese rules. It will focus more public attention on the reality of China’s censorship policies than any boycott ever could have.

In short, by playing ball with China until it had some real leverage, Google has a much better chance of actually forcing the government to change.

And that’s the real goal here–change. If Google forces any change at all in China, it will have done more for China’s 1 billion-plus citizens than it would have if it had boycotted the country from the beginning.

How will the situation resolve itself? The parties will likely bluster for a while, negotiate, and then reach a compromise. There is no way the Chinese government will completely drop its censorship of Google. And for Google to walk away from $600 million in revenue now, a $10 billion-plus opportunity long-term, and the ability to exert further pressure will be extraordinarily painful, so the company should be willing to compromise.

So expect both parties to hug and make up and quietly declare victory to their mutual constituencies — while reserving the right to take further action.

But Google has played the overall China situation maturely and brilliantly. It has not been evil. It has balanced the interests of its shareholders, employees, and, importantly, Chinese people. It has also done the most it can to address an appalling and ridiculous injustice in the world’s most populous country.

Yes, Google outsmarted the party. I have to give them credit, even if I have issues with their policies.

January 21, 2010 @ 11:01 am | Comment

I just saw the movie Avatar. If you make the following substitutions,
Pandora = Tibet
Na’vi people = Tibetans
Humans = Han Chinese
Jake Sully = Heinrich Harrer
The Tree = the Dalai Lama,
you get the idea why tree huggers hate China. That scene of the blue people holding hands and chanting by that Tree is so hilarious.

January 21, 2010 @ 12:54 pm | Comment

β€œI love my country, but my country doesn’t love me.” This is a pretty normal feeling.

The real problem is with those in China who don’t realize they are being abused or even support and enjoy the abuse by their country, as exemplify by those who posted comments like ” Google out of China”. They are pervert

January 21, 2010 @ 12:55 pm | Comment

On why the Dalai is bad

He has run Dharamsala for half century and during this time received enormous amount of money from CIA and many wealthy Western supporters. Yet he has not bothered to pave a single road. You wonder where all the money has gone. Well he makes numerous foreign vacations each year, traveling with a large entourage to places like Aspen. Then he helps his many brothers to comfortably settle in Western countries, while asking other Tibetans in Dharamsala to remain in refugee status, not taking up the Indian citizenship.

January 21, 2010 @ 1:54 pm | Comment

@ #31

I made a (slightly) tongue-in-cheek comment on CNReviews a few weeks back that Avatar was a perfect analogy for the Chinese invasion of Tibet.

It’s only now I realise that this remark found its way to CCP HQ.

No wonder the film was pulled.

January 21, 2010 @ 11:33 pm | Comment

[…] potentially leaving China. We’ve heard that Google will undeniably shut down, and that they might not; that Google is taking a stand for beliefs, or just can’t compete in China; that the Chinese […]

January 26, 2010 @ 9:29 pm | Pingback

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