Chinese plead with Google not to quit

Web users risk wrath of state with floral tribute outside internet giant's Beijing HQ

Google's threat to withdraw from China sent shockwaves through the country's internet users yesterday. Some pleaded with the search engine not to abandon them, while others applauded its tough stance after it uncovered cyber attacks on Chinese human rights activists.

While there was no official reaction from the government, ordinary people lit candles and left flowers outside the company's headquarters in Beijing. "Google – a real man" read one note attached to a bouquet at the Tsinghua Science Park. In such a politically charged environment as China, where dissent is not tolerated, the laying of flowers is a daring move.

Security at the science park has declared the act "illegal flower donation", according to a flurry of Twitter messages. "China has created a new term: 'illegal flower donation'. To put 'illegal' and 'flower donation' together in one phrase, we live in an era of truly distorted values," said one Tweet. (Although use of Twitter is blocked by the so-called Great Firewall of China, the web-savvy use virtual private networks or proxy servers to get around restrictions.)

China's online community is the world's biggest, with 338 million users, and the sheer scale of the outpouring illustrates the irritation of many with Beijing's "net nannies" and highlights the difficulty China faces in stopping freedom of speech online.

China's booming economy needs the internet, but the government dislikes the platform it provides for dissent and has tried to control content and steer it towards commercial applications, rather than into politically murky waters.

News that hackers had been trying to spy on Chinese dissidents and US and European human rights campaigners using Google's email system, brought swift retaliation from the Californian company. It said it would no longer censor search results on its website, as it controversially promised to do when it set up Google.cn four years ago. It was the highest-profile act of defiance by a foreign firm in China in the face of Communist Party influence.

So far the response from the Beijing government has been muted. An official with the information office of China's State Council, the country's cabinet, said that internet authorities were seeking more information on Google's statement. "It is still hard to say whether Google will quit China or not. Nobody knows," the unnamed official told the Xinhua news agency.

Everyone, from carmakers to widget factories to visiting theatre groups, has to bow to the government's stringent rules on how they operate in China. However, if a company of the stature of Google makes a stand on issues of censorship and freedom of speech, it could cause others to act in a similar fashion.

Chinese reporting of the story has focused on the fact that the decision triggered fears of job losses for 700 local staff, but there has been no reference to broader issues about censorship.

Google's China-based Google.cn site agreed to censor results by excluding sites that cited the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, Tibetan independence or Falun Gong. With around 30 per cent of search revenues last year, Google trails local competitor Baidu, which has about 60 per cent, but has been gaining market share.

As Baidu shares yesterday surged,its top executive called Google's move "hypocritical". "What Google said makes me sick," said Sun Yunfeng. "If you are to quit for the sake of financial interest, then just say it."

Cong, a 25-year-old internet user who lives in Beijing, said she preferred Google to Baidu. "But I don't like that it quits China for censorship," she said. "I know censorship is not fair sometimes. But I hope they can talk to the government, rather than blackmail them. I feel optimistic about this issue, since China is too important to lose."

Out of site: Internet censorship - By Jack Riley

In a country where censorship is rife, it's little surprise that of the internet's treasure trove of illicit, and often explicit, information, huge swathes are kept from the Chinese public via a number of highly advanced technological methods. The People's Republic of China has made more than 60 regulations on what is and isn't allowed on the internet in the country, which are enforced by an army of internet police, although the exact number is not known; conservative estimates say there are tens of thousands of them.

Though a version of Google.com was available earlier, it was 2006 when the first self-censored version of Google's search engine, Google.cn, appeared, and 2007 when the company's shareholders voted down a proposal which sought to resist censorship globally, after a Harvard study estimated that more than 18,000 websites were absent from search results in the country. The censorship process is shrouded in secrecy, but blocking a site involves suspending internet traffic destined for computer servers which have been flagged by authorities as containing unsuitable content as part of the government's $800m "Golden Shield Project", as well as banning any site whose address contains any of a number of potentially unsuitable keywords.

Blocked content goes deeper than just searches for pages related to the Tiananmen Square massacre or Taiwanese and Tibetan independence, though: in 2008, a former university professor described Google as "a servile Pekingese dog" for censoring his name from search results, after he founded a democratic opposition party which raised the ire of authorities.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own