Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Google, China, Censorship, Compromise: "Totally Wrong;" or, Not

"Google decides to stay in China after all"
ZDNet (March 23, 2010)

"In a compromise move, Google announced they will not abandon the China market after all. Instead, they will move their servers and domain name to Hong Kong, while keeping their developers and sales personnel where they are now on the mainland.

"Google's Hong Kong site will now offer uncensored search results in simplified Chinese for mainlanders, and in traditional Chinese for Hong Kong residents. Visitors to google.cn were already being redirected to google.com.hk on Tuesday morning. 'We believe this new approach [is] a sensible solution to the challenges we've faced,' said David Drummond, senior vice president of Corporate Development, on the Google blog Monday. 'It's entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China.'

"Not surprisingly, China sees things differently. According to the official Xinhua News Agency the head of the Internet Bureau called Google's actions 'totally wrong,' and said that 'Google has violated its written promise it made when entering the Chinese market by stopping filtering on its searching service.' The official also denied responsibility for a recent spate of cyber attacks. '[We] express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conduct.'..."

China: Inter-Dynastic Periods Never Were Very Tranquil

Before anything else, some background about my view of China. I've been a historian, and realize that the position of China in the 8th through early 20th century - particularly from about 1839 to 1949 - is an unusual one for the Middle Kingdom. Here in America, we've heard quite a lot about the Opium Wars (disgraceful situation): not so much of the efforts of the Abbasid Caliphate to hack their way into the minds and hearts of the Tang Dynasty. But that's another topic.

I think there's a good chance that China may resume its position as a major landmark on the world's cultural, economic, and political landscape - and not as the anachronistic hodge-podge of ancient culture, foreign ideologies, all run by people who (in my view) are desperately trying to reconcile their notion of an ideal state to awkward realities.
"...I'm glad to hear that Hong Kong isn't, ah, quite as 'protected' as the masses in the rest of China. I suspect that the party leaders in Beijing realize, at some level, that it wouldn't be a good idea to choke the intellectual and financial life there.

"But that's another topic.

"I'm somewhat impressed that Google's willing to buck the system in the only remaining major worker's paradise on the planet. Not terribly surprised, though: too many people know what's going on in China and Google has a reputation to lose. We don't always call it 'losing face' in the West, but the old-fashioned idea of having values and sticking by them apparently hasn't been entirely lost....
("Google Stops Censoring Service: And This is News" (March 22, 2010))
"There's More to China Than Censorship and Porno Spam
"...I'm still getting 'spam' comments - and they're still very often in Chinese.

"If I didn't know more about China's culture and history, it would be easy to get the impression that there wasn't much more to the country, than naughty chat rooms and young women just aching to be exploited.

"China's gotten through inter-dynastic periods before. I think the chances are pretty good that the Middle Kingdom will emerge from this one, too, with a stable and vibrant society. Which is definitely another topic."
(Google Pulling Out of China? I've Heard Worse News" (March 14, 2010))

Back to Google, China, and Managing the Masses

"Censorship" is a hot-button word for many people. Understandably. I'm against it, by the way.

I also realize that when one group has control of most information channels, there's a real temptation to filter out things that are embarrassing to the group that's on top - or doesn't fit their world view.

For example, I'm old enough to remember when rock music and women wearing slacks were - according to one group - Satanic; and the dying gurgles of McCarthyism.

That was then, this is now, and there's a different lot in charge. They don't seem to like opposition any more than most folks. Remember when cable television was "divisive?" I do. Now it's the Internet. And those upstart news networks. (More: "What is an Information Gatekeeper?," Another War-on-Terror Blog (August 14, 2009))

China's leaders are, in a way, in an unenviable position. They are committed to an ideology which is not only foreign to their culture, but in my view doesn't work very well. Not when the masses are human beings.1 It's not that I sympathize with them: but I think I understand why they don't want their subjects to know too much about the outside world.

It could be called "protecting the masses from foreign lies" or something else euphemistic. I think what China's leaders are doing is censorship.

And I think Google has done a pretty good job (for now) of balancing their reasonable (in my view) desire to make a profit and their (again in my view) admirable desire to not cooperate with state control of information. Under the circumstances, I think that China's official view that Google is "totally wrong" shows that the company is on the right track.

China isn't Alone

On the whole, I like living in America, but I'm not an American chauvinist. Over the years (decades, centuries) this country has been - imperfect. ("United States of America: 232 Years in the Freedom Business," Another War-on-Terror Blog (July 3, 2008))

Not all that long ago, I think we had a very close call, when a strange alliance of interest groups had a shot at 'protecting' the rest of us from the Wicked, Wicked Web. ("Odd Allies: Opposition to Waterboarding and Web Censorship," Another War-on-Terror Blog (March 9, 2008))

When someone makes emotional appeals like 'save the children!,' I get - cautious. Which is definitely another topic.

Related posts:More, about my take on emotions, in other blogs:1 In my youth, both socialism and communism were attractive ideas. I soon realized that they didn't work well in human societies. Maybe if we were more like mole rats, psychologically.

They look good on paper, though.


Brigid said...

Pretty sure you meant 18 here: "China in the 8th through early 20th century"

You also have one too many 'of's: "job of (for now) of balancing"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Thanks for spotting the typo. Fixed.

About the 8th century? That's when the Abbasid Caliphate attacked China. That was durning the Tang Dynasty. China was on top of the world at the time. Prosperous, cosmopolitan, flourishing and engaged with the world.

Then the Abbasids stated hacking their way in from the west.

They failed in their efforts to convert the heathen (from their point of view), but left, in my view, a deep scar. The physical and economic effects of the war didn't seem to have much of an effect, long-term, on the Middle Kingdom. But I've run into the assertion that China's leaders were badly shaken by that particular batch of foreigners.

And that, as a result, they became less engaged with the rest of the world.

That's the "mysterious East" we heard about in the 19th and early 20th century. China had isolated itself - not entirely, but I think significantly.

China is a vast enough land to manage on its own. The problem was, there was no way you can keep foreigners out. While China remained somewhat aloof - and enjoying the benefits and perils of institutional bureaucracy - pale barbarians from the ragged fringe of the world found the Middle Kingdom.

The most famous was Marco Polo.

He, and others, brought back a few samples of civilized tech. More importantly, I think, they brought to the forests and marshes of Europe tales of wonder and power.

Barbarians our ancestors were: smart barbarians. It took a thousand years, but - inspired partly, I think, from tales from the east - developed crossbows, moldboard plows, clipper ships, computers and space ships.

A little before the era of the clipper ship, Europeans reached China in force.

I'm not justifying events like the Opium Wars - at all. On the other hand, I think China's leaders would have been better advised to at least keep up with the barbarians.

Which, however inefficiently, I think they're doing now.

Better late than never?

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

And yes, I know: Marco Polo flourished around 1300: around 700 years ago. I strongly suspect that he wasn't the first outsider to go to China. Just among the most famous.

Arguably, it took longer than a thousand years for Europe to 'catch up' with the (former) center of the civilized world. It depends on what is used as a temporal marker.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

Then there's the Gupta period in India. They did pretty well, too.

As a Wikipedia article points out, "...Gupta made novel advances in the sciences, astronomy (Gupta philosophers proposed that the earth was not flat, but was instead round and rotated on an axis by viewing a lunar eclipses...."

Which sounds pretty impressive until you remember that Ptolemy's Almagest (Latinized Al Kitabulmijisti, more or less, or Great Book) had been written at least a couple centuries earlier.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...

And I'm not going to go on about why so many things in chemistry start with "al".

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