Google -- the Internet Giant -- took a shot at Beijing last week. Whether that shot will start a war is doubtful. One thing is certain: It has brought out all the pundits -- the China haters and detractors vs. the China defenders -- around the world. Mainstream media opinions and editorials abound with everyone attempting to offer their "expert opinions." Bloggers went to work immediately, tossing in their informed and uninformed two cents worth.
Knowing China and knowing about China are two different things. Those who know about China have gotten the majority of their information from the Western mainstream media, which has a bias against China and from human rights activists who, without a doubt, have a bone to pick with China.
Those who know China are in a different basket. They have lived and worked in China. They have chosen to set aside their preconceived notions about China and experience the true China. I am one of those people, arriving in China after experiencing Asian culture in other countries for seven years, in August, 2007.
My university students came up with a list of other suspects as well -- which everyone else seems to be ignoring. "They could have been sponsored by America wanting to embarrass China" said one student. "Google people could have done it for business reasons or to try to put pressure on the government" said another student. Another student posited that "Tibet and Dali Lama could have done it to put focus on their stupid complaints." Yet another student posited that "some dissidents could have done it to make them look good for America and bring attention to what they see as problems."
Despite the possible different hackers and motivations, the majority of the students said that the government probably did the dirty deed. None expressed outrage. The full consensus was that the government should do that type of thing for the safety and security of China. A close second in the debate was that America probably did it "because America is always trying to tell us what to do and think."
Google, in retaliation to the hackings committed by persons unknown, foolishly decided to try to "punish" the Chinese government by demanding that China relax its censorship rules on the company, and hence, the Chinese people. Beijing reacted predictably, saying in essence, but much more diplomatically, "go to hell. You want to do business in China, you do it our way or no way."
Who uses Google.com.cn in China? Only one third of the netizens. They represent primarily college students, college graduates, international business people and those who wish to try to overthrow the government. Of course, Westerners have a different term for those people -- those who wish to bring reform and human rights to the country.
Why do the majority of Chinese netizens use the Chinese search engine Baidu? Part of it is habit. A secondary and much larger reason is that the search results are Chinese information and interest dominated.
Baidu gives priority to Chinese-based websites. Google China does not do this. This is important to Chinese people, despite many people's ability to read English. They would rather read things in Chinese than in English. It is easier. It is faster. It is part of the pride in Chinese culture.
Countries around the world are making efforts to censor the Internet. Australia is poised to start censoring. Add to the list other "free" countries like France and Italy who are censoring different things. Great Britain is watching with interest these efforts to censor the Internet and, if they are successful, will no doubt attempt to follow suit.
Great Britain recognized this fact decades ago when they allowed the British Empire to shrink dramatically. America however does not seem to be able to learn the sociological aspects of history. It goes blindly forward demanding and propagating human rights with almost zero success. They will not however, be deterred in their quest.
Most Chinese are nonplused by Google's antics and threats to withdraw from China. Ultimately, if the Chinese people had to rely on the full English version of Google, it would no doubt dramatically improve their English reading and comprehension abilities. To that end, should Google depart from China, it may be doing the Chinese people a big favor.