More about Google in China

In follow up to yesterday’s Gmao post about Google’s compromised search results for the Chinese government, here’s a little scary comparison of historical denial:

In Tiananmen Square in 1989 there was a spontaneous student protest against the oppressive government. The protest itself was then violently disbanded by armed troops, including the use of tanks, with an unknown number of resulting deaths (between 400 and 7000, depending on your source). This is considered to be one of the worst atrocities committed by the People’s Republic of China, although it is possible that it is instead just the most public one. I’d like to think that things have improved since then, with increased relations with the rest of the world leading to a society with a more flexible structure, but there are still serious and significant problems there. Clearly it would be desirable then for the people of China to have wider access to information, which is why there is such an issue over Google trimming its search results to government-ideologically approved websites.

So, here’s a scary example of what this produces:

The most famous symbol of the Tiananmen protest is ‘tank man’, otherwise known as ‘the unknown rebel’.

http://images.google.com/images?q=tiananmen

There he is, many, many times. Let’s have a look on the Chinese version of Google:

http://images.google.cn/images?q=tiananmen

Just as the real man has vanished (some say executed in the following months, some say he’s in hiding in central China), so has all trace of his landmark protest. He was voted by Time magazine as being one of the 100 most important people in the 20th century, but in China he just doesn’t exist. In politics as with people, denial is never a healthy thing.

Pointed out here.

3 thoughts on “More about Google in China”

  1. Apparantly, Yahoo has been criticized for handing over information to the Chinese government. Try Googling “Yahoo human rights violations” for a bit of irony.

  2. While I hate to sound like I’m defending the PRC government, perhaps the reason that tank man doesn’t come out top is that, on Chinese sites, tank man is less prominent in relation to Tiananmen. When people talk about Tianenmen Square over here, it’s usually in reference to the protests. Whereas, if you live in Beijing it’s (I hesistate to say ‘just’) a place. So perhaps tank man’s in there somewhere, he’s just not such a prominent figure in the Chinese culture in relation to Tiananmen.

  3. Greymullet, you have an interesting point there. To test your theory I decided to have a look through the pages of images to see whether tank man turns up at all. It turns out that he does turn up twice on page five. My interest was piqued, so I decided to have a look at the Chinese site that dared to show the tank man. Both pages, in blogs on the same server, were missing. It could be a coincidence, but it struck me as odd. After nine pages of photos, which is the complete amount available through Google China, that was the only time that one of the most famous images from the twentieth century appeared.

    A quick comparison to the Google America search shows that it gives forty-four pages of results, and almost every single one of them has at least one, usually more, pictures of tank man or the Tiananmen massacre.

    The PRC are a government, and as such they have the right to put in whatever laws they want, but Google are aiding the PRC’s restriction of information. It’s not a big surprise really, because it makes very sound business sense for Google, but I had hoped for slightly better from the company with the motto ‘do no evil’… And there we are back into that good/evil binary. Is this ‘evil’ on the part of Google? No, not really, but is it actively attempting to improve the situation of the Chinese people? Again, no it isn’t, and that’s what bothers me. Starting trade relations is one thing, that encourages the government into involvement with the global community and can often increase living conditions (albeit often only a little) on a local scale for workers, but aiding the restriction of information is just too close to supporting an oppressive regieme.

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