The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

A rant: Google, China, and censorship

There has been much discussion lately about Google’s move to launch 谷歌 (gu ge, “Harvest Song” or “Valley Song”) in China, complying (as other companies have done) with the communist leadership’s demands to censor Web pages they don’t like. The criticisms generally run along the lines of “whatever happened to ‘do no evil’?” and “how can you tacitly support such a repressive régime?”

Their answer is simple enough — “we had no choice” — and the news mightn’t be entirely bad. The fact that Technorati lists hundreds of posts about Google China in Chinese (garnering a “top search” spot on the front page) suggests that even with a restrictive government, the Chinese people themselves are happily embracing the kinds of people-power technologies that are coming out of the Western world. Yes, the Communist Party aren’t hesitating to imprison journalists for thoughtcrime, but if Google China can encourage more engagement between China and the outside world, that should become progressively harder to do.

For a long time I was suspicious of the policy, championed by the US and strongly supported by the Australian government, of “constructively engaging” China in the hope that this would somehow magically make it a freer and more democratic society sometime in the future. But I actually think that for now, it’s probably the best play to make, since being confrontational to the current Chinese leadership isn’t exactly going to get very far. If China’s already-huge population of Web users is allowed to develop (and having access to Google is a big part of that), I can see real hope that they’ll embrace Western ideals more and more, eventually leading to a groundswell of democratic sympathisers inside China.

As my supervisor is fond of saying, the single biggest prerequisite for China turning democratic is for a strong civil society ‘infrastructure’ to be established first.

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