Google and China: not a pullout, not an end to censorship, but a shutdown of

Siva Vaidhyanathan notes that "Google says 'we stopped censoring' and many are buying it. In reality, Google shut down" Danny Sullivan expands on this critical line of thinking in a Search Engine Land post:
Beginning today, Google is no longer censoring results on its Chinese search engine, the company has announced. But rather than the expected “pullout” from China, Google hopes to continue operating within the country. It all comes down to whether the Chinese government decides operating off a Hong Kong domain — rather than the main Chinese domain — lets Google get around its censorship rules.

(...)Specifically, Google said that it is no longer censoring on its search services — Google Search, Google News China & Google Images — that were aimed at people in China. In reality, those services have actually been closed. If you try to reach them, you get redirected to a new domain.


  1. So um, how does this prevent China from breaking into people’s Gmail accounts again? Could someone please explain that part?

  2. I think there is a more interesting angle here. Hong Kong has largely been free from restrictions seen in the rest of China due to its status as a British colony. Google is moving their services there in order to prevent censorship.

    They are calling China’s bluff. As a matter of rule of law they can operate (more) freely. If the Chinese central government decides to crack down there it will expose its capriciousness.

    I think it is a fine move. They can no longer operate freely in China proper so they exploit the special status of Hong Kong and if/when that falls apart because of the government they will have exhausted their options. Sometimes when faced with complete autocracy all you can do is expose it plainly. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is a shining example of what that simple act can do.

  3. No Google Did not lie, they accomplished their goal of not censoring content in China by using the URL for Hong Kong. Now it’s up to the Chinese government to decide if they will let that fly or not. What more could Google have done?

  4. This NYT article explains what they’re doing much better than Sullivan’s BS analysis.

    This is just absolutely wrong: First, that Google states what it is doing is entirely legal. Second, that it clearly doesn’t know if this is entirely legal, as it has “hope” the Chinese government “respects” the move. If it’s entirely legal, then Google shouldn’t need to be hoping.

    The second bolded point doesn’t say anything about the legality of their move – it merely says that they hope China’s government doesn’t move to censor

    Sullivan is obviously just a google-hating troll. *Yawn*

  5. I live in Shanghai and it’s true, booted up the laptop and went straight to, did not pass go, did not collect 200RMB.

  6. Teapot, just because there’s not a law against Google forwarding their page to a server in Hong Kong doesn’t mean the Chinese government won’t decide to ban them for doing it.

    1. I never said China couldn’t ban them, I was merely pointing out that Sullivan’s analysis is flawed and skewed to mislead people who can’t be bothered doing the reading for themselves, and who want to jump on the bandwagon with the latest generation of smarmy internet user: the Google-hater.

      Hating things is not new….. and there is better things to hate on than a search engine. No matter what Google decides to do from this point on, there is always gonna be some pissy dweeb bagging Google on their blog. It’s old… get over it.

      PS: starcraft II *drools*

  7. Er…you reported exactly this three hours earlier, didn’t you, Xeni? From the previous post: “Users visiting are now being redirected to, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese….”

  8. Bold move on Googles part. Really leaves the ball in China’s court more than anything. Draws a lot of attention to the issue at the same time.

    I applaud the effort.

  9. Unless Google also takes immediate “action” against Singapore, New Zealand, UK, even their own USA for all their (varying) degrees of web censorship, then Google are just hypocrites… plain and simple.

    1. @#14 – What kind of “action” do you suggest? You can’t get much more unfiltered than…. unfiltered. Go do some reading, schmoe.

    2. @14’s reply is pretty much a straight 50cent army line: other nations do bad things, so China should get carte blanche.

      What we’re seeing here is yet another company that is tired of the Chinese government & Chinese companies’ poor treatment of foreign business & foreign business partners.

      There was Huawei back in 2003, ripping off their business partner Cisco wholesale >

      More recently there was the Chinese Government’s arrest of Rio Tinto employees because they were all butthurt about their state-owned metals company’s bid being rejected >,0,5835113.story
      (which makes their statement “We’re uncompromisingly opposed to the politicization of commercial issues, and express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conducts” deliciously hypocritical > )

      As an expat living in China, I’m pretty excited to see such a big player leave – the more that the Chinese government is shown that it can’t continue to act like a spoiled child on the international stage, the more likely it is that things will change.

  10. Personally, I feel proud to support any company that refuses to do business with the PRC. It can be about Tibet, it can be about theft, it can be about spying, it can be about censorship… there’s a million good reasons not to be setting up shop with mainland China.

    @Anon #14: Yes, we all know it’s a popular tack to equivocate the US and China’s records on censorship and human rights. But you said it yourself – varying degrees. If you think the level of net censorship in the US is bad, try living in cyber-China for awhile and try to tell me it’s an even remotely similar experience.

  11. This is a big misnomer, I’ve read so much on it that I’m not going to bother with this article.

    But… the legal issue is that by providing an uncensored feed (or whatever the Chinese gov’t calls it) Google is breaking the law. Agree or not, you don’t want to be liable for prosecution in China.

    That’s what the author is essentially proposing they do in order to make the claim’s they are – and to be utterly truthful in them, at least.

    This is Google calling out their need to censor if they host on mainland China, and saying they find it unacceptable. It’s a big company, and that stands for something. It’s not like any other corporation with money to be made in China has made a similar call, or at least not many. Credit where credit is due – it’s something in a landscape of compliance by most.

    By hosting the service in Hong Kong – which it always has, for HK residents – and directing Chinese users there, Google aren’t technically breaking Chinese law.

    In saying “they hope China respects it” they’re saying “We hope China doesn’t block it”.

    They have blocked YouTube, Sites and Blogger and partially blocked other Google services. List is here:

  12. And hey – a kid Googling Tiananmen square in China today gets the full story for the first time ever. At least until they try and click through…

  13. I trust google as little as I trust I trust china. And why is anyone who dislikes google a troll? I dislike and distrust google. I am not trolling and I strongly assert my right to like or dislike whatever I choose, I have no desire to provoke people or influence their choices, the folks who think disliking gooogle is blasphemous are the trolls. This example of spin doctoring by google is misleading and dishonest, that’s the bottom line.

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