Thursday, January 14, 2010

Whither google.cn?

As you may have heard, in the last few days, Google has been having some domestic issues with Big Mama China. Google suggests that it was infiltrated by Chinese government hackers in an attempt to discover email addresses of Chinese human rights advocates. They said the attack also resulted in some unspecified "intellectual property" being stolen.

The result is that the company may be closing down their Chinese version of Google, which is google.cn, unless China allows them to put up uncensored search results. I can't see how that would happen.

Anyway, it would really suck for me because I use Chinese Google all the time for translation work. So in premature memoriam of google.cn, I now offer a little bit of Chinese googling trivia.


  • Mystery! Today's (Jan. 14, 2010) Google doodle (where they change the logo into a picture) on google.cn is the Four Great Inventions (四大发明, si4 da4 fa1 ming2). Usually there is some holiday or birthday or something to warrant a doodle. But why is this here? The Four Great Inventions (in the Chinese context) are Paper (造纸术 zao4 zhi3 shu4), the Compass (指南针 zhi3 nan2 zhen4), Gunpowder (火药 huo3 yao4), and Movable Type Printing (活字印刷术, huo3 zi4 yin1 shua1 shu4). Yes, Gutenberg, the Chinese did that first, too. So the question is: Why? Theories as to what they are trying to say:

1) The Internet (or Google) is a great invention, too, so don't make us leave you, China.
2) The letters of the logo that are altered are "Go" and "le." This could be a very strange Chinglishy way of saying "we are going," ie, "go 了" (了 (le) is just a modifier of the verb). Or, it could be a phonetic way of saying "Enough!" (够了, gou4 le).
3) It is a way of saying "We love China! It is soo smart!" in a last ditch effort to bribe the Central Government with Google doodles.

  • Google in Chinese is 谷歌 (gu3 ge1), which means "Valley Song." But mostly it is just phoeneticization of "Google."
  • Censorship? I wanted to test how censored the Chinese Google is. So I plugged in the phrase 六四事件 (liu4 si4 shi4 jian4) into both the mainland and the Taiwanese version of Google. 六四事件 is literally the "6-4 Incident," or June 4 Incident, meaning the Tian'anmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989. The mainland version actually came back with about 3 million results. But the top hit is an interview with Premier Zhu Rongji, who says that "I think that China now has enough democracy, so something like (the June 4 Incident) could not happen again."

    A Taiwan Google (google.com.tw) search of the same term, on the other hand, produces more than 11 million results. The top one? The Chinese Wikipedia entry for the Tian'anmen Incident. Talk about freedom of speech. Plus it shows YouTube videos and all kinds of stuff about the massacre. So yes, the mainland version is definitely censored. To be fair, the google.cn version of the results page does say at the bottom: "Due to local government laws and regulations, some search results are not displayed."

5 comments:

Susan Moger said...

I liked your suggestions for "translating" today's "google doodle." I think Google should stay in China. Think of all the cool things people CAN find despite some topics being blocked. I'm sure you can google "free speech" and "censorship" and learn about the pluses of one and the minuses of the other. Also photos and art not available otherwise are accessible on google.cn. Stay, Google, stay!

Ben Moger Williams said...

I agree! I feel like they won't leave. It is too bountiful a market, even if Baidu is beating them. Forgot to mention Baidu in the post. It is the top search engine, but not as good for translation stuff.

Tom Gordon said...

I think it's definitely your third interpretation; they're invoking historical Chinese technological achievements in a reconciliatory/brownnosing gesture. Google may have a massive presence on the Internet today, but they're hardly an inseparable package deal; as in any free market, alternatives exist.

And if you're trying to convince a rebellion-paranoid authoritarian government about the virtue of your unfettered service, by making reference to past "communications mediums" -- including gunpowder among them is a VERY bad idea!

Of course, Google won't leave. For better or worse, like the Alliance in "Firefly", the US and China are far too economically entangled today. The waiting game continues.

kdobson said...

I found the ability to compare search results in different markets, and the message "根据当地法律法规和政策,部分结果未予显示" In accordance with local laws, regulations and policies, some results were omitted. It was really interesting to see what words were/might have been sensitive.

Is there any other service post-Google that still does this?

Ben Moger Williams said...

Hi kdobson
A search of 六四事件 on baidu.com (still based in China as far as I know) shows the same message. Now that Google has moved to HK the same search has no such message and displays 15 million hits! zen me hui shi? You should update your blog btw :) Thanks for the comment!