Watching Google take on China, or China take on Google, has become something of a sport for media junkies, but it’s instructional for the rest of us as well because it provides insight into how even a giant company.

For as long as Google as been around, the Chinese could “google” something, but government blocks on the www.google.com site often frustrated their efforts. Believing that being able to supply some information is better than being unable to provide any, Google agreed to offer a censored version of its Internet search services at a new site, www.google.cn, in return for a license to operate in China.

Google’s compliance with China has sparked debate about whether Google is contradicting its mission by limiting search features. In the wake of the Google China controversy, Lee Kai-fu, co-president of Google China, spoke at Stanford University on February 5, 2006, to a room of 250 people at the Graduate Community Center. The audience may have been expecting an explanation for Google’s choice to censor its search capabilities in China, but Lee briefly reviewed Google’s progress in China only at the end of his talk, which focused largely on his own personal goals and achievements. There were twenty or thirty loud and determined protesters at the meeting, but Lee did not take any questions or have any interactions with protesters after what was essentially a motivational speech—much to the irritation and bewilderment of the protesters.

Ironically, even though Google China has technically complied with Chinese authorities, and made its search results consistent with the unofficial but wildly recognized Chinese “firewall” (that exists with the cooperation of the eight regional Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that handle all Internet traffic in China), it has not ingratiated itself with Chinese authorities. Other Chinese websites and search engines (such as sohu.com and baidu.com) censor, or “filter” content without mentioning censorship, but Google China’s website says explicitly that the results are censored (an English translation of the text on Google.cn: Some search results do not show because of local laws, regulations, and policies”). This explicit statement annoys the Chinese government. The sad end result? A politically insensitive Google gets itself into trouble both in the United States and in China, and ends up pleasing none.

Source: Christensen, Karen. (2006). Virtual China: Google.cn. Guanxi: The China Letter, 1, 9.