WRITE for ATol ADVERTISE MEDIA KIT GET ATol BY EMAIL ABOUT ATol CONTACT US
Asia Time Online - Daily News
             
Asia Times Chinese
AT Chinese



    China Business
     Apr 14, 2010
Page 3 of 3
Google vs China: the endgame
By John Parker

Is this leaked document genuine? Of course, the mere existence of information on the Internet has no necessary relationship to provenance or truth value. Having said that, the document's consistency with known PRC policy; its high level of detail and thoroughness; its stilted, bureaucratic language ("relevant departments", "managers in different regions"); and the reporting about it by high-profile media organizations including the Daily Telegraph (UK), BBC, and the Washington Post argue that it is genuine. A definitive proof would require the cooperation of Twitter, which was reportedly used for the original leak; Twitter presumably knows the identity of the leaker, at least in the form of a DNS number, but the company has made no public statement about the leak.

Assuming the document is genuine, what does it mean? First, it clearly shows that the CCP itself perceives the Google case as

  

important, and a potential source of public unrest. Second, it shows that Chinese journalists and intellectuals investigate, or comment on, controversial topics at their own peril. Third, it shows that the censorship goes far beyond text articles and includes images, sound and video clips. (Technically, because of the inferior capabilities of image searching technology compared to text search technology, the blocking of images is quite difficult, which suggests a possible strategy for anyone wishing to post forbidden material.) Fourth, it is remarkably explicit about the state policy of completely suppressing alternative views; the "additional guidelines" make it quite clear that as far as the Chinese government is concerned, no Chinese person has the right to hear Google's statements on the issue, insofar as those views differ from the CCP's. In these guidelines, one could easily substitute "The Dalai Lama", "Taiwan", "Wei Jingsheng", or even "Barack Obama" for "Google", and they would still be perfectly applicable. Simply stated, in China, no one is allowed to publish an opinion different from the CCP party line; the difference from democratic societies is quite stark, however much some might not wish to hear this.

Humorous aspects
Historically, when a country tries to suppress free speech, one of the most common ways that country's citizens respond is by disguising forbidden opinions; there are many ways to do so, ranging from fictionalized accounts of current events, to symbolic protests, to artwork, to humor. One of the most remarkable phenomena on the Chinese Internet is the use of humor, especially homonymic puns, to vent frustration over unpopular government policies, and the Google affair has provided additional examples of this.

The most famous is the appearance of the Gu Ge, or "Google Dove". The "Google Dove" is the latest in a series of "Internet mythical creatures"; inventing and naming such creatures as a form of protest has become very popular among Chinese netizens. [2] To understand the "Google Dove", one must first know that Google's Chinese name is pronounced "Gu Ge", but these same two syllables (with different tonal inflection) can also mean "old dove". To satirically protest Google's departure, a number of Chinese netizens began posting pictures of Gu Ge, using dove images overlaid with a rainbow of primary colors reminiscent of the Google logo. As the coinage spread, an entire natural history of the faux-species was elaborated. One such essay is replete with sly references to government policy and past "mythical creatures" but maintains a dry birdwatching-guide-like narrative voice, complete with ornithological terminology (translated by the author with the help of Google Translate):
The "Old Dove" is currently endangered in China. The birds originated in North America, according to biologists, who have found their ancestors living in the equivalent of today's Santa Clara County, California, near Mountain View. During the late 20th and early 21st century, the species spread all over the world, but starting on March 23, 2010, a huge flock suddenly began migrating along the coast to a port in southern China, to avoid extinction in mainland China. This has puzzled scientists. ... According to American Indian legend, this bird has a very important habit, described in an Indian language as "don't be evil"; translated into Chinese, it means "afraid of River Crabs". When the species encountered an environment with too many river crabs, they could not survive as well as grass-mud horses, so instead, they went south. Some animal lovers around the world have called this a disgrace to the biosphere. The "Old Dove" has a gentle personality, flies fast and has accurate navigation capabilities, sharp vision, and a strong ability to find things ... along with poultry, it is one of the species most beloved by the masses, and has made an indelible contribution to the development of human civilization."
It may be necessary to explain the two previous "mythical creatures" referred to in this piece, the "River Crab" and the "Grass Mud Horse". Since the CCP justifies curtailed freedoms in China by invoking the need to maintain a "harmonious society", victims of Internet censorship are popularly said to have been "harmonized". In Chinese "harmonized" is pronounced "hexie"; the same syllables with different inflection can mean "river crab". The word for "crab", in countryside slang, can also mean a bully who maintains power using violence. So the "River Crab" has become a symbol for crude censorship backed by the threat of force. "Grass Mud Horse" is also a homonym; in this case of the phrase cao ni ma, which can also mean "f--- your mother", depending on the tones used. The "Grass Mud Horse" has become probably the best-known symbol of defiance to the censors, and its massive popularity was only enhanced by the unprintably profane nature of the homonym. Countless essays and blog postings were made about the "Grass Mud Horse" (most deleted as soon as they were found), and the creature has appeared on T-shirts and even limited-edition plush toys. Blogger Zhan Bin, a teacher at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, created a brand-new Chinese character for it, using the radicals for "grass", "mud", and "horse", and proposed this as the 2009 "character of the year".

A number of videos, including mock documentaries, also appeared; the most notorious of these, a "Song of Grass Mud Horse" music video with deliriously obscene lyrics and a children's song-like refrain, supposedly received 1.4 million hits. [3] As Song Han described it, the somber atmosphere when he and other sympathetic Chinese delivered flowers to Google's Beijing office ended on an upbeat note when one young man led the group in a rousing chorus of the "Song of Grass Mud Horse". More than just discontent over Internet policy, the "mythical creatures" phenomenon represented a kind of generalized rage at the state of the nation amongst younger Chinese, strikingly reminiscent of the punk-rock movement in the West. To the extent that the UK in the 1970s was also a money-obsessed society in moral crisis, swept by disturbing social changes, the comparison may be quite apt.

Westerners also milked the Google/China confrontation for humor, especially on April 1, when a piece appeared on the eSarcasm website asserting that the entire dispute was "a hoax" and quoted Brin as supposedly saying: "Really, we're just kidding. Did you honestly believe we'd abandon a market with 1.3 billion people in it for Falun Gong and the Dalai Lama? I don't think so. As of April 2 we are relaunching our Google.cn site, with full content-filtering in place ... Boy did we have you guys fooled." The same day, a Jeremy Goldkorn piece on danwei.org claimed that Google planned to redirect the energies of its entire staff towards the development of geothermal energy technology. Another relevant eSarcasm contribution was entitled "Sweet China o' Mine", parodying the 80s hit Sweet Child o' Mine by Guns N' Roses. A short sample:
They've got some smiles that it seems to me
Are there for the sake of the tyranny
That tells them they can't look at Internet porn, oh my

Now that Sergey's expressed disgrace
The rest of the world is so keen to embrace
Google sayin' so long
And waving Jintao bye-bye

Oh, oh oh oh, sweet China o' mine
Oh, oh, oh, oh, sweet commies of mine
China and the Western left
Quite possibly, the most lasting consequence of the China/Google dispute may be to deepen a breach between the Chinese government and the political left in the West. Grumbling about CCP rule on the left side of the aisle has been evident for some time, but the chorus seems to be growing louder in the last few years.

Historically, Western progressives were sympathetic to the Chinese government because of its officially socialist alignment, which included support for many leftist positions such as equal rights for women, supporting workers over "bosses", protecting minority cultures (supposedly), and so on. However, there is an increasing awareness that in modern China as it actually exists, these positions are being heavily eroded.

Women's rights advocates have uncomfortably noted the return of rampant prostitution and concubinage, with CCP officials among the most prominent perpetrators. Labor groups have noticed that not only does Beijing instantly crush any attempt to form a labor group independent of the government, but also, since the introduction of former president and general secretary Jiang Zemin's "Three Represents" political philosophy in the early 2000s, it has even accepted businessmen as Party members. Since the Party already has a vise-like grip on economic opportunities due to its control of land and commercial financing, this measure has had the effect, in the real world, of creating an incestuous class of untouchable kleptocrats, within which there is little distinction between capitalist exploitation and CCP-cadre exploitation.

As for the protection of minorities, it hardly needs to be said that for Uyghurs, Tibetans, and others, such policies have long since been revealed as a cruel joke masking the reality of Han domination. One symbolic example occurred during this year's Chinese New Year celebration gala, when a government-approved group of Uyghur folk singers joylessly praised CCP rule with lyrics like "The Party's policies are yakexi" (yakexi is the Uyghur word for "good"). The song's inanity quickly became the object of derision among Chinese netizens; Han Han's response was to suggest that yakexi could become the new Internet meme of 2010, replacing "Grass Mud Horse". He then organized a contest to suggest snarky replacement lyrics for the song, with cash prizes for the winners.

In the eyes of the left, however, the most damning argument against Beijing may be the increasingly close relationship between it and large Western corporations, who adore China's huge population of docile, intimidated workers. The involvement of these firms in China has grown so much so quickly that even today, after years of articles about China's imminent rise, very few Westerners realize the vast size and range of corporate investments in China. The Google case might be seen as evidence against this thesis, but in reality, it is the exception that proves the rule: Google left precisely because it is an atypical US corporation, one that takes liberal principles far more seriously than most. The list of multinationals with no such scruples is very, very long.

As if to underline the point, a few days ago, singer Bob Dylan, an icon of the 1960s counterculture, was denied permission to perform in China. Most observers attributed this to a new suspicion of foreign artists that arose two years ago, when Icelandic singer Bjork shouted support for Tibet at a concert in Shanghai. But an incident that more starkly revealed the vast gap in basic beliefs between the Western left and the CCP government would be hard to imagine; for Beijing, protest songs are fine - but only when they are directed against what it sees as its foreign adversaries.

Note: 1. to read one posting of the document, click here
2. An example of Gu Ge as illustrated in Chongqing Evening News
3. Song of The Grass-Mud Horse

John Parker is a China-based freelance writer.

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

1 2 3 Back

 

 

 
 



All material on this website is copyright and may not be republished in any form without written permission.
Copyright 1999 - 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings), Ltd.
Head Office: Unit B, 16/F, Li Dong Building, No. 9 Li Yuen Street East, Central, Hong Kong
Thailand Bureau: 11/13 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin, Prachuab Kirikhan, Thailand 77110