Google, China, and Chinese College Students - Part II

By Brian Glucroft

[Previous post for this series: Part I]

Across China, many college students had no awareness that there were any tensions between Google and the Chinese government.

Many other students were aware of the tension but did not have a strong opinion.  They viewed much of their world very pragmatically and did not feel Google's potential departure from China impacted them.  Some didn't care because they only used a non-Google search tool such as Baidu - Google's main competitor in China.  Some did use Google, but they believed it was only a tool and that there were others that could also meet their needs.  If they were aware of the censorship debate, it was also not seen as an issue impacting their daily lives.

The lack of awareness or level of disinterest in the students may come as a surprise.  The main reason for this is that the average views of Chinese living in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai and of Chinese netizens were not representative of much of the country.  However, they have had a disproportionate influence in the news and on many people's impressions.   

There were, though, a number of students who did have strong opinions and held Google in high regard.  As in the words of one student:

"The people in Google always think 'We are Google' and that they can do anything they want. They think they are great.  They have their own ideas.  They can go their own ways.  They can choose what to do...

I trust them because Google was the first search engine and it was their own idea and their own method.  Baidu copied Google."

Particularly revealing, the student not only had a much more positive opinion of Google than its main Chinese rival, Baidu, but also valued choice, freedom, and originality - very striking values in comparison to those of many people in China's older generations.

Some students also felt that Google was "on their side".  Like many students across China, they readily criticized their government and labeled it as corrupt, but they saw no mechanism through which they could achieve their goals for change.

However, they believed that Google's ideals, strength, ingenuity, and independence from the Chinese government enabled it to be this mechanism.  When Google first announced it was reviewing the feasibility of its operations in China, the students wondered if finally someone would stand up to their government and start the wheels of change.

Then something happened that had a dramatic impact.

Hillary Clinton spoke about China, censorship, cyber intrusions, and about what China should do.

She also spoke about Google.

With one speech the US government caused many of the students who had seen Google in such a positive light to now no longer believe it was on their side.

[Part III is here.]

Based in Shanghai for over four years, Brian Glucroft has worked as a researcher in the user experience field for online services, electronic devices, and software companies, including Microsoft China, and has a new blog at Isidor's Fugue.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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