What It's Like to Search the Web in China Right Now

By James Fallows

A reader in China sends this report on web-search in the immediate aftermath of Google's decision to stop filtering results. The Witopia mentioned below is a VPN service, which makes a computer inside China seem to be "outside" the country and therefore allows a user there to reach sites that would ordinarily be blocked by the "Great Firewall." Details here. Everything that follows in this post is the reader's report.

_____

"Google's most recent step regarding its presence in China was interesting but the current quick reply from China appears to be even more so.  At last check, this is what I have observed with some quick testing of Google's sites from within China and "outside" of China (through a Witopia connection).  Some findings (as of very early Tuesday morning in China):

From "outside" of China
From inside of China things are not so clean cut
  • As before, go to www.google.cn and you are redirected to www.google.com.hk
  • Innocuous searches in Chinese seem fine as before
  • However, do a more "interesting" search, such as 天安门广场事件 (Tiananmen Square Incident), and no page is able to load. A standard error message is displayed instead (in this case "The connection was reset...")
  • The same results are also found at www.google.com.tw (the site for Taiwan), www.google.de (the site for Germany), etc. 
So...
  • Who knows if these same results will hold tomorrow but...  this sure isn't an accident.  China was clearly prepared in advance for Google's recent actions.
  • China's response is not limited to Google's sites in "Greater China" and appears to be an actual extension of its censorship.
  • The World Expo opens in Shanghai in just over 40 days. Will be interesting to see if the Google events and those related complicate China's desire to use the World Expo to present a positive image of China to the world (although projections seem to be that the vast majority of visitors will be Chinese).
Some additional points 
  • The results from inside of China for Google's Hong Kong site also hold true for Google's sites in Spain & Israel (which should be noted have different domain name structures: www.google.es andwww.google.co.il).  China is being rather thorough.  When it comes to Google, China is breaking the mold of letting more eager Chinese internet users find holes in the wall.
  • While 天安门广场事件 (Tiananmen Square Incident) is "blocked", 天安门广场 (Tiananmen Square) is not.
  • 天安门广场事件 is not a blocked search on Microsoft Bing in China nor Baidu.  However, the search results do appear to be mostly missing any links, images, etc. that one would expect to be censored."
____

JF again: More as this evolves.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/03/what-its-like-to-search-the-web-in-china-right-now/37861/