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.