Google’s China Exit: Nicole Kempton, Are You Serious?

Google China building with PRC flag in foreground.

Photo Credit: Jin/Getty

I’m having a really hard time finding this Nicole Kempton piece on the Huffington Post1 anything but extremely obnoxious.

Let’s get the obligatory disclaimers out of the way first:

  1. I’m not a fan of totalitarianism or dictatorships.
  2. I’m not a fan of government internet censorship.
  3. I’m not a fan of discriminatory government intervention.
Nicole Kempton

Nicole Kempton

Okay, now let’s respond to Nicole.

I’ve reprinted her article with my comments and responses below:

Rumors that Google may pull out of China has thrown the state of the Chinese Internet into sharp focus. It says much about the disconnect between the idealism of the Internet pioneers and the reality of how the Internet is utilized in undemocratic states.

Really? Glad to know that you had no interest to a “dull” focus on the Chinese Internet until it involved a big company — not pulling out of China but — challenging the Chinese government to kick it out.

Okay, maybe I’m being mean and nitpicking your words here but I’m not feeling particularly sympathetic to you when you added the “undemocratic states” bit. What, never heard of wide-scale internet censorship efforts and policies in well-known democratic states such as Australia or South Korea2?

I agree that undemocratic governments don’t tend to subscribe to the idealism of the Internet pioneers, but let’s not poison the well here so quickly3.

During the 1990s, we were told that the Internet was going to single-handedly topple totalitarianism throughout the globe. Regimes would no longer be able to control the free global flow of information to repressed citizens, and knowledge would be power enough to squeeze the dictators out. Everything the optimists said about the Internet is true: unfettered access does have the power to liberalize less than undemocratic[sic?] public spheres. But it’s getting to that free and unfettered version of the Internet that’s the problem these days. […]

I’m glad Americans were told such inspirational and noble goals for the Internet. While I’m still pretty certain the majority was secretly rejoicing at the idea of faster access to porn, let’s just say I’m not entirely underwhelmed that the internet has failed to deliver such idealistic results in countries that saw the Internet for what it was created for: decentralized and redundant lines of network communications4.

The Internet is for porn!

Please let me know when the internet has become free and unfettered. I used to think only authoritarian states like China and Iran would charge me for internet access, until I remembered that I’d still be paying for access every month with “fettering” limits on my access even when I’m in democratic America.

[…] And the authoritarians — most notably China and Iran, but others too, like Vietnam — have been amazingly adept at filtering out what they don’t want people to hear. Normally we don’t think of business interests in China overlapping with human rights, but in the case of American technology companies, the two camps are, and will continue to be, more closely aligned than we might think.

Definitely agree that certain countries have been very adept at filtering out information they don’t want their populations to be exposed to. As for business interests — whether in China or not — and human rights “overlapping”, I’m not too sure I’d say the two camps are “more closely aligned than we might think”, especially “in the case of American technology companies”.

Venn diagram

Yeah, sure, Google, one technology company, is now saying they’re no longer keen to self-censor. That’s cool, but let’s not forget that much of the hardware and technology employed by these censoring governments were created, marketed, and sold by “American technology companies”. Furthermore, a lot of “business interests” have gone increasingly bullish on government-censorship-capitulating Baidu, driving up its stock price, as Google nears having its Chinese shut down for not complying with laws it previously compromised to.

Just want to put things in perspective here before we get all lovey-dovey with our American technology companies and business interests seemingly aligning themselves with noble human rights advocates on their own whim.

The Chinese Internet exists as a kind of parallel universe. Despite being a dominant number one in the rest of the world, Google is second in China, far behind the Chinese search giant Baidu. China’s number one video site isn’t YouTube but TuDou. Social networking happens on, not Facebook. The censorship situation in China privileges the Chinese versions of popular sites in use throughout the rest of the world. In fact, as of October 2009, there were just 14,000 Facebook users in China. There are officially more Facebook users at Arizona State University than in the whole of China. This makes sense: Facebook has endured multiple shut downs in the past couple of years.

Did you say “parallel universe”? You mean, like Mirror Mirror, right? Or like Bizarro World?

Bizarro Superman in Bizarro World

"Far out in space there exists the goofiest planet in the universe...the square Bizarro World! It is the home planet of the pathetic, stupid Bizarro creatures..."

Wow. I didn’t know not having Google as the “dominant number one” search engine suddenly makes a foreign market a “parallel universe”. What about South Koreans and their Naver, the Russians (they’re democratic now, right?) and their Yandex, or the Japanese and Yahoo! Japan? All parallel universes5?

Next, don’t let the folks at Youku hear you pitting Tudou as the number one video site in China. That said, I’m not sure what’s so surprising about a homegrown site that necessarily must comply with the government’s media censorship insecurities being number one against one that doesn’t have to comply and has also, like Facebook, been blocked. Is this really parallel universe material or just gross ignorance of the Chinese internet, business, and political environments6?

Every time there’s a sensitive political anniversary like the anniversary of the Tibetan protests of 2008, or the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, the Chinese government blocks foreign-owned sites like Gmail, YouTube, and Facebook more vigorously than their Chinese counterparts. If you’re a Chinese Internet user, of course you’re going to be pissed off when you can’t access your Facebook profile every time the government gets skittish about something. The vast majority of social networking use is exactly that — social.

Come now, were the 1992 LA Riots riots or just protests? Likewise, what happened in 2008 were riots, not just protests. When people get fist-sized chunks of flesh gouged out of their asses, I’m pretty sure its at least a “riot”.

Tibet rioters attach passing trucks during the 2008 Tibet Riots.

Remember this one?

Nevermind that YouTube and Facebook have been continuously blocked in China for over a year now or so, let’s cut to the chase and clarify that foreign-owned websites aren’t blocked “more vigorously” than their Chinese counterparts, they’re blocked because their Chinese counterparts are more compliant to the censors. Those who proactively comply don’t get extra attention. Those who don’t, do. China’s government does discriminate against foreigners and foreign-owned enterprises in many ways, but this isn’t a good example.

Yeah, sure, I’d be pissed off about not being able to access my Facebook profile…if I were one of the 14,000 Facebook users in China. But to put things in perspective again, that’s 14,000 out of an internet population of 384 million.  And of this 14,000 Facebook users in China, just how many are actually “Chinese internet users” as opposed to foreigners living and accessing Facebook from abroad? Yes, there were and are indeed Chinese people who had ventured onto Facebook back when it was still accessible (and may be addicted enough to use VPNs or proxies to get their daily fix even now), but let’s not play up how pissed off “Chinese internet users” actually are about losing their Facebook activity streams. Thankfully for most Chinese internet users, they have plenty of other means for being “social” online, like QQ, MSN Messenger, RenRen, Kaixin001, and a never-ending list of popular online discussion forums.

When users can’t socialize on one platform with the regularity they expect, they’ll naturally switch to the place where they’re most likely to be able to gain consistent access, and that tendency has overwhelmingly favored the social networking sites of the parallel Chinese Internet. Effectively that means that foreign firms like Google are bending over backwards to go against their core brand values and censor themselves, and for what? They’re still getting the run around. Chinese technology companies don’t like the situation either. In addition to the so-called “Great Firewall” through which the government blocks sensitive foreign content, China’s regulations are set up such that the central government lays out the guiding principles of what it deems unacceptable, and leaves it to the individual companies to expend the effort to police potentially offensive content — or face being shut down. This set-up explains why you’ll see different search results in Baidu vs. other Chinese search products, or why you’ll see blog posts mentioning the words “Dalai Lama” on one blogging platform but not another.

Yes, people naturally gravitate to service providers that are able to consistently provide service. When foreign websites unreliably comply with Chinese regulations, they can become unreliable for Chinese internet users when Chinese regulators are forced to regulate them. Not surprising.

Wait…why am I’m getting the impression that you think any Internet market not dominated by American online properties automatically becomes a “parallel internet”. I didn’t know “The Internet” was defined by American dominance.

Mirror Mirror, Star Trek: The Original Series.

No internet blog post discussing technology should be without a Star Trek allusion, and this is no exception.

I’m totally sympathetic to Google compromising their “core brand values” to operate in the Chinese market only to continue facing the nuisance of the Chinese government ostensibly asking more and more of them, like increasing censorship they previously may not have thought they were agreeing to. But I’m not sure if “getting the run around” is the right imagery7.

However, you’re definitely right that domestic Chinese companies aren’t happy with the censorship either though the rest of your paragraph sounds like you skimmed Rebecca MacKinnon for random bits to describe how the censorship policy and mechanism works in China.

American technology companies like Google have been going out of their way to “comply with local laws” in China, censoring search results (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!) and omitting books from their stores (Amazon). Google’s global currency is the free and unfettered access to all kinds of information. But if you’re inside China without access to a proxy server and want to know more about what happened on June 4, 1989, for example, you can’t just “google it” like the rest of the world. You might get a few touristy pictures of Tiananmen Square and some information about the official flag-raising, but you’re unlikely to find any information about the protests and subsequent massacre that occurred there in 1989. And if you “baidu it,” you’re likely to get even less information.

I’m not sure it’s fair to describe Google as “going out of their way” to comply with local laws. Look, laws are meant to be complied with. As a business subservient to a market’s government, complying with its laws is a given, something that is done in the course of doing business. No one forced Google to go out of its way to do business in China. I’m sorry China’s laws impinged upon an American technology company’s swagger. That apology from me is more than what you’ll get from the Chinese government. Savor it.

Agreed on your description of how and Baidu is sanitized of information on Tiananmen Square in 1989. Personally, I wish you’d give some lip-service to still adding value to Chinese internet users even if censored, but that’s just me.

Google enjoys over 30 percent market share in China today, a distant second after Baidu but much higher than that of rivals Bing and Yahoo. During the four years it’s been in China, Google has been steadily chomping away at Bing and Yahoo’s market share, and building customer loyalty and brand awareness in the process. The problem is that Google’s brand promise to “do no harm” — a critical key to their success all over the world — does not apply in China.

Given that Bing isn’t even a year old, I somehow doubt Google has been “steadily chomping away” at its market share during the fours years its been in China but, of course, you probably meant Microsoft’s search engine offering in general…and I’m again nitpicking. Sorry, I kinda-sorta follow tech news so these types of inaccuracies annoy the geek in me.

For the record, though, Google’s brand promise was actually to “do no evil”, and while it’s a widely-lauded symbol of their corporate culture, I’m not sure I agree that it is a “critical key to their success.” Maybe I’ve got less stars in my eyes but I’m pretty sure Google’s success around the world had far more to do with offering a damn good set of search engine results as well as a vast suite of damn good online productivity tools like spam-resistant, never-delete-another-email-again GMail or free-yourself-from-Microsoft-Office Google Docs.

Google founder Sergey Brin was even quoted (via TED) “Perhaps people don’t believe this, but all throughout the discussion of originally entering China in 2006 as we did, and the announcement last month, our focus has really been what’s best for the Chinese people. It’s not been about our particular revenue or profit or whatnot.”

Zhao, Chinese taxi driver.

Hey look! A Chinese person!

I won’t accuse Sergey Brin and Google for being paternalistic here. After all, the Chinese government believes they’re doing what’s best for the Chinese people, and if ensuring their hold on power through censorship is what they believe is best to do that, then I’ll have to work in the system until it changes or becomes personally intolerable. I’m sympathetic — nay, empathetic — to focusing on “what’s best for the Chinese people.”

I’m just not so sure having a showdown with the Chinese government over an issue widely-known to be not up for negotiation that risks pissing off the Chinese government and getting the entirety of Google’s many practical and valuable services (beyond just web search) all blocked is actually doing “what’s best for the Chinese people.”

Through its actions of the past few weeks, Google has drawn a line in the sand, and now other companies are going to have to declare their loyalties as well. Motorola didn’t wait for Google’s final decision before issuing a cynical statement sure to please the censors: they won’t be offering Google search on their phones in China in the name of promoting “consumer choice.” Rather, Android phones will be packaged with Bing (Microsoft has so far complied with government censorship), and allow users to switch to Baidu if they choose. All the Chinese government needs to do is block Bing once or twice in the name of “cracking down on pornography” or some such nonsense and most Droid users will probably switch permanently to Baidu.

Agreed that Motorola spinning their move as “consumer choice” is lame. But doesn’t that reinforce my disagreement with you that American technology companies “are, and will continue to be, more closely aligned” with the human rights camp “than we might think”? Sorry, yes, I guess Motorola is technically an American telecommunications company, not necessarily technology.

But it’ll probably take more than one or two temporary blocks on Bing for those Chinese internet users inclined to use Bing to switch “permanently” to Baidu. It’ll take a more permanent block to actually stop such users from going back to Bing when it becomes unblocked and accessible again. Whether this sort of inconvenience blocking (arguably used previously to help domestic web companies) will happen to a law-abiding Microsoft is up for discussion though, but at this point, it’s still speculation, entertaining our suspicions of the Chinese government’s discriminatory intervention in business.

This is possibly the moment we’ve all been waiting for: today there is a real convergence of interests between American technology companies, free speech advocates, and China’s netizens. At its core, the Chinese government’s decision to randomly block web-based email and social networking sites is deeply anti-competitive and puts American-owned firms at a substantial disadvantage to their Chinese counterparts. […]

Oh my god, “the moment we’ve all been waiting for”.

Convergence, a human hand touches a digital hand.

Yeah, convergence, baby!

Let me pause for a moment of silence.

Okay, no, there’s arguably not a convergence of interests between “American technology companies, free speech advocates, and China’s netizens.” Fine, yes, insofar as all three find freedom of information appealing, there is a convergence. But one, let’s not lump all American technology companies together with free speech advocates and two, let’s not pretend the very long list of very practical interests China’s netizens have, that would be seriously jeopardized by a Chinese government thoroughly pissed with Google, doesn’t exist.

Please, let’s not disingenuously commandeer the names of American technology companies and Chinese netizens for your own single-issue interest8

Next, the Chinese government does not “randomly” block web-based email and social networking sites. They block them for a reason. Yes, the blocking itself can be “deeply anti-competitive”, but only if it is for anti-competitive reasons like giving a domestic competitor an advantage. It isn’t “anti-competitive” when it’s about noncompliance with explicit laws.

Furthermore, the blocking only puts “American-owned firms at a substantial disadvantage to their Chinese counterparts” if it is indeed “anti-competitive” as just described. Otherwise, their Chinese counterparts are subject to the same rules and regulations governing content to be censored. Blocking an American-owned firm to censor content is only anti-competitive if its Chinese counterpart is not likewise blocked for the same content, and we’ve seen plenty of examples of Chinese-owned firms getting blocked for content the government objects to. This is a blatantly false, if not negligently ignorant, representation of government meddling of foreign versus domestic competition in China.

[…] But companies like Google have a real opportunity to affect positive change. Internet censorship is deeply unpopular in China. China’s “Great Firewall” is the object of constant derision, even by those who consider themselves to be politically at odds with free speech advocates abroad. American companies, eager to get a piece of the ever-expanding Chinese market (now home to over 384 million Internet users at last count), need to be able to offer products and services that aren’t subject to constant interruption and government interference. And free speech advocates want to see the Internet do what we were promised it would — connect people, serve as a check against abusive governments, and ultimately serve as a democratizing force throughout the world.

Yes, companies like Google do indeed have real opportunities to affect positive change…

Opportunity demotivator poster.

However, not everyone agrees it is their mission as a for-profit company to do so. That said, I’m personally a believer that positive change can indeed come with the provision of profit-making services. I’m just not sold on your idea of affecting a positive change is actually positive change for Chinese netizens and anything more than short-lived smug self-satisfaction for everyone else in agreement with you.

Yes, internet censorship is indeed deeply unpopular and the subject of constant derision in China amongst the Chinese themselves. Agreed.

No, I don’t agree that American companies “need” to be able to offer anything that isn’t subject to constant interruption and government interference any more than Chinese companies are subjected to. What were you saying about being “deeply anti-competitive”? If Chinese companies can’t offer products and services not subject to government oversight and approval, how could it possibly ever make sense for the Chinese government to let American companies do so? Are we fighting for fairness or for preferential treatment for American companies “eager to get a piece of the ever-expanding Chinese market”? Perhaps you strung several phrases together too carelessly?

Yeah, free speech advocates would of course want to see the Internet do what they were promised it would do, but come on, let’s not kid ourselves, those were promises they promised themselves. The Chinese government certainly never promised free speech advocates anything except that they’re definitely going to do whatever they can to keep the internet more useful than dangerous to themselves. While they are — perhaps reluctantly — experimenting with allowing the internet to be a check against the government, they surely never promised the internet would be your kind of “democratizing force” in their part of the world. Sorry.

In Conclusion…

When the Chinese government accuses foreigners of politicizing an issue, this is precisely what they are talking about. Your human rights rhetoric heavy chest-beating coupled with a consistent lack of genuine consideration for the issues involved — especially from the angle of the parties you’re pointing your finger at — is not going to smoothly or effectively advance your agenda…unless your agenda is solely to preach to your choir and rally your troops.

In that case, thanks for pretending to have the interests of Chinese internet users at heart, but no thanks.

Narcissism is more me on this Google leaving China thing:

  1. …where it can reach around 22 million visitors each month. []
  2. No, the irony that I can’t open this page from within China without a VPN or proxy is not lost on me, but if that’s what your first thought is, I can accept that I’ve already lost your attention. []
  3. I admit, I was poisoning the well by immediately expressing my opinion that this piece is “extremely obnoxious”. You got me. []
  4. Obviously to ensure delivery of digital boobies should one digital route fail or be compromised. []
  5. I’m definitely willing to entertain arguments for these and, in fact, have some of my own! []
  6. Here’s Nicole Kempton’s bio. []
  7. Sorry, nitpicking words again. []
  8. Unless you’re me. []


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  1. required

    Please explain why facebook, twitter, flickr and youtube (yes part of google) are not entering China. Imaging these foreign companies have to hire people doing the censoring with no written rules.

    Do you know Chinese twitter users tried to infiltrate sina microblog and failed?

  2. Jay (a different one)

    Maybe the Chinese government can instruct the GFW to filter out dribble written by blond women? Or maybe they can’t, or maybe they won’t.
    Anyways, while may be exit (yeay! It was getting incredibly annoying to be re-directed by google to every time I tried to access the good-old is still available to everyone in China, including all the screaming and carrying on about said square in Beijing. Not that anyone in China (that I’ve spoken to) cares much — after all, it doesn’t involve games or gossip.
    Actually, while the GFW is somewhat annoying at times, it has become so much more sophisticated (thankyou thankyou Chinese Government for looking after me/us), e.g. where before entire sites like wikipedia were blocked, it is now only selected pages. And while the GFW is somewhat annoying at times, I for one have accepted it as a reasonable price for the freedom and comfort that I get in return (just as one would expect from the Outback Firewall for example). In fact, thankyou thankyou Chinese government from protecting me against Youtube, otherwise my porn-life-balance would go completely out of the window, it’s hard (no pun intended) enough as it is.
    Finally, if you (e.g. dumb blonde) don’t like the Chinese government or their laws or GFW, then bugger-off and go live somewhere else! You do? Well then… (And that’s besides the point that all these freedom-loving democratic ninkumpoops don’t allow the average Chinese to join them — tried to migrate to Europe or so lately? It’s NOT the Chinese that won’t let you go… But I digress…).

  3. Kai,

    Nicole Kempton in fact has a sort of history of publishing irresponsible articles. I’m surprised that The Huffington Post even publishes them.
    She often makes statements without stating any evidence and makes a mountain out of a molehill.

    She had earlier also written another equally biased article about China’s one-child policy, which I had commented on:

    • Teacher in C

      Yuck. She has a really sanctimonious, horrible writing style. And you’re right in your comments – how about giving us some sources? Jeebus, it’s amazing that you have to tell a “professional” something as basic as that.

  4. Terry

    great writing Kai…. I do hope that Miss Kempton.. (oops.. gotta be PC here) Ms. Kempton gets to read this.

  5. Ted

    Agree on some points. Question: Is Youku breaking copyright laws with the thousands of pirated movies it offers online? What about baidu with its illegal downloads? I am pretty sure that many of the movies offered on Youku would not pass government censors, but has the government shut the company down as a result? The author of the original article is not unjustified in her claims, perhaps she didn’t choose the best examples, but her comments struck me as no less one-sided than the counterargument.

    How could a foreign company be expected to compete in an environment where it’s biggest competitors are allowed to disregard local and international laws while the foreign company has to follow both to the letter? A foreign company screws up and its out with the flick of a switch, a local company screws up and the news results are deleted from the country’s largest search engine for the right price… I’d be pretty frustrated if I were Google as well. I think both the original article and counter-argument are too extreme.

    • Ted, on pirated content, Stan has some updated reading on that front here. And remember, I said I’m not a fan of selective government intervention. I’m criticizing her poor examples and the audacious arguments she builds off them. I’m not suggesting anything close to the opposite being the truth, just that she’s done a piss poor job making her case.

      As for the counterargument being one-sided, I’m not sure I see it. What specifically is “one-sided” about my critique?

      To add perspective to the question of your second paragraph, we’re actually comparing domestic firms in a domestic market under domestic laws and domestic enforcement with a foreign firm subject to both domestic and foreign markets, laws, and enforcement. If Youku and Baidu want to enter foreign markets, they’d be have to contend with different markets, laws, and enforcement as well. It is the responsibility of the foreign firm to know the business environment of the market it wishes to enter and how they will adapt to that market, if at all. Competition is tough, and in many ways, always unfair because the world is unfair. Again, I’m not supporting “unfair”, I just think it’s a little naive to not account for reality.

      There are advantages to operating like the competition and advantages to operating differently. Extreme is thinking otherwise. Google can do all of the underhanded shady stuff Baidu does and get something for it, but they’d likely lose something else. They’ll make their decision based on their values, goals, and particular circumstances. So will Baidu. So will the target audiences. Baidu has, in my opinion, a lot of help from the Chinese government. No, I don’t think its fair, but I don’t think Nicole’s arguments here are either and she’s not helping the situation by either being or playing stupid when she has a bullhorn like the Huffington Post.

      • Ted

        Hey Kai Pan: By one-sided I just thought the hyperbole in the counter argument was no less objectionable than that in the original article, but perhaps that was the point and I missed the sarcasm. Maybe the nitpicking at “free” in “free and unfettered” led me to read the critique from the wrong angle. Also the note about foreign companies unreliably complying with local regulations… I come back to the narrow margins within which they are allowed to operate compared to Chinese companies. A foreign company allows access to some content the government finds objectionable and they are purveyors of smut, a Chinese company does it every day for two years and we don’t hear a peep. I think it’s reached a point where simple favoritism doesn’t quite cover it.

        Also I think the original author’s parallel universe comment wasn’t entirely out of line. Youku and Baidu compete in the US market simply by the nature of their existence, the same cannot be said of foreign websites in China. The US government has to sneak in through back doors to monitor parts of the internet, in China they sit there and tell you you’re being watched. Tom Skype… I may live here and accept it but, for me, it’s still bizarre.

        Certainly China has come a long way (I appreciated the link to Stan Abrams article and his comment below) but regarding online piracy, its not something that is technologically beyond China’s ability to combat, its a choice. Try accessing copyrighted material available on Youku from the US and you hit a wall, look for that same content from China and its available. Youku could just as easily be blocking that content here but they choose not to and the government does nothing about it. On Baidu, government favoritism is one thing when the government is trying to protect many companies across an industry but here it’s promoting a monopoly.

        Re your 2nd to last paragraph, I think accounting for the realities of China’s marketplace can include not participating in the market. An option that China and many foreign companies seemed to forget was on the table. I don’t think there was anything naive about Google’s exit or their complaints.

        I agree that the original author’s article was shallow but I’m sure if I surfed around the Chinese internet I could just as easily find some equally poorly written anti-Google articles from reputable Chinese news sources.

        • Hey Ted,

          Both Stan, Custer, and I definitely use hyperbole for effect and as humor. If there’s any example that you’re uncertain about, as in whether they’re said for effect/emphasis or if I was dead serious, please feel free to quote them and ask me.

          The “free and unfettered” example you reference was definitely nitpicking, but I think I prefaced or footnoted that explicitly, right? Now, I know what she means, but I’m simultaneously challenging her to define what “free and unfettered” actually means to her readers. It’s a nice buzz phrase (and we all use them for shorthand all the time), but it’s also loaded. She’s not using it by itself, standing behind it as a principle, but with the false implication of association with “democratic” countries in contrast with “nondemocratic” countries. She’s conflating “free” and “democracy” together, leveraging her target audience’s inherent biases to nod their heads without noting that many notable “democratic nations” arguably have internet ecosystems that are not exactly “free and unfettered”. She’s not arguing for a “free and unfettered” internet, she’s arguing against China in contrast to America. There’s a difference.

          The “unreliable” language I used was echoing Nicole’s use. She said one thing about “unreliable” and I expanded on possible reasons why.

          On narrow margins and unfair treatment, I think there’s either an availability bias with regards to the pool of information you have concerning which websites are dealt with, how they’re dealt with, and how many are dealt with. In other words, I think you’ve heard more about well-known foreign websites than you have about domestic websites, and this may be a function of how you consume news and information. Alternatively, you may just remember certain things more than others. Or, you may be overplaying favoritism when it’s usually more about enforcement only following sufficient pressure/attention. My point is, you’re suggesting that Chinese websites get away with things that foreign websites don’t, and this isn’t true upon proper consideration of the record. The problem is, I’m not sure whether the record you’re considering is the same as mine.

          Next, I maintain my disagreement and ridicule of the parallel universe comment. That’s just ethnocentrism, betraying some sort of ownership and entitlement to define something that is necessarily shared. Frankly, it’s only “bizarre” if you can’t escape your own one-sided perspective. Furthermore, there’s something to be said about in-you-face surveillance versus sneaky back-door surveillance. The former is arguably more honest, even transparent. Both I can appreciate. If you’re going to be spied upon by your government either way, would you rather know up front or…?

          On technologically combating piracy, I actually do think technology is not yet capable of combating piracy. The technologies fundamentally exist to one up the other. If technology were so good with fighting piracy, then YouTube should’ve implemented it long ago to give this argument of your’s more credibility. But last I checked, there’s still plenty of copyrighted material on YouTube.

          I haven’t previously heard about content being selectively accessible on Youku depending on country, but please share some examples (ideally links) so I can check it out for myself.

          As for the government promoting a monopoly, I don’t really agree. If they were, they must’ve been doing a bad job for Google to have actually grown market share at all. I personally do think the Chinese government helped Baidu, or at least that Baidu benefited from the government seeking to exercise control over a foreign company that it already had with Baidu, but you’ll need to offer more arguments for “monopoly”.

          I don’t think I suggested that accounting for the realities of a market precludes not participating in that market. I’m less interested in saying Google was naive as I am about certain pundits are behaving naively.

          I agree that we can easily find poorly written articles from reputable Chinese news sources. But my point here is not about finding a poorly written article from a reputable news source. My post here is to explain how this article from a reputable news source is poorly-written, how this argument is poorly argued. Big difference. This isn’t really about Nicole or the Huffington Post, it’s about the actual issues discussed, something I respect Nicole for acknowledging here in the comments.

          Thanks for the response!

          • Ted


            Random Chinese clip, accessible inside and outside China.


            Blocked in the States, available in China.

            This along with all the other copies are rips correct? So they can block this for users in the states but don’t do it for users in China? Hmm… maybe there are some agreements between Youku and the movie companies I am unaware of. Thanks for the replies.

          • Ted,

            Interestingly, I can’t load up either link (nor even while on VPN. It shouldn’t be a problem with my VPN as I can access other sites (like Twitter, YouTube, etc.). I also tried Tudou and 56, and neither will load either. I’ll give it a try later but I hope you don’t think I believe or am suggesting that there is no rampant piracy in China. There most certainly is. My original response was to your suggestion that technology can stop piracy at will. I don’t think that’s true.

            But upon review of your previous comment (“its not something that is technologically beyond China’s ability to combat, its a choice.”), I think I responded inappropriately. You’re mostly criticizing the “choice” as opposed to talking about technology. My bad. I agree they can do more to combat piracy and I agree it’s a choice insofar as they don’t feel as compelled to do so despite what Westerners demand.

            To accurately share how I feel about this, though, I need to say I don’t really think there are strict differences between Chinese and Westerners with regards to intellectual property. I really don’t. People of both persuasions have amply shown under what circumstances they’ll engage in piracy.

            The difference, I think, is more about socialized habits, legal environments, and individual considerations of consequences. The West’s current attitude towards IPR is a product of a long history, one that the Chinese did not share. This doesn’t mean the basic concepts are alien to the Chinese, but that there are very different ideas of how important IPR is relative to other things. This is a sociological issue.

            When I think of Chinese people bootlegging Hollywood movies, I think of Americans bootlegging Japanese anime. When I think of Chinese downloading MP3s from Baidu, I think of Americans downloading MP3s off Naptser or through other peer-to-peer services. When I think of Youku or other Chinese video sites trying to get away with keeping pirated content on their servers, I think of YouTube before they were bought out by Google (not sure if you’re following the YouTube/Viacom litigation). In all of these instances, IPR is weighted against other goals, against convenience, against likely consequences.

            From an IPR perspective, none of this justifies anything, and I’m not trying to justify anything. What I’m trying to do is put it in perspective so we can avoid exaggerating how strictly any “people” adhere or violate any particular right, law, ideal, value, etc.

            I think IPR is going to be a big problem in China for the foreseeable future and I don’t really feel like they’re “slow” at adopting Western attitudes that were developed and socialized for a far longer period of time. I’m inclined to be patient (even when I’m annoyed by differences I’ve taken for granted) because I’m inclined to remember the historical socio-economic differences. It’s easy to say they should automatically adopt what we say we’ve learned from our own experiences, but you and I both know that most people only truly adopt something when they’ve learned the reasons for it themselves through their own experiences.

    • Couple of points:

      1. Local protectionism is alive and well in China, and Baidu has certainly been helped along the way. But has Google been singled out for worse treatment than any other foreign company in China? Probably not. Is such treatment a violation of international law? Also probably not as these are isolated incidents and not government policy.

      2. These days, it is inaccurate to say that Chinese companies flagrantly violate copyright laws while foreign companies are held to a higher standard. With the exception of the Yahoo and Baidu deep linking cases involving MP3 files (inconsistent judicial rulings, in my opinion), Chinese sites have done a great deal in recent years to clean themselves up, make deals with content providers, and implement takedown systems. (As Kai already mentioned, I wrote about this topic earlier today, with links to several of my earlier posts, at China Hearsay.) Platforms are still not 100% clean, but then again, neither is YouTube.

  6. xian

    Now hold on, it is pretty obvious the Chinese government protects domestic companies and throws all kinds of books at foreign ones. It’s pretty much accepted practice, in other Asian countries as well.

  7. yangrouchuan

    “She had earlier also written another equally biased article about China’s one-child policy, which I had commented on:

    This plus Jay (a different one) show that the panda lickers and crap youth have come to nest at this “middle nuts” site where any comment casting a less than golden light on the CCPee and PLgay are met with fist pumping and wild eyed young Chinese anger.

    If it wasn’t for the one child policy and China’s bad, bad traditional preference for boys, Jay and Maitreya might have something else to do with their lives, like girls.

    • Jay (a different one)

      spoken like a true christian. no, that is not a compliment.
      it is sad to note that once again there is freedom of opinion as long as the opinion fits in the approved “bad china” dogma, else name-calling is required. like I said, if you don’t like China then piss-off to somewhere else where it is so much better. if you don’t like my opinion, well good for you, like anyone cares…
      the blonde post seems to imply that if only everybody could facebook then evil China would stop being evil and all will be wonderful (for my stock-portfolio). and that is a good thing? and that is even true (because dimbrain says so without any links/references)?? right…!

      • Jay (a different one)

        okay Kai, sorry for that one too — I’m not having a good day — I’ll shut the bleep (oh my, self-censorship:) up now…

    • Allright Mr.Cocksure,

      I it very clear to me that you are simply using this blog as a propaganda forum and not as a healthy debating ground.
      You are just revealing your own insecurity and immaturity by calling people names – those people with whom you do not have the capacity to argue with on equal terms.

      When have I ever “pumped my fist” btw? Or is that the name you give to constructive criticism?

      Also, here is yet another sign of your massive immaturity and ego – You are assuming that anyone who criticizes Nicole Kempton is “Chinese”. Well, here’s news for you – I’m not.

      The fact is, I can reply to your comment using even stronger language and personal statements and name-calling, but its just that I don’t want to stoop to your level, and neither does anyone else.

  8. lolz

    Considering that Kempton is a director of The laogai research institute, some sort of human rights organization against the Chinese prison system, I think this tone of this piece is rather moderate. In this piece as least she doesn’t come across as the usual smug anti-China types you typically find in the american political landscape.

    I think the whole google vs china debate has been misframed into a freeworld vs. china issue when really it’s more of a business issue. The anti-china activists want the showdown to occur because they think this will be a catalyst for some sort of change. For them, the best case scenario would be that all foreign businesses pull out of china, and the whole world enact an embargo against china because that will ensure some kind of change. The problem of course is that to your ordinary Chinese this kind of change may not be nearly as beneficial as these western activists think. Most of the western activists claim to speak for the Chinese but it’s pretty clear they don’t even have the basic understanding of what’s good and bad for your average Chinese person.

    The other more general problem with these activists is that if you voice anything which is not against China, you will then be labeled as pro-communist/dictatorship. Hence Kai had to paste a disclaimer at the beginning of the article because he obviously has gotten used to the accusations although he is really just a moderate.

  9. KrSund70

    I’ve been a commenter on modern Chinese issues on the internet, off and on, for a few years now. I am glad to have discovered this site. Bravo folks.

    This isn’t about First Amendment, or even human, rights and/or freedoms. This is about business, pure and simple. Although everyone, encouraged by reckless mainstream media, immediately rushed to accuse CPC/Beijing of government-backed co-ordinated efforts in hacking Google a month or so ago, I thought investigation led to a determination that individual hackers were ultimately responsible? (No doubt nationalistic/computer-saavy Chinese youth.) Yet, why the uproar? Like you said, it’s not Google thinking like a benevolent “internet pioneer” for the good of the Chinese people–It probably has more to do with Baidu eating Google’s lunch in the world’s largest market.

    That said, this is a bluff–No way Google pulls out of the Chinese market, far too much is on the table, even for a company that’s pledged to “do no evil” (but is still out to make money of course). No. This is Google, knowing it holds the second best hand, knowing it is pot-committed with good pot-odds, deciding to check-raise instead of folding. Google’s making a PR play here, taking a page out of the Dalai playbook.

    As little credence as I give to alleged “Sinologists” generally (ah, to be White and study the Pandora’s Box that is China … and, be so full of it as to give yourself a one-word academic moniker to conceptualize the entire idea), Klempton is amongst the bottom of the barrel. I tend to think that anyone with the stones to call themselves a “Sinologist” inevitably approaches China with a Western bias. Welcome to the world we live in.

  10. Nicole Kempt

    Howdy! So aside from being kind of unnerved by seeing my picture blown up so large on what appears to be an online struggle session, I’m grateful for your critique, and we actually agree on a surprising number of points. I don’t have time to reply with a super long post, but just wanted to let you know that I read your piece, and that the stated aims of your blog and the little snippets I’ve read are refreshingly interesting, and I’ll definitely be back!

    First of all, I don’t want to come across as some kind of sycophantic Google lover – I am not. My point is that Google’s exit gives cover to other companies, Chinese and foreign, to possibly say how they really feel about internet censorship. That’s a good thing. I read a very interesting article yesterday (after I had already submitted the piece to HuffPost for editorial approval) that quoted Charles Zhang – I’ll repost here:
    “Without full and fair market competition, there will be no quality, no excellence, no employment opportunities, no stability and no real rise of China,” said the chairman of major Chinese portal Sohu Inc., Charles Zhang, in a speech in February, according to a report on Sohu’s Web site. “How do we do this practically?” Zhang said. “The problem is complicated, but the fundamental point is to limit the power of the government.”
    I’m also not anti-China. I hope that China produces companies as globally dominant as Google. But I don’t think that Chinese *government* needs to censor at the level that they do, and I think their doing so has a lot of negative knock-on effects (too many to go into here, but I think we all have a laundry list in our heads – corruption, a hamstringed press, not being able to access porn if you so choose, etc). And I think their continued emphasis on censorship – “play by our rules or your out” – hurts Chinese companies like Baidu, because like it or not, they’re perceived, perhaps wrongly, to be in bed with the government on censorship.
    And I totally agree with you on the US – there should be greater broadband access, and a lot of things here aren’t fair. There are a lot of human rights violations here too, and I’m not trying to idealize the situation here. But my article wasn’t about the US.
    I guess it just annoys me that I can’t express an opinion about China without getting personally attacked by American-hating fenqing (see the other comments in reply to your blog entry). Which is why I appreciate you attacking my opinions rather than me personally. Thank you for that. We may disagree on a few points, but I welcome the debate, and I’m just happy that people care enough about this issue to talk about it.

    • KrSund70

      Frankly, I love America. But as a Chinese-American, I also love China. And I would love to see America love China and China love America. But there’s a lot of raking of the perverbial muck that makes me despair with increasing frequency. As a fellow U.S. Fulbrighter, here’s what annoys me — I don’t see what you do as helping to promote the Fulbright spirit. Actually, I see it as rather counter-productive. You act as the mouthpiece of an organization with an overt political agenda. The last thing we need in relations is any reasons to make Beijing more paranoid of Washington and Americans and Washington more paranoid of Beijing and the Chinese. And a lot of stuff I see in Western media, including what attempts to pass as academia, does a lot of that.

      I applaud those Westerners who go to China to learn the language, meet the people, understand the Chinese point of view on issues, and then broadcast balanced pieces which, as we all know, would have more traction with a Western audience in regard to views from a Chinese perspective than anything anyone with the last name Wang or Zhang and an accent can ever do. But I don’t think that’s your M.O., and I am sure that’s not the M.O. of the people who cut your checks so you can pay your bills. And balanced pieces are definitely not what sells.

      Friedman’s nice op-ed in the NYT last year has already gotten him labeled as facist or worse. It’s simply not cool to say anything good about China these days, or anything bad about Taiwan or Tibet. It’s my goal to try to withstand those pressures, and just as I became more of a U.S. patriot than ever while living in Scandinavia on Fulbright post-9/11 when I saw America flags being burned and peed-on after we rolled into Iraq and Afghanistan and European public opinion turned against us, these days in the good old U.S. of A., I feel a need to try to give China a voice in the Western PR arena in which they are clearly outclassed (see the nice post here RE: the DL’s PR campaign running circles around Beijing).

      Let’s not give into the hype, just because it pays your bills and gets you published. Anyone who thinks that the Chinese people, as a whole, would be better off without the stability the CPC tries to bring to the table is probably dreaming. For all its faults, even those who suffered the most under the cultural revolution stand by the government today. I don’t think Friedman is far off when he said that Chinese leaders, esp. the likes of Grandpa Wen, are relatively enlightened. I honestly wish you would do more to facilitate and mediate the fundamentally different points of view, than writing the kinds of pieces you write. Absolutely no personal affront intended, just my 2 cents as an alleged “American-hating fenqing.”

      • Jay (a different one)

        @KrSund70: thank you and my compliments on your formulation of your opinion (which I mostly agree with). I wish I could be as articulate. again, thank you, made my day (no kidding).

    • Hey Nicole,

      Thank you for your comment and your compliments of our little fledgling blog.

      Aside from not having heard “struggle” in a long time, I agree that Google’s move here could give other companies cover. However, I’m not entirely sure other companies are afraid to say what they really think about internet censorship. Framing them as being “afraid” gives us the imagery of a bunch of multinationals cowering before a sinister Chinese government, when the reality is that these companies have made a conscious, calculated decision to accept the particularities of the Chinese market they want to do business in. In many ways, they’re more afraid of losing access to this market than they are about saying what they “really think” about internet censorship. They made their compromises. They shouldn’t be “afraid”, they should be honest and accept the consequences of their decision, both good and bad.

      Charles Zhang echoes what just about everyone in China agrees with: that the government must be limited. This isn’t new either, though I do think a lot of Westerners, including Americans, are unfortunately surprised to hear a Chinese person saying such a thing because they all have the mistaken conception that Chinese people acquiesce to things like government censorship because they’re all mindless brainwashed drones rather than them consciously tolerating it as a necessary temporary compromise.

      I don’t think you’re anti-China. I’m fairly certain you’re anti-evil-Chinese-government. I am too, when they’re being evil, that is. But I think your article feeds those who actually are anti-China and it fails to do this issue justice. Not only does it fail to adequately describe the situation, it is repeatedly and outright misleading. I get that you have a specific agenda and you’re writing to support that agenda. You’re going to frame everything so that it bolsters your position and your argument as much as possible. This is all expected. This is democratic. I’m being democratic by pushing back, by saying “wait a minute, that’s not right…”

      I fully agree with you that the Chinese government shouldn’t censor at the level that they do, as evidenced by how often I refer to such actions as manifestations of their “insecurities”. I also agree that them doing so has a lot of ripple effects. I don’t think the government’s insistence on censorship “hurts” Chinese companies primarily by causing them to be perceived as being “in bed with the government on censorship.” I don’t think the Chinese companies are worrying “oh my god, Westerners think we’re pro-censorship, whatever are we going to do?” In fact, Chinese companies seem quite fine with censorship (including censorship as PR crisis management) at times. There are plenty of arguments, especially amongst the Chinese, that Baidu sells censorship.

      Of course, not all Chinese companies are like this but I’m pretty certain that Chinese companies, from their perspective, don’t think complying with government-mandated censorship “hurts” them primarily because foreigners think they’re in cahoots with the government. To understand this, you have to understand how Chinese netizens think. Chinese companies don’t worry about being seen working with the Chinese government because everyone already knows they have to. Few begrudge them this because they’ve already accepted censorship. Why? See what I said three paragraphs ago.

      If Chinese netizens don’t begrudge Chinese companies for complying with government censorship, Chinese companies aren’t really going to worry about foreigners until they’re trying to enter foreign markets and win over foreign netizens. This whole “they should be worried about looking like they’re in bed with the Chinese government” is you projecting a foreign company’s concerns onto Chinese companies. The foreign company, like Google or Yahoo or Microsoft, cares because their own domestic market cares. Chinese companies don’t care because they know their own domestic market doesn’t and they’re not dealing with foreign markets that may.

      One of the biggest criticisms I have of your arguments is precisely that you repeatedly and disingenuously (or ignorantly) project your own values and concerns onto the Chinese themselves rather than honestly reflect what they actually value and are concerned with most. Yes, Chinese netizens aren’t keen on censorship, but it’s quite apparent that they’re less keen about the prospect of losing Google’s services entirely. Not complying with censorship or not wanting to be seen as being in bed with a censoring Chinese government may be of utmost importance to you as a free speech advocate, but is it of the utmost importance to the Chinese netizens and Chinese companies? If it isn’t, is it intellectually honest to suggest so? If this projection isn’t ethnocentric, it’s paternalistic.

      I’m glad you agree with me on the United States, though I was really just joking about free broadband internet access. I also wasn’t suggesting that your article was about the US nor was my response to your article meant to focus on the US. The US, like any other country I alluded to, was to put in perspective the things your article skewed.

      I don’t think categorically dismissing those who disagree with your opinion about China as “American-hating fenqing” makes you any different from those “American-hating fenqing”. Chinese fenqing are renown for dismissing foreign criticism as, for example, “China-hating imperialists”. Yes, some of the above comments have included ad hominem attacks against you personally (i.e. “blonde”), but I don’t think these people are actually disagreeing with you expressing an opinion; they’re just disagreeing with your opinion. They’re also not necessarily Chinese fenqing and it’s worrisome that you jump to that conclusion so quickly.

      I, for one, am disagreeing with how you argue your opinion. I find your opinion on censorship very understandable. I empathize with it. I don’t, however, agree with how you’re arguing it, how you’re promoting it, because I find your arguments dishonest or just plain incorrect. I do appreciate you recognizing that this is about what we’re saying, not who we are as persons.

      Again, thank you for visiting and offering a response. And don’t be unnerved about your mug getting blown up (it’s actually original size as opposed to enlarged). Look at how massive my picture is and be comforted that you’re far better looking than me.

      P.S. – I noticed you followed me on Twitter. Just a heads up, I don’t really use it even if I have a VPN. Found it too distracting. If you’re keen though, you can follow me on Google Buzz. Cheers.

      • KrSund70

        Kai — Standard retort when drawing parallels with regard to “X” — “But I’m not talking about ‘X,’ I’m talking about China!” Of course you are, but you probably shouldn’t be! :-)

        The subtle characterizations made (i.e., fenqing, online struggle session, etc.) are abundantly indicative of the very Western-focused attitudes and values sought to be impressed upon China by such types of “academic” work. That the Chinese view is far more nuanced and less focused on absolutes, but more on relatives, is never brought into focus, and this is a manifest point of contra-distinction between the two world views.

        • KrSund70,

          Agree on that response being somewhat typical, but its a typical response in arguments in general. Agree the subtle characterizations may betray a certain one-sided attitude.

          However, I disagree with you on the contradistinction between the two world views. Absolutes and relatives are invoked selectively most of the time, and this is something both Chinese and Westerners share. I think can safely generalize certain differences but I don’t think this is a good one at this time for this discussion.

          • KrSund70

            I don’t know Kai — There may be sufficient material nexus to briefly discuss. The gist of Ms. Kempton’s angle is that one-child policy is an absolute wrong, internet censorship is an absolute wrong, supressing the rights of the individual is an absolute wrong, perhaps even that the CPC is an absolute wrong. The Chinese view, generally, is that the one-child policy is a relative good/necessary evil/sacrifice, the attempt to make the internet a semi-controlled environment an understandable policy with regard to national stability, the elavation of the goals of the many at the sacrifice of the pains of the few a worthy vaulation judgment, and the CPC, despite the transgressions of the past, a fine steward of the nation at the moment.

            The Chinese people understand what it means to eat a certain bit of bitterness, that days get better a day at a time, whereas the abrupt Western view is that there is a mark to be toed, and it is high-time Beijing toed it!

            Perhaps a function of how the 2 sides consider the relative passage of time, the individual vs. the whole, probably a combination of both. I find these distinctions, in my personal experience, to be relatively applicable. And what I don’t find helpful, are those Westerners who allege to be China experts via various credentials, who are either completely ignorant or dismissive of the Chinese world view. There are fundamental differences here, layers of mis-trust, deep memories, and fair doses of xenophobia and paranoia on both sides. Fanning the flames is what sells today. A sad reality.

          • KrSund70,

            If you’re saying there’s a contradistinction between Nicole’s personal views and the generalized world view you’re ascribing as “Chinese”, yeah, there’s a contradistinction. If you’re saying there’s a contradistinction between Western views and Chinese views, I think there may be, but I’m not willing to say the same contradistinctions you’re saying.

            The reason is because I think concepts of “relative good”, “necessary evil”, and “sacrifice” are not uniquely Chinese. Nor are variants of the other things and perceptions you mentioned. You don’t need to be Chinese to think/believe those things and many non-Chinese subscribe to them. Thus, I think the Chinese vs. Western “contradistinction” is artificial and misleading, needlessly polarizing, not constructive.

            It’s one step away from “there’s no reason to bother discussing or reasoning with each other because neither side will ever get it on account of the world view they have tied to the race/nationality/ethnicity they are”. I don’t think that’s what you want to suggest, or is it?

            Again, I agree there are meaningful distinctions and differences, even when generalized. I also agree with most of your last paragraph. I took issue with Nicole’s piece precisely because it fans the wrong flames using the worst type of fuel.

          • Teacher in C

            “There are fundamental differences here, layers of mis-trust, deep memories, and fair doses of xenophobia and paranoia on both sides. Fanning the flames is what sells today. A sad reality.”

            That’s the way it’s been for the last decade (or maybe longer) in the US – lots of people spouting out overbearing opinions and personal insults. Like you said, it’s what sells. Although it’s old news now, try to find the clip of Jon Stewart on “Crossfire” back in…I think 2004 (if my VPN was working, I’d try to find it myself and post a link – sorry). What he said there is just classic. Or just watch an episode of “The Colbert Report” – also totally classic.

          • KrSund70

            Oh no, not what I mean to imply at all. The point is that, again generalizing, with regard to China, Westerners tend to see the particular absolute bads. The Chinese, with regard to themselves and their government, evaluate the situation in terms of overall relative goods.

            As in life generally, to appreciate the highs, you have to know the lows. The Chinese view has much deeper lows, such that today can be considered a time of relative highs. These types of historical lows, centuries of eating bitterness by our ancestors, do not existing in the Western world view of China (ironically enough, not even when they’ve had a hand in a decent bit of it …), and given typical Western understanding of what’s low and what’s high (which is relatively and generally high), a particularized negative will seem quite very low. I hope I am doing a somewhat decent job of making myself understood. To a Westerner, oh goodness, one child policy, how terrble, reproduction is a fundamental right! To the Chinese, who can remember and have lived years of famine, as much as China is a culture that loves children … it must be done, and we don’t overly-begrudge the governmental entities that mandated it so.

            Critical to understanding each other is in understand how, and I mean really understand how, from a cultural, historical, over-arching basis, each side arrived at their relative conclusions about this particular issue … and multiply it many many times over with regard to all such misunderstand, polarizing, sensitive, and divisive issues in which the 2 conclusions and determinations substantially differ. Only people who can truly take an objective approach to being well-steeped with both sides can broker this bridge. There’s folks like me and you, Chinese-Americans with love of country, both countries. But we need more Westerners like your associates, and all other who actually want to go to China to study the history, the language, the culture, the people, to be one and a part of the Chinese world view, and to come back home to the West and begin to try to explain it all. It can be done, but it won’t be easy.

            Kempton, I am afraid, is either willfully negligent in her duties, or has a different agenda. I think if you’re White and you purport and allege to “understand China,” you have almost what I would say is a moral and ethical obligation to put forward balanced views, and the more your Western countrymen/women vehemently want to see China as evil, the larger your obligation to counter-balance that natural inclination.

            The Chinese objection to Sinologist study, to implicate Stan and some legal jargon, is many times a matter of procedure, not necessarily even substance. Even when the substance is correct, when you make no effort to assimilate the Chinese world view, you are no one to dictate to China and the Chinese people which Western-set marks must be toed, regardless of the substantive correctness or incorrectness of the mark itself.

            Westerners earn their standing with the Chinese people through shown dedication to not merely judging China, but understanding China … and more and more of them are doing that every day, a wonderful thing. Da Shan, sure is a comedian, TV commentator, but has done wonders by simply doing what he does, which was and is about relating to and understanding the Chinese people. He does as much good being a non-politico, as self-labeled sinologists and politicos do bad by writing “drinking your own kool-aid” type of articles. And that’s a pretty amazing thing if you think about it.

          • KrSund70, thanks for the clarification. As you already know, I agree with a lot of what you say.

            Both you and I (and many other people here) support people genuinely trying to see these divisive issues through “the other side’s” perspective, to honestly consider all the relevant aspects, before trying to influence change if desired. So, how do you respond to the retort (and complaint) by foreigners that Chinese people claim foreigners can never understand China and the Chinese “because they’re not Chinese”? How would you respond to the retorts that Chinese people only see categorical acceptance as “understanding?”

        • KrSund70

          @Teacher — That’s right. The West sees relations as a matter of independent issues. The Chinese see relations as a singular matter, which lacks a fundamental baseline foundation for progression in the manner in which the West attempts to progress (read: dictate) it. To expect China to see points of contention as isolated issues apart of the whole is unrealistic. And the whole is what the Chinese continue to see as what is broken, with insufficient attempts made by the West to mend it, and indeed, repeated indicia that it doesn’t really care so long as particulars important to THEM are adequately addressed. It’s easy to see how this gets no body anywhere.

          @Kai — I am afraid what you talk about is a matter of defeatism. After seeing how the West reacted to the riots in Tibet and the images of what happened to the Torch in Paris, it’s little wonder that many Chinese do fall into that thought process that … frankly, it’s impossible. What they mean to say is, it is highly unlikely given what they know and see. The problem is they don’t know and see many, or any, what I would venture to call “enlightened” foreigners. The ones that do study in China, live in China, and learn and absorb without passing judgment first. I think if there were more of those around, people would think more was possible RE: relations. There just isn’t enough of it.

          Without trust, the hardline is, indeed, only catagorical acceptance is understanding. If I don’t know you, and you come up to me and start talking about my mother, regardless of how right you may be, I’m going to be pissed about it. As an outsider, only when I completely trust you, have you earned the, what I’ve called procedural standing, to be in a position to say, you know, I like your mom, but here’s some things she can improve upon … and I would, finally, be in a candid enough position to say, dude … coming from anyone else, I’d tell you to go XXXX yourself, but you know, I know what you mean, and yeah, she can be a little tough to deal with sometimes, you do have a point, I know what you mean, I know and trust you mean no harm to me by it, I can take it objectively … etc. etc.

          You don’t get to that point without having earned your procedural standing within someone else’s family. We do the same thing. Who are the surrender-monkey French, whom we saved from the Germans twice, to tell us that the war on terror is wrong? let’s pour wine in the streets and rename all the freedom fries! Ah, mais, we still love America! We appreciate what you did for us in the war, we’re justing saying, on this one issue, we wish you weren’t so trigger-happy … If that’s the French approach, do you think America cares one bit for such an explanation? I think not.

          For lack of a better term, the hardline exterior is a matter of face. And frankly, I don’t necessarily agree with the argument that it’s wrong to place such import on it. Yes yes, the Chinese place too much emphasis on face , I get that … but I also agree that unless you’ve made at least some attempt/inroads at understanding me, my family, my situation, how we are … you do not have absolute right to dictate to me and my family what I can and cannot do, and where I am up to your standards or not, or whether my mother has certain faults you want to point out to me (even if you’re objectively and substantively correct). I’m still going to sock you one. And that’s the way it is.

          • KrSund70,

            As I understand it, you’re basically saying Person A needs to earn Person B’s respect before Person B will be receptive to Person A’s criticism. This I totally agree with. At the same time, I know that there are often instances where Person B has pre-emptively set a higher bar for Person A on the basis of Person A’s race, ethnicity, nationality, etc. alone. That, however understandable in many ways, is something I don’t think is fair.

            And this works both ways. It happens on both sides.

            I think you and I agree on fundamental sentiment and are more or less bringing up nuances where we don’t disagree. You and I both agree that it is important for our words to show respect and genuine consideration of the other person’s perspective and concerns, to talk WITH them as opposed to AT them or, worse, DOWN at them. Cheers.

          • KrSund70

            Indeed, a good succinct way of putting it.

            But I think the “higher bar” is not without some justification. It’s not solely a matter of race, ethnicity, nationality, etc. Those are irrelevant and have no substantive bearing. But negative past history is relevant and has substantive bearing. Debits accumulate and people don’t forget them just because you the debtor now wish for them to be forgotten. If you’ve wronged me in the past, you have to do more now to earn the same level of my trust than a stranger with whom I start with a blanket slate. The fact that the cultural Chinese perception of time is long and the cultural Western perception of time is short only exacerbates things.

            So, the point is, of course we need to be even keeled and allow that debit to be erased and turned into credit without making it impossible by adding usurious (to go forward with the analogy) rates. At the same time, China does expect a bit more, and rightly so, we’re not starting at even stevens, and it is this net debit in relations that the West doesn’t even acknowledge or fathom!

            Doing what’s been done lately (sabre-rattling) has done absolutely nothing but reinforce those typical Chinese thinkers that regardless of the Nikes and McDonalds that are sorta nice, sure, the Western leopard surely has not changed its spots so easily …

            We ask ourselves, is it because Western morality has indeed done a complete 180 since the days of Chinese conquest and colonization only some 100 years ago (a short time by Chinese standards), or is it because of Chinese military and economic parity which have finally forced the West to give China a little begrudging respect? (And make no mistake, foreign investment was also not a matter of grace, but the West’s own drive for profit in a massive market … I think America is largely choking on her own drive for globalization these days, but that’s another issue …)

            And if it indeed is more because of Chinese parity than any recognition of past wrongs being truly and morally wrong such that there’s any genuine desire to do right by China these days … then what reason is there to believe that the leopard has indeed truly changed its spots so quickly such that the Chinese no longer need to be on guard?

            All of this has nothing to do with the government, Communism, human rights, or any of these topical issues. It’s a matter of respect on a baseline fundamental level first and foremost.

            It’s like when Matt Damon related the story of getting beat by his father in Good Willing Hunting ….

            Will: He used to just put a belt, a stick, and a wrench on the kitchen table and say, “Choose.”
            Sean: Gotta go with the belt, there.
            Will: I used to go with the wrench.
            Sean: The wrench, why?
            Will: ‘Cause XXXX him, that’s why.

            Objectively, it ain’t smart to pick the wrench. Just as it ain’t smart to do a lot of stuff the CPC does. But you know, sometimes you’d rather take the wrench just because the other guy expects you to take the belt, just to show him he ain’t got nothing on you.

            You’re a reasonable fellow Kai, I don’t expect you to agree with that last bit. But I believe that’s the type of sentiment that exists to a certain degree, and Westerners really just don’t see it.

          • KrSund70,

            Right, I think you said as much in the Laughing at White Privilege post, correct?

            As for the last bit, I totally understand the sentiment (and I love the Good Will Hunting pop culture example). My disagreement with it is fundamentally no different from “making it impossible by adding usurious rates”. Sure, the positions are different. You’re criticizing Westerners for not recognizing their historical domination when adding fuel to the fire. And you’re giving the Chinese a pass for adding fuel to the fire given their historically dominated position. I, personally, just don’t think adding fuel to the fire is very enlightened or constructive. On an emotional, “fuck you too” level, it’s satisfying, like with Will. But it’s no longer much of an option these days.

            I don’t want Westerners to be “making it impossible” nor do I want the Chinese to be doing so either. I do want Westerners to be conscious of Chinese historical grievances but I don’t want the Chinese to use historical grievances to give themselves a carte blanche on their own behavior. Ultimately, my point and position is that both sides need to check themselves when appropriate. I think (and hope) you agree with this.

          • KrSund70

            Don’t believe I commented on that piece Kai, I’m a relative newcomer to this fine blog.

            I do agree with you. Gut level satisfaction only gets you so far. That said, I find VERY few Westerners even remotely conscious of the historical grievance and the existence of a perceived net debit in relations today playing a material role. People don’t even see it. And that’s disheartening. And when you do try to explain, often times the reaction is, grown up, it’s so childish, whatever, etc. Not the reaction you’d like to see if you actually see a legit grievance, instead of humility on their part, YOU get belittled further. In my experience, that’s the most common reaction.

            I’d like to see Western perception become more atuned and balanced to the issue. But as a realist, I don’t hold my breath about it, not in my lifetime, not with this media, not with such politics. I do have hope at the grass roots level, your friends, colleagues, people on an individual level who are open to a better understanding between the 2 sides. I have more faith in it happening from the bottom up than from the top down. But either way it’s not easy.

          • KrSund70,

            Sorry, must’ve got you mixed up with someone else and am too lazy to sort it out. Anyway, totally empathize with your sentiments.

      • mark

        “And don’t be unnerved about your mug getting blown up (it’s actually original size as opposed to enlarged).”


        I believe you put her photo up as a form of sneaky Chinese intimidation. What’s the point of using her photo if not to publicly draw attention to her?

        Would you put Fauna’s photo or any of the other “brave” Chinese men who so eloquently attack Nicole?

        Don’t be a hypocrite or a coward. If you want to debate, take on all comers. End your “censorship.”

        • “mark”,

          LoL, “sneaky Chinese intimidation”, eh?

          Of course I’m drawing attention to her; I’m responding to her! I even spelled out her name in the title! Gasp! If she doesn’t want her picture associated with her work, she can start with taking it off Huffington Post. Until then, I like adding images to my posts. People like pretty pictures.

          What does Fauna have to do with this? I don’t recall reading anything she’s said about Nicole. From what I know, she’s not nearly so interested in these political topics as I am. She probably couldn’t give a shit. And until someone produces a photo of Fauna’s dick, I’m willing to believe she’s a she. I’m not sure why you don’t though I have my suspicions.

          Being a coward is you trolling under multiple false identities. Being a hypocrite is you calling others cowards. This is private property, not the public sphere. You will be moderated for trolling. Keep your comments civil and they’ll be approved. If you don’t like the moderation here, please start your own blog and spout whatever nonsense you want.

      • Jay (a different one)

        @Kai: eh, yes, “blonde” has nothing to do with hair color (although it is always ‘nice’ if it matches) but is short for “you said/did something stupid and should have known better”, as in “having a blonde moment” and so on. I thought this would be obvious. I have blond hair too and I also have blonde moments sometimes, coincidentally or not.

    • Jay (a different one)

      ….then why didn’t you write this instead of that really badly written article….? or did one of us (writer or readers plural) not have enough coffee/tea?

  11. lolz

    Here is another piece on google vs China found on huffpo, this time written by some former big wig from the US dept of commerce. You figure that given this guy’s position he would be a lot more logical but this piece is just plain silly. When will people realize that google is at the end of the day still just a business and not some kind of proxy for the “free world”?

    • Heh, yeah, I saw that one too. Stan is already working on a post responding to that one that should come out today. I was afraid my response would just be a long string of expletives.

      • mark

        What is it exactly in the article that would make you respond with “a long string of expletives”?

        I read the article. I basically talks about reciprocity.

        China should treat American firms in China the same way American firms treat Chinese firms in America.
        What’s wrong with that?

        I would go even further and say that Chinese in America should be treated the same way as foreigner are treated in China. Yes?

        • Let’s wait for Stan’s response. If there’s anything he doesn’t cover, I’ll be sure to add to it. More importantly, I think you should be smart enough to know my objection is not with the idea of reciprocity. Why you’d preemptively cast me in that light is questionable.

          As for how Chinese in America should be treated, I think they’re largely treated similarly to how foreigners are treated in China. When they find themselves with ignorant people who have little exposure to Asians, they might get a negative reaction. When they find themselves with friendly people, they might get a positive experience. Sometimes they are treated as welcomed guests, and sometimes they’re treated to xenophobia. Certain unscrupulous people will take advantage of them, others won’t.

          There are a lot of things that we can argue as being uniquely unfair to one or the other in one or the other country, but let’s keep this post’s discussion on topic. Feel free to bring up the topic again on an appropriate post that has more relevance to the differences between how foreigners are treated in China and how Chinese are treated in America. Or better yet, make a post about it on your blog and invite me to comment.

          • mark

            You still didn’t answer the question:

            What is it exactly in the article that would make you respond with “a long string of expletives”?

          • I answered. You just didn’t read:

            Stan is already working on a post responding to that one that should come out today.

            Let’s wait for Stan’s response. If there’s anything he doesn’t cover, I’ll be sure to add to it.

          • mark

            Have you gone daft?

            Stan didn’t say he would respond with “a long string of expletives.” You did.

            I don’t give a s*it what Stan’s comments are.

            What I wanted to know was what was in the article that would you make you want to write “a long string of expletives.”

            Anyone who read the article would have a hard time coming out with a
            “a long string of expletives.”

            Either you are being dishonest about the nature of the article or you have a serious problem.

          • Wow, okay. Let me explain:

            When I said I’m afraid my response would just be a long string of expletives, I was jokingly expressing my frustration and vehement disagreement with much of what Gilbert says in his HuffPo article. It’s called hyperbole. The idea is to convey the amusing image of me banging my head against my desk in absolute disbelief and frothing rage at what is Gilbert is spewing repeatedly throughout his post. This obviously means I disagree with a lot of it, in a very strong way.

            Stan had e-mailed me about this post, remarking about how he had bookmarked it too to write about sometime. I soon saw Gilbert’s piece afterward and forwarded it to Stan, to which he asked if he could do a post on it. Since he’s doing it, I’m not going to do it. Think of it as division of labor.

            I have a good idea of what Stan is going to take issue with, which I share, which is why I said we can wait for Stan’s response. In reading Stan’s response, you’re going to read a lot of what I too thought about Gilbert’s article. Through Stan’s words, you’ll catch a lot of what I strongly reacted against, what I would humorously respond to with “a long string of expletives.”

            That you wouldn’t react the same way as I would (which is being shocked, appalled, and flabbergasted) just suggests that you don’t see things quite the same way I do. That’s fine. We disagree. Stan and I explained our disagreements with Nicole and Gilbert. You, on the other hand and thus far, have been busy calling me “weenie”.

  12. I cannot understand what relation a couple of hackers have with internet censorship. If Chinese hackers hack into Gmail, Google decides to leave China altogether, citing freedom of speech rules, which it has been following all along till now!

    If a couple of Indian hackers hacked into some Gmail accounts, would Google leave India too?

    BTW, Google is showing some double standards here. Google has made itself the self-appointed guardian of Freedom of Speech. But, it is a well established fact that Google had left a backdoor in Gmail to enable NSA to spy on Gmail users. It is this backdoor which the hackers exploited.
    So what the hackers did illegally, the US government does legally.

    I think that Google was just hiding its mistake of not having enough security and being unable to keep hackers out. Google couldn’t defend itself against hackers, and is now blurring the issue, by talking about freedom of speech.

    • hm

      This reminds me of an article I read about a Chinese student, I think in the NY Times, where he basically said along the lines that the Chinese question if they are being brainwashed while nations like America who advocate free speech, don’t find the necessity in doing so.

      Isn’t it better to know than not to know?

  13. I realise you are just pointing out the inconsitencies in this article, but in my opinion you are kind of missing the point about what’s wrong in China.

    You raise the point that countries like Australia are censoring their internet too – while this is something I completely disagree with (censorship I mean), you either didn’t realise or choose not to observe the fact that their filter is aimed at child porn. If all China was doing was censoring child porn, well I guess most people wouldn’t have a problem with it. However, what they are doing is censoring people with alternative political views, and this is something I’m far less inclined to agree with.

    Ok, so you raise the example of sites like twitter and youtube being banned in China for non-compliance with local laws. Do you recall the incident that youtube was most recently banned for? It was a video of someone being beaten in Tibet. Well, I’m not a Tibet expert, and I have know idea what went down there, so I’m in no position to judge, but it seems kind of funny that they will ban an entire site (and youtube is HUGE) on the basis of one video, especially if they don’t believe it. Can you even tell me why sites like twitter and facebook are blocked? Because they aren’t complying with local laws? Should we support these laws when they are suppressing peoples political or religious views?

    Of course, people can go and blog on Chinese blog sites – like you say, QQ, Sina, and everything like that, but the difference is these sites will pull any offending posts down in no time. This is something I just can’t agree with.

    Excuse me if I missed your point, I realise you are pointing out the flaws in the article, but at the same time, I strongly feel that you haven’t presented an alternative view, or tried to present the downside of filtering and censorship in China at all.

    You know, I knew a Chinese girl who told me I can either like it or lump it – of course, I can just leave the country if I like, but I don’t really think that’s a great attitude. I actually gave her the example of Mao Ze Dong, what if he’d just decided to give up and go back to the countryside, screw the revolution? Just because there is a status quo doesn’t mean we have to agree with it.

    I think leaving is a really defeatist attitude, and I can see how much China has changed in the years that I’ve been here. I agree with you that foreigners shouldn’t force our ideals on the Chinese, and I certainly realise that my political views aren’t shared by all, but I just like the idea that people should be able to share their views without being persecuted for them.

    The most ridiculous flipside of it all is, I’ve been accused by foreigners of being a communist because I don’t think everything the Chinese government is terrible – the three gorges dam for example – much better than all the coal power plants, and a million people in China really isn’t that many.

    Anyway, I’d just like to see you present the argument that you support alongside the argument you think is poorly made. Sorry if I missed the point.


    • Jacob,

      I disagree. I don’t think I’m missing the point of Nicole’s article at all, which ostensibly seeks to defend and promote the principle of free speech or anti-censorship but fails in doing so by getting mired in trying to present the issue in a false dichotomy between democratic and non-democratic states.

      Australia and child porn? I have no disagreement that speech is, in many ways, far “freer” in Australia than China but my point isn’t to show China being better than Australia. My point was to expose the false dichotomy of democratic vs. undemocratic states. For your reference, here’s a nice summary of Australia’s censorship issues.

      YouTube, as I remember (and correct me if I’m wrong), was never registered to operate in China. As per China’s laws, no website is guaranteed access to China’s audience without compliance to China’s censorship laws. The whole Chinese netizen joke about China’s internet becoming an intranet (LAN) is precisely because of these regulations, making fun of the potential extent they can be taken to. The only way to guarantee official access to China’s internet audience is to have a license. To get that license, one has to agree to self-censorship. YouTube never did this and thus it always risked getting blocked.

      The reason websites like YouTube are blocked is because they have become mass media websites. If the government seeks control over mass media like television and newspapers, they’d of course seek to have control over a website like YouTube in this day and age, because such mediums can easily propagate information they want to control.

      And Facebook and Twitter? Because they are again foreign websites with critical mass that can be used to disseminate information or even coordinate operations the Chinese government needs to monitor and control but can’t because they’re foreign and not bound by China’s laws.

      Should you support these laws? That’s up to you. But you need to at least see and consider the reasons why other people do. What if other people value domestic social stability over individual expressions of political and religious views? You’re going to have a knee-jerk reaction to this, but pause for a moment and seriously consider what might cause people to care more about one over the other. Only then are you going to get remotely close to having any sort of productive conversation where you have any chance of influencing any change in others towards your own values.

      Showing that people go and blog on Chinese sites was to show how Nicole’s “omg, we can’t use Facebook” argument was overextended. She overplayed Facebook’s importance to Chinese internet users in her argument. Many foreigners cannot imagine not having Facebook, but it isn’t nearly the case for the vast majority of Chinese netizens. But she tried suggesting it anyway. It’s either a disingenuous argument or she didn’t do her research. Both look bad.

      Excuse me if I missed your point, I realise you are pointing out the flaws in the article, but at the same time, I strongly feel that you haven’t presented an alternative view, or tried to present the downside of filtering and censorship in China at all.

      What made you think I was trying to present the downside of filtering and censorship in China? Why do I have to? Does any discussion of filtering and censorship in China require a denouncement of it? If so, see my initial disclaimers. Otherwise, this post really was more of a critique of a typical Western criticism of the issue. That’s not enough?

      Just because there is a status quo doesn’t mean we have to agree with it.

      Who’s saying you have to agree with it? That Chinese girl was less telling you to agree with it and more telling you that she doesn’t care to hear more about it from you. Have you tried putting yourself in her shoes?

      I just like the idea that people should be able to share their views without being persecuted for them

      I totally empathize with this sentiment of your’s, Jacob. But my post isn’t a support of persecution. It’s a post showing how bad arguments aren’t going to help the ongoing battle against persecution.

      the three gorges dam for example – much better than all the coal power plants, and a million people in China really isn’t that many.

      This is interesting. The Chinese government can say, the few people whose religious views are suppressed for the welfare of the rest “isn’t that many”. You gotta know how to articulate the lines in the sand you draw for various issues.

      Cheers Jacob, I think your heart is in the right place, thanks for the comment.

  14. IP

    Nonetheless, google’s services in china seem a little bit in odds with netizens..fact is a typical chinese person just finds chinese services more relevant to his/her needs..
    a good blog about it is

  15. unbiased

    Nice rebuttal. Foreigners with ZERO experience in China frequently think their belief systems and politics are superior examples of civilization – automatically deriding other civilizations as barbarians. This is an extremely hard sell in China which considers itself one of the leading civilizations and all others barbarians- can you see polarity here?

    Finally – Chinese in general are extraordinarily pragmatic. The free speech, censorship, etc are merely the rules of the game. While the total loss of Google access would be a shame – the internet is quite resilient, even here in China – and as mentioned – we (including expats) will simply migrate to the next best thing. Most people don’t spend their waking moments contemplating the philosophies of Google or democracy (China would argue it is somewhat democratic) – but trying to make a living and lead a comfortable life. That’s what it’s been about for over 5,000 years. Politics comes and goes – but day-to-day living goes on forever.

    Not having lived in the US for some time now – I’ve seen a consistent movement by news agencies to present more and more biased and opinionated reporting as opposed to unbiased – so technically the democratic free speech media as presented by the Huffington Post is actually propaganda since it’s technically and scientifically biased.

Continuing the Discussion