Google is “covering one’s ears to steal a bell 掩耳盗铃”

On 24th of March I posted an article written by a Bloomberg correspondent entitled “Google Faces No Hong Kong Censors After China Retreat”. It seems that Google has upheld its stance on internet freedom. The fact is that Google only passes the ball to China’s court. It is now the China authorities who are doing the censorship. It is confirmed that China has screened Google’s contents and blocked those topics which they do not like. The Chinese netizens (net users) still do not have access to such sensitive topics on Tiananmen Massacre, Tibet,, Dalai Lama, Falun Gong etc. I am a big Google fan and I am all for Google’s intent and purpose. However,  I have reservation the way they handle the matter.  What Google doing is akin to an ancient Chinese metaphor, 掩耳盗铃. More on this below.

The metaphor

掩耳盗铃 (yan er dao ling) literally means “covering one’s ears to steal a bell” in English or “Taperse los oídos al robar una campanilla” in Spanish. It actually means “deceiving oneself” or “engañarse a sí mismo“. It has similar meaning to “bury one’s head in the sand” or “esconder la cabeza debajo del ala

The origin of the metaphor can be traced back to the ancient China’s Spring and Autumn Period (476BC to 770BC). History had it that a thief at the time tried to steal a big and heavy copper bell from a house. He could not move it so he had to break it into pieces. The thief found a big hammer and tried to do so. He realized that it would produce a very loud noise and would draw others’ attention.  To avoid that he stuck some fabrics into his ears. He thought others, like him, could not hear it when he hit the bell with the hammer. Needless to say that was not the case and he got caught.

Do you agree what Google doing is 掩耳盗铃? Please take a vote:

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Google da un portazo a China

Below is an article published by El.Pais about Google moving its China search function to Hong Kong. From the article you can see the relationship between Hong Kong and Mainland China.

Cumpliendo su promesa de acabar con la censura impuesta por Pekín a su buscador, Google desmanteló ayer su portal en China y redirigió las búsquedas a su página radicada en Hong Kong. Después de más de dos meses de negociación con el régimen chino, los directivos de la empresa en California han decidido que es imposible mantener una presencia online en aquel país y han optado por ofrecer una versión en chino de su buscador genérico, sin los filtros ni la censura que aplicaron a Google.cn desde su lanzamiento en 2006. Para ello han decidido someterse la legislación de Hong Kong, una región autónoma dentro de China desde 1997, que ofrece a sus ciudadanos una libertad mucho mayor en Internet.

“Queremos que la mayor cantidad posible de gente tenga acceso a nuestros servicios, incluidos los usuarios de China. Pero el Gobierno chino ha dejado muy claro en sus conversaciones con nosotros que la auto-censura es un requerimiento legal no negociable”, dijo el vicepresidente ejecutivo David Drummond ayer por la tarde, en una entrada en el blog corporativo de la empresa. “Tenemos la esperanza de que el Gobierno de China respete nuestra decisión, aunque somos conscientes de que podría bloquear el acceso a nuestros servicios en cualquier momento”.

Hong Kong se incorporó a China en 1997, bajo un acuerdo entre Londres y Pekín según el cual la antigua colonia británica mantendría un elevado sistema de autonomía durante 50 años. Las únicas normas de censura que se aplican en Hong Kong atañen a casos de pornografía online. “En Hong Kong se aplica la norma de un país con dos sistemas. Es el crisol de la disidencia china en Internet, tiene una libertad online que no existe en el resto del país. Movimientos políticos o religiosos que no son permitidos en China, como Falun Gong, operan libremente allí”, explica Rebecca MacKinnon, una reputada investigadora de la Universidad de Princeton que hasta hace poco fue profesora en la Universidad de Hong Kong.

Ya sin censura

En el buscador de Google alojado en Hong Kong no existe ya ningún tipo de censura, en un claro desafío a Pekín. Aparecen búsquedas sobre la matanza de la plaza de Tiananmen en 1989, sobre el movimiento religioso de Falun Gong y sobre el Dalai Lama y la independencia de Tíbet. “El hecho de que sus servidores se alojen en Hong Kong implica que las autoridades chinas no podrán detener o procesar a ninguno de los responsables de mantener la página web”, añade McKinnon. “El único recurso que le queda a Pekín es el bloqueo total de algunas páginas o del sitio completo. Si Pekín quiere censurarlo, deberá prohibirlo por completo”.

En Hong Kong, una ciudad de siete millones de habitantes, se utiliza principalmente un chino escrito con caracteres denominados tradicionales. La empresa ha modificado su buscador Google.com.hk para que aparezca con un interfaz escrito con unos caracteres chinos simplificados, que son los que se utilizan en el resto de China, donde habita una comunidad de internautas que las últimas cifras oficiales colocan en torno a los 400 millones. Los internautas que se conecten a la red desde direcciones IP de Hong Kong seguirán teniendo acceso a una versión de la web en chino tradicional, como hasta ahora.

Google también anunció ayer que, de momento, sus oficinas en China seguirán en funcionamiento. Allí emplea a unas 600 personas, la mitad en el departamento de investigación y desarrollo y la otra mitad en el de ventas. “Aun así, el tamaño del equipo de ventas dependerá parcialmente de la capacidad de los usuarios de China de acceder a Google.com.hk”, según aclaró ayer el vicepresidente en su blog. Además, aclaró que la decisión de abandonar la censura y su salida de China fue una decisión “tomada por los ejecutivos de EE UU, algo de lo que los empleados en China no pueden ni deben ser considerados responsables”.

El anuncio de Google pone fin a más de dos meses de negociaciones con el régimen de Pekín para cumplir lo que la empresa prometió a sus usuarios: dejar de doblegarse ante las estrictas normas de censura de China, a las que sí se someten otras empresas como Microsoft o Skype. El anuncio inicial lo hizo la empresa en el mismo blog corporativo, el pasado 12 de enero, al revelar un ataque de hackers chinos, relacionados con el Gobierno de Pekín, contra sus servidores.

Google Faces No Hong Kong Censors After China Retreat

The article below shows how the “one country, two systems”, under which Hong Kong is governed by China, works.

March 24 (Bloomberg) — Hong Kong says it won’t help China censor Google Inc., after the search engine provider said it would route mainland users through its site in the city.

Hong Kong respects freedom of information and its free flow, a spokesman for the city’s Information Services Department said yesterday, declining to be identified as a matter of policy. There are no restrictions on access to Web sites, including access to Hong Kong-based Web sites from China, he said.

While China regularly blocks content from Web sites outside its borders, Hong Kong’s reaction illustrates the autonomy it enjoys under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy that guided its 1997 return to Chinese sovereignty. Hong Kong’s constitution, the Basic Law, guarantees freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom and privacy of communication.

The government’s response to Google’s move yesterday “highlights Hong Kong’s advantages,” said David Zweig, a political scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “It’s worth reminding people that they can come to Hong Kong because of ‘One Country, Two Systems.”

Thirteen years after the Hong Kong handover, Beijing has done little to meddle in management of the city — home to Asia’s third-largest stock market by capitalization, 34 billionaires and the world’s third-highest office rents.

News, Rumors

“One of Hong Kong’s key rationales as a financial center is its freedom of information,” said Michael DeGolyer, professor of government and international studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. “One reason that fund management is in the city and not in China is freedom of information. If you can’t get either the news or the rumor you’re not going to be able to buy and sell with any accuracy. This is why Hong Kong is still the financial center of China.”

Google decided to direct traffic to the Hong Kong site after a two-month dispute with the Chinese government over censorship. Analysts say China will continue to control content within its borders, blocking content from Hong Kong and beyond.
“It’s very likely that Google.com.hk will be blocked at least as aggressively as Google.com was and, more likely, probably more aggressively,” said Ben Schachter, an analyst at Broadpoint AmTech Inc. in San Francisco.

Google’s Conscience

So instead of censoring itself, Google is placating its conscience by having China do the filtering, Andy Xie, an independent economist, said in a phone interview.

Given that Apple Daily, a mass circulation Chinese-language newspaper, operates in Hong Kong with an editorial line severely critical of the mainland government, the rerouting of searches is unlikely to prompt a crackdown in the city, Xie said.

“Of course, the Chinese government is unhappy about Google’s decision because of the cost” of censoring increased Web traffic, Xie said.

By late morning yesterday, searches for “Tiananmen” on computers in Shanghai and Beijing could not be displayed, suggesting the government had started limiting access.

Since the People’s Liberation Army entered Hong Kong at midnight on June 30, 1997, the city’s 7 million residents have continued to enjoy freedoms far beyond those of their counterparts across the border in mainland China.

In 2003, the local population even overturned planned restrictions on freedom. After about half a million people marched against anti-subversion legislation, then-Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa withdrew the plan and later resigned.

To be sure, Hong Kong lacks fully democratic elections, a target promised in the Basic Law that Beijing has indicated will not occur before 2020. China has criticized the tactics of legislators seeking a faster pace of progress.

Other things prohibited in China remain legal in Hong Kong.

The Falun Gong spiritual movement, banned in China as an “evil cult,” operates openly in Hong Kong, organizing displays in public places such as the Star Ferry pier publicizing allegations of abuse by the mainland government.

And groups, from Trotskyists demanding full democracy and the departure of Chief Executive Donald Tsang to bar workers denouncing plans to limit indoor smoking, demonstrate freely.

WordPress is blocked in China again

It is sad that I learned from my good friend Joseph that my WordPress blog is now unavailable in the Mainland as it was and still blocked by the authority. The reason that I have one blog hosted in 163.com and one hosted in WordPress is that WordPress at one time was blocked in the Mainland but to my surprise it was unblocked a couple months ago and now it is blocked. The on and off, blocked and unblocked, is not good for a blog like mine, which has minimal political content yet it was affected by the country’s policy ebbs nonetheless.

It is extremely inconvenient for me to post my blogs at two different websites. Besides it defeats the purpose of me trying to bring the peoples of the two different cultures together. I think no social net or blog could be successful with both Chinese and western readers, although I am trying to do that impossible task. The reason I say this is that any one who is successful in doing so would be a victim of his own success. It is because there are people who would do things just to get on the Chinese authority nerves and would use such forum to achieve their purposes. Apparently there is no such forum at the moment. If there were one, I am sure it would be inundated with materials that would guarantee a shut down by the Chinese authority.

Further, there are some professional bloggers, which have economic motives to irritate or provoke the Chinese people or authority. They know some of the sensitive topics would guarantee strong and emotional reactions from the Chinese people. As I have written in my post on 17th November, 2009 entitled, China, one big blogging country, it was estimated that China has a blogging population of 182 million people at around September 2009. There is no single country which has such a big blogging population. If a blogger could make a name in the China, even in an underhanded way, it would be like printing money or like selling Big Macs in China. I need to point out they are so called professional bloggers because they earn money by putting advertisements in their blogs and more readers mean more advertising revenues.

Having said that I do not support a controlled internet policy. As a Hong Konger, I am used to and all for an open door policy in respect of internet use and information. Speaking from personal experience, I know my Mainland compatriots are sophisticated enough to tell which is true and which is untrue in respect of news or information received through the internet or other medias.

It brings me to another sad news is that Google reportedly is contemplating pulling out of the China market if its ends to self censorship are not acceptable to the Chinese authority. I am a big fan of Google. I use Google’s search engine for researches on my blog topics and on my English style and grammar. The other day my friend asked me a English grammar question: whether it is “make a voice heard” or “make a voice be heard”. At first glance, both seem correct. However, when I did a Google search, there were hundred of results for the former and none for the latter. So it is clear the former is the correct one. If Google indeed pulls out of the China market, I think it would be a great loss to the English learning community in China. With no disrespect to Baidu, which I think is a great search engine, personally I think as far as non-Chinese languages searches are concerned it has no competition against Google. Similarly, I think it would be a great loss to commercial business users in China too. Last week, my US principal asked me to search for certain machine parts, which are not available in the US. First off, I looked for a possible China supplier and did a Baidu search, but it came up with no answer. Then I did a Google search and found out that a part supplier in Poland had them in stock. What I intend to point out is that in the commercial world more information the better, a Google loss could be a China loss.

I hope Google and the China authority could work out an amicable settlement and my friends in the Mainland could continue to enjoy the great resources that Google has built up in English language searches.