Indeed, Google’s threat has angered most of China’s 384 million netizens, perhaps predictably. Over the last two years, any posturing by a foreign country, specially a Western country, has seen a surge of belligerent nationalism — be it the violence in Lhasa in March 2008, the attacks on the Olympic torch in Paris and London the same year, or Google’s threat now. An online survey showed that 70 per cent netizens felt that their government should not make any concession for Google.
Don’t they want the freedom to explore the internet unhindered by China’s Great Firewall? Apparently not. Partly the answer lies in Google’s limited reach: only 31 per cent of Chinese use Google, with almost 64 per cent using Baidu, China’s own search engine. This despite Google having developed many Chinese-friendly features such as translations, a Chinese-Pinyin (Chinese in Roman script) input system, local train information and legal music downloads.
Netizens angry at Google have pointed out that it is too closely linked with the government of the United States of America. In the official media, Google’s threat is seen as hollow. “Leaving? Google is pouting,’’ said one People’s Daily columnist. This despite proof of the seriousness of its intent being shown — hitherto banned topics such as the Tiananmen Square massacre were available on Google the morning after its announcement. As if on cue, a statement appeared on the information office website, warning about pornography and rumours, and talking about the government and internet media’s responsibility to “guide public opinion’’…Columnists writing in newspapers known for their boldness, have expressed regret that the exit of Google will deprive Chinese search engines of competition. However, the most poignant comments have come from well-known dissident bloggers. “Google, I await your return when there is freedom,’’ writes Ai Weiwei, an eccentric, irreverent blogger. Journalist Zhang Wen, a proponent of democracy, writes sombrely, “Google finally can no longer stomach the increasingly tightening reins, and must abandon their original position of compromise. I feel this is civilization fighting back against savagery, this is freedom fighting back against autocracy….’’ Zhang goes on to say that the gleeful expressions of “good riddance’’ from netizens are short-sighted; they do not understand that without being able to use the most advanced search engines, they will return to the Stone Age of the internet. On Twitter, an anonymous post points out that with the three most popular websites —YouTube, Google and Facebook blocked in China, this was “not an issue of Google abandoning China, but one of China abandoning the world.”