What should we make of Google’s decision to enforce self-censorship in order to get a foothold in the lucrative and booming Chinese market? They had resisted up until now, while competitors signed up to the conditions laid down by the Chinese government over what its citizens can and cannot access on the internet. Contraband search terms, as defined by the faceless totalitarian government in Beijing, include such shocking words and concepts as: ‘democracy’, ‘human rights’, ‘Taiwan independence’, ‘Free Tibet’ and, of course, the words ‘Tiananmen’, ‘Square’, ‘brutal’ and ‘massacre’ used in conjunction.
Meanwhile, Google (whose slogan is “Don’t be evil”) argue that withdrawing completely would be worse. Although they don’t actually explain how, so I guess we’ll just have to take their word for it.
It’s a shame, because as giant corporations hell-bent on world domination go, Google are one of my favourites. Their search services whip everybody else into irrelevance, and they provide lots of pretty cool (and free) software such as Google Earth and Picasa. Gmail is far better than any of the other free web mail services too. Even Blogger, of course, is Google owned, so these very words are hosted on their servers (although I expect this site would be blocked via Google.cn due to containing naughty words like ‘liberalism’ and ‘freedom’).
Ultimately though the censorship will prove to be futile. Nothing can stop the flow of information – it always finds a way through – and the Chinese government attempting to hold back the full force of the internet is rather like the legend of King Knut standing on the beach, demanding that the waves turn back. Totalitarianism always fails and China, as it increasingly opens itself up to free market capitalism, will be no exception. Free markets and democracy are a double act – neither lasts for long without the other – and China’s attempt to develop international open markets while enforcing domestic social oppression will one day buckle under the weight of its own contradictions.
Which is ironic, because that’s exactly what Karl Marx said would happen to capitalism.