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Google in China - The Big Disconnect 148

Posted by Zonk
from the quite-a-disconnect dept.
wile_e_wonka writes "The NY Times (registration required) has an article about Google's history in China (beginning way before this whole censorship thing). The article, among other things, talks about of Google's head of operations in China, and his goals for the company there. From the article: 'Lee can sound almost evangelical when he talks about the liberating power of technology. The Internet, he says, will level the playing field for China's enormous rural underclass; once the country's small villages are connected, he says, students thousands of miles from Shanghai or Beijing will be able to access online course materials from M.I.T. or Harvard and fully educate themselves.'"
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Google in China - The Big Disconnect

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  • liberated (Score:4, Insightful)

    by joe 155 (937621) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:45AM (#15164808) Journal
    I like the way he talks about the liberating power of technology... so long as you don't want to discuss anything that the government doesn't agree with... or want to find out what happened in Tianamen square, or if you want to have unrestricted access to other webpages. But appart from that it does makes people completely free, free as a (caged) bird
    • Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain...
    • by Tackhead (54550) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @11:11AM (#15165012)
      > I like the way he talks about the liberating power of technology... so long as you don't want to discuss anything that the government doesn't agree with... or want to find out what happened in Tianamen square, or if you want to have unrestricted access to other webpages. But apart from that it does makes people completely free, free as a (caged) bird

      Well sure, but liberation.google.com is still just at the invite-only beta stage.

    • Re:liberated (Score:3, Interesting)

      by liangzai (837960)
      Well, I am reading this from China... please enlighten me, what exactly happened in Tiananmen Square (and didn't it in fact happen outside the square)? Is that 1989 pro-democracy movement that ended in a massacre (still outside the square)?

      Since I am in China, there is no fucking way I can read your reply (according to your theory).

      And since I am in China, I also can't discuss this issue with you here, also according to your theory.

      The only thing that is certain is that I can't discuss this in Chinese here.
      • The rally started as a government approved anti-corruption rally. But during the rally it changed into a pro democracy rally. The rally was brutally stopped and the party members involved with approving it were punished.
        • "Liangzai's" point, if I may be so bold, is that there's nothing in your post that every Chinese citizen doesn't already know. In fact, most people in China (particularly among the urban middle class) probably know more about the Tiananmen Square protests of '89 than the average American knows about Kent State in '70.

          It's a mystery why we in the West feel a need to impute ignorance on China's citizens. If only they knew how things worked in the West, they'd cast off their chains of oppression! They'd build
          • "Liangzai's" point, if I may be so bold, is that there's nothing in your post that every Chinese citizen doesn't already know. In fact, most people in China (particularly among the urban middle class) probably know more about the Tiananmen Square protests of '89 than the average American knows about Kent State in '70.

            I agree. I am a ex Chinese national and I see becoming like the states would be several steps backwards for China. A better target would be Canada or some european countries, possible Sweden. T
      • Are you saying that your government is ineffectual at censorship?

        You may or may not be correct, but that is neither Slashdot's fault nor a reason not to seek to repair the corruption that is censorship, and its defenders.

        • "My" government is effectual at censorship. It regularly spoofs DNS requests to kiddie porn sites, and it has also shut down a political party's web site. But then again, "my" government isn't Chinese.
          • Your statements appears to equate censorship of the Tianamen Square massacre to attacking kiddie porn sites.

            Is a fair characterization of your position?

            • Re:liberated (Score:2, Insightful)

              Can't speak for "liangzai," but the article tries to convey the idea that Western cultural norms, and specifically our worshipful deference to free speech, aren't universal by any means. Even here in the West, there are limits to freedom of speech--kiddie porn, as has been mentioned, but also things like Holocaust denial and neo-Nazi speech are censored in many parts of what we'd call the "free world." Ultimately the justification is that these policies promote a certain way of thinking, and stigmatize the
              • Fiddlesticks!

                Tyrants everywhere LOVE the idea that fundamental human rights don't apply to THEIR people -- especially free speech.

                Scientists have found nothing in the genetic makeup of Asians (or black slaves in 19th century America, or Christian slaves in today's Africa) or any subgroup a particular dictatorship happens to own, that justifies denying them of fundamental human rights. It is NOT relevant that the objects of an oppressive government assert they don't care about free speech; torture and

    • so long as you don't want to discuss anything that the government doesn't agree with.

      How is this all that different from Western Countries? All countries have taboo topics that people from other cultures cannot figure out. These restrictions might be new to the Internet but other media (Radio, TV, etc.) have long been regulated and forcibly filtered by Western Governments.
    • The author started his journey fixated on an 'absolutist' stance on freedom of speech, much as you are demonstrating. In the course of developing the article, he came to see that there ARE gradations in such freedom and that insisting on jummping instantly to an imagined 'pure' state may not be that productive.
      It's so easy to look pious rather than make the hard choices as Google did.

      The most exciting behavior that I read in the article is the exploding level
      of voluntary participation, expression, and pers
    • Block politics if you want, porn if you can recognize it, history as you want to rewrite it.
      Still.
      Learn science, learn to believe in facts, not ideology. Learn to observe to gather facts. Learn psychology, learn how slogans, ideas are forced into one mind.
      Those who still ignore they belong in a democracy will be quick to see it?
    • With Google, you don't find out anything particularly interesting with you search for certain topics, at least if you're not clever about it. And, of course, you can't use Google as a proxy to get to web sites that the government blocks, but Google isn't a proxy service anyway (Google doesn't give you in the US unrestricted access to, for example, the New York Times article, nor should it).

      Anyway, the main information factor in formenting revolution is generally not particular details, pieces of history, et
    • I big part of our problem in dealing with the Chinese effectively is illustrated by the Chinese President's current visit. Just read the quotes from the two presidents [reuters.com] and tell me the US isn't at a decided disadvantage in our leader's intellectual capacity.

      Take a wild guess at which president said:

      "He's used the word 'win-win,' and that's a very important concept when it comes to economics that are mutually beneficial."

      It is truly amazing when you consider which one has been speaking his native language.

  • I've heard through sources that Google's webpage opens with, "A Great Leap Forward."

    They thought about, "Smile, you're happy," but then figured it would offend too many and the pigeon rank system would get messed up.

  • by skitheboat (901329) * on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:47AM (#15164831) Homepage
    All lofty stuff in the article about getting "fully educated"... but in reality (as seen in the US and other places), I can envision one billion Chinese reading Slashdot, gambling online, surfing for porn, and watching paint dry [watching-paint-dry.com]
  • Otherwise the Internet could just become a way for the Chinese authorities to nab groups that used to be too spread out to effectively contain.
  • Just like every other technological leap since the hand axe has made people fre--oh wait...
  • by merlin_jim (302773) <James.McCracken@strata p u l t . c om> on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:52AM (#15164871)
    students thousands of miles from Shanghai or Beijing will be able to access online course materials from M.I.T. or Harvard and fully educate themselves.'

    Cause, you know, just look at the US - Internet access for the past 10 years has turned the current crop of high schoolers into a bunch of geniuses, all just itching to discover antigravity or write a new sociopolitical theory that eliminates inflation and market swings...

    lol of course on the other hand my little brother of 14 is writing better games than I was at 18...
    • Cause, you know, just look at the US - Internet access for the past 10 years has turned the current crop of high schoolers into a bunch of geniuses, all just itching to discover antigravity or write a new sociopolitical theory that eliminates inflation and market swings...

      I think the difference is that US students already had access to colleges and universities. The Internet did not improve their study options because they were already pretty good. Chinese villagers of some godforsaken valley, on the other

    • I have to say that, personally, I think MIT's OpenCourseWare [mit.edu] is excellent.
  • The Internet, he says, will level the playing field for China's enormous rural underclass; once the country's small villages are connected, he says, students thousands of miles from Shanghai or Beijing will be able to access online course materials from M.I.T. or Harvard and fully educate themselves.
    He then added, "And then Yahoo will promptly turn over the names of the offending individuals for sentencing."
  • by bigwavejas (678602) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:55AM (#15164900) Journal
    Unfortunately I think a lot of what's seen in China is going to be censored, even if there are ways to get around their firewall (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4496163.s tm [bbc.co.uk]). I think most people aren't technically savvy enough or too lazy to bother searching for ways to beat the system, but there are those who will (even if its just a handful) and one can only hope the information will disseminate to the average person in China.
    • I think most people aren't technically savvy enough or too lazy to bother searching for ways to beat the system

      You're dead on here. I've read articles on the BBC about how many Chinese people actually support censorship. They, not the government, put pressure on local newcasts to only report "happy news". Many Chinese people view the restrictions as helpful in weeding out unwelcome "foreign influence".

      While it might come as a big surprise to Slashdotters, I suspect that the majority of Chinese people k
      • Right you suspect because there are no Chinese who can/would speak out against their government without harsh retaliation. You are probably right that large numbers of Chinese are okay with how they are living, if it was otherwise there would probably be more uprisings. However, there were more than 70,000 uprisings in the rural areas last year. How often do you read about those on the BBC? Why?

        • Because that is simply not true.

          Okay, I don't have any authoritative source to back my claims, but I dare you to show me any solid evidence of your claims.

          And you guys wonder why the stuff is censored.
        • You don't read about them on the BBC because they happen so frequently that they have become boring. And they aren't about big issues like democracy, but about local corruption. Some of them are reported in Chinese media, but even the Chinese can't take an interest in that many incidents. It is just part of life in a country aching of growth and rising inequalities.
          • An interesting juxtaposition, a country of rising inequalities as a result of uncontrolled capitalism being protected by pseudo communism which google a company from a democratic country in turn is helping to protect with for censorship for a profit. Knowledge is power and the most important prerequisite for democracy is an informed public. Google putting profits before democracy, evil is as evil does, not what it markets.
  • "students thousands of miles from Shanghai or Beijing will be able to access online course materials from M.I.T. or Harvard and fully educate themselves."
    Do MIT and Harvard distribute course materials in Chinese now?
  • Hm, let's see... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by greenguy (162630) <estebandido.gmail@com> on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:59AM (#15164926) Homepage Journal
    students thousands of miles from Shanghai or Beijing will be able to access online course materials from M.I.T. or Harvard and fully educate themselves

    That sounds great... until you think it through. Besides connected villages, this would also requires students who have...

    1. Advanced English, including technical vocabulary.
    2. A high-school education. A *good* high-school education.
    3. Reliable power and Internet connections.
    4. Consistent and extensive access to a computer hooked up to the net. A printer might be nice, too.
    5. Considerable time to study.
    6. Exceptional levels of self-motivation.
    7. No problems with the government, which will inevitably monitor their activities.
    8. No problems with family, which might or might not think this is a good use of one's time.
    9. Etc.


    I'm all about the rural poor becoming educated in China and everywhere, but it's going to take more than access to Google to do it.
    • You are correct, it is a different mindset. I do not think many rural poor are going to want to study, they are probably more worried about putting food on the table and not stirring up trouble with the censors/govt.
      • I think if given the opportunity, many of China's farmers in the countryside would leap at the opportunity to give their children a better education than they were able to receive. Partly this is due to the importance Chinese culture places on education and self-improvement; partly, too, it's a reaction to the deprivation and sense of loss many Chinese of parenting age feel about having been subjected to the Cultural Revolution, which denied them a liberal, open education.

        Basically, it would give the rural
    • 1) Advanced English, including technical vocabulary.
      2) A high-school education. A *good* high-school education.
      3) Exceptional levels of self-motivation
      4) ???
      5) Profit !
    • Re:Hm, let's see... (Score:3, Informative)

      by sielwolf (246764)
      Yeah, his statements are especially interesting considering that China no longer provides free primary and secondary school education. That basically means the entire 800 million sustenance-farming population lost its one way into the Chinese boom. And now all the young Chinese either work on the farm to get enough food to eat or go off to join the unskilled migrant economy. Sitting down for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week to study MIT course work is comically implausible (especially for peoples who indoor
    • I read in a local Shanghai newspaper that students at some of the city's top universities (Fudan and Jiaotong) are forming teams to translate MIT's OpenCourse materials.

      So, the barriers are at least a little lower than you expected.
    • Not to mention that they will be getting all this for free. I was fortunate enough to avoid a crippling student debt, but I have to wonder whether the availability of these materials irks American students. You come out of university after X years with tens of thousands of dollars of debt, and yet someone somewhere else can get access to the same knowledge for free? For all you know Chinese universities could simply cut-and-paste the entire course, and I bet their students don't owe ridiculous amounts of mo
      • by ajs (35943)
        I don't think anyone graduating from MIT is under the illusion that they paid all of that money for the course materials. The quality of the instructors, access to the research environment and the opportunities available to someone who is able to graduate from MIT are what you are paying for. The course materials are just the starting point.
  • Google Freedom 2.0 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by digitaldc (879047) * on Thursday April 20, 2006 @11:00AM (#15164933)
    students thousands of miles from Shanghai or Beijing will be able to access online course materials from M.I.T. or Harvard and fully educate themselves.

    But what good is an ivy-league education if you can't freely express your ideas?
    • Let's say you can't freely express your ideas. But you have a choice between being a peasant farmer and a doctor or an engineer. Which would you rather be? If you are smart, you still want to get educated and make the best life you can. Freedom has very little to do with usefulness of education.
    • At least you'll know that you aren't free.
    • But what good is an ivy-league education if you can't freely express your ideas?

      There are plenty of ivy-league graduates who can't freely express their ideas. Q.E.D.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, 2006 @11:02AM (#15164942)
    I wonder if those students in China will be able to fully educate themselves about the events of the Tianamen Square massacre in 1989. I don't mean that they'll only learn about the Communist Party's history of the event, which differs with almost every other account including the eyewitnesses there. But I wonder if they'll be permitted to learn about the thousands of unarmed people that were shot and killed, the Tank Man, and the executions and jailings of the protestors.

    If not, then these students won't be fully educated at all.
     
    • You know, I just searched for "Tank Man" on http://www.baidu.com/ [baidu.com] (the premier search engine in China, unaffected by the firewall), and the first link that came up was http://beyondpleasure.blogchina.com/4886647.html [blogchina.com]

      It indeed has the picture and the story (in brief), and the page was indeed fetched from within China.

      People all know about this, and this information will never go away. But you will not see it discussed in official media or anything like that.
      • I find it very interesting that there is a person purporting (and I pretty much believe him) to be within China, more or less refuting most of the crap that's floating around in this discussion and noone else is paying attention to him. Am I missing something? Is this a well-known Slashdot personality pretending to be from China that I've somehow not noticed in the last 7 years or do most of the current posters just like to hear themselves talk...
        • by sydneyfong (410107) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @12:10PM (#15165534) Homepage Journal
          Yes.

          I am technically from China as well (Hong Kong) as well, although I have never grown up in any "communist state" (whatever that means).

          Most people criticing China's "human rights" problems don't stick to facts, but to proganda by the western media that is almost twenty years old. They like to believe that "my country is better than yours", despite the fact that this is becoming more and more doubtful.

          Let me say this: nobody cares about people in China. All they care about is that "American values are better than Chinese values (and you should adopt them at whatever cost, even if it means that you overthrow your own government)". I mean, if anyone really takes a serious look at what actually happens in China, I'm sure they'll suddenly find that their dicks weren't as long as they previously thought.

          PS: Of course, there are those who really do care. But those people typically tackle the issue realistically instead of suggesting an overthrow of the CCP or something to that effect.
        • I am not FROM China, but I am in China. The crap that is floating around here is typical China bashing stuff. It has some merits to it, but it is skewed and out of proportion. There is a myth that the Chinese are censored beyond belief, when the truth is that the internet censorship is very mild. And there is always this Tiananmen Guangchang issue coming up, as if the Chinese would associate that square primarily with the June 4th incident. They don't. It is a small thing in Chinese history, and also in the
          • Bingo. Mod parent up. One thing you have to realize about Americans (and Westerners in general) is that our culture places such a great importance on individual liberties, including freedom of speech, that we don't tend to believe anyone could possibly have other priorities--and if they do, by golly, it's a problem that needs to be corrected, and for their own good!

            We're trained to think this way from birth. It doesn't help that almost all the media we're exposed to is our own, which makes it difficult to r
    • Did you read the article? They talk about those things in depth. Basically, it pays to keep things in perspective. WE live in a country with few restrictions on speech. Any restrictions greater than we are used to already are seen as horrible, backward slides.

      The chinese, on the other hand, are coming from the other direction. Things were much worse not too long ago, and they are getting better. Still having some restrictions but having much greater freedom than before is still a step forward.

      Sure, it
  • The idea of the internet making education to the masses really has not panned out. It ran into the problem of accreditation and expense. Advanced education, even on-line, remains beyond the means of most people due to it's cost.

    This high cost, of education, is kept artificially high by regional accreditation cartels. Of course people can argue that education is free; it is also unmarketable. People do not market their education, in most cases, they market their degrees. There are a number of solutions to

  • Cryptome CN publishes information, documents and opinions banned by the People's Republic of China. http://www.cryptome.cn/ [cryptome.cn]
  • Pipe Dream (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Zebra_X (13249) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @11:34AM (#15165212)
    The Internet, he says, will level the playing field for China's enormous rural underclass; once the country's small villages are connected, he says, students thousands of miles from Shanghai or Beijing will be able to access online course materials from M.I.T. or Harvard and fully educate themselves

    "Fully Educate Themselves". Not likely. For one, the courses are in english. Two, almost all of the courses on M.I.T.'s Open Courseware site require the purchase of multiple $100+ text books. In addition there is no feedback when following the courses. Unless you understand *how* to learn its very difficult to use these courses effectively.

    Those are issues though, that only come to pass when "all the villiages are connected" and by definition reliably powered (which they are not). Furthermore, access is great - however the very nature of learning, long periods of reading, problem solving require that those wishing to learn have a dedicated console, or computer to utilize.

    I'm all for educating the masses, I just think that running around spouting this "vision" is disingenuous.
    • There are thousands of small colleges and school far from the major universities that will benefit from the MIT materials. It is much more afforable for them to get power and internet access than to amass a collegiate level library. There are also many English speaking teachers in China who can craft courses to suit the level of their students. You're right that few studentls can use the materials on their own. But it is a great resoure for teachers.
  • Wouldn't it be great if one day we all woke up and China, along with every other repressive society, dropped all their inhumane activities and censorship? Wouldn't it be great if, on that day, every Chinese person was allowed to speak and inquire about whatever they want, whenever they want? Of course that would be great, but its not going to happen. Things like that don't magically happen over night. It takes time to move from censorship to free speech.

    Unless you believe that this change should happe
    • ... and apparently I did something wrong, because this was supposed to be a reply to the first poster... oh well.
    • Wouldn't it be great if one day we all woke up and China, along with every other repressive society, dropped all their inhumane activities and censorship?
      Name one country that has no government sanctioned/controlled censorship or inhumane activities.

      Wouldn't it be great if, on that day, every Chinese person was allowed to speak and inquire about whatever they want, whenever they want? Of course that would be great, but its not going to happen. Things like that don't magically happen over night. It takes ti
  • I think the problem here is that there is a big difference between what he calls "liberating" and what we call liberty. Liberty is a universal end in itself, technology may be a means for that, it may be a means for education too, but when all is said and done - if liberty is not an end in itself then people are not going to be what they were desinged to be. Technology doesn't magically secure and respect peoples free will, people half to do that, and it is clear that people who have power in China refuse
  • by rewinn (647614) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @11:37AM (#15165242) Homepage

    Deliberate data corruption, such as censorship, can give users the illusion that they are well informed when the data permitted through appears authoritative. Ponder, for example, the confidence one felt upon reading cherry-picked information about Iraq; Judy Miller may well have thought she was better informed when in fact she was less informed.

    How, then, can the data corruption be exposed, and who is motivated to do it?

    One approach is maximizing the number of links to censored pages [wikipedia.org], to alert the censored individual that their data is corrupt. However there must be more effective techniques.

    Perhaps more important, there must be a way to motivate individuals to fix this data corruption; forgive me for being cynical, but if there were a way to profit from the repair, that would be a powerful motivator.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tankman/vi ew/ [pbs.org]

    In the 6th video, university students in China are shown the picture of the Tank Man. They have no idea of who he is or what he is doing. They are unable to put the picture in any kind of social context or even guess what is going on in the photograph. China has a long way to go.
    • Unfortunately, they're not the only ones. Ask university students in the US, and I'd bet that around half wouldn't be able to tell you much about the Kent State shootings [wikipedia.org] (I mean, I knew about them, but I had to look up the name). Makes you wonder about other things you aren't taught about...
    • I'd suggest everyone watch this 90 minutes doucmentary online (free). It's excellent. It also talks about people outside of cities, like villages, having to come to work in the cities. Also, censorship. Even video clips of the cases with Yahoo!, Google, etc.
  • ...you yourselves benefit from the experience, correct? I'm sorry but I'm going to have to question Google's reasoning here. I understand if you talk about markets, and how it's important for profits or this or that, but to act like it's in China's best interest to have Google there, come on. It's in Google's best interest to have Google there. I'm not saying that MS and Yahoo aren't doing the same thing with less press coverage, but let's not call a fart a perfume just because we liked who farted more.
  • I don't know ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by constantnormal (512494) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @12:20PM (#15165630)
    ... what the answer here is -- I'm not entirely convinced that access to a censored internet will somehow eventually blossom into a democratic China, nor am I entirely convinced that it is possible (or impossible) to effectively censor the internet.

    But I AM convinced that if the Chinese were to completely block outside content, creating a Chinese intranet with only government-approved content, it would be a stable system, and would satisfy the Chinese people's need for contact and communications... and would also be a horrible thing to have happen.

    So I reluctantly support the western net services doing business in China under Chinese totalitarian rules.

    But I do wonder how the Chinese authorities are going to deal with the influx of lots of tourists at the Olympic games, many of whom will want to photograph Tianamem Square and will inevitably ask a lot of awkward questions. If the Chinese want to interact with the West, they cannot avoid these things.
  • by Retired Replicant (668463) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @12:41PM (#15165835)
    In recent Frontline episode on the Tianamen Square "Tank Man" (really a report on China's political and economic evolution since the massacre), it made it seem that the Chinese government has stopped funding public education in rural areas. Peasants now have to pay to send their children to school, which most can't afford. It seems as though China is working very intently on keeping the rural peasants ignorant and illiterate, so that they can be more easily controlled and exploited by the government, Western corporations, and the "new Chinese capitalist elite" in the big cities. I find it hard to believe that the Chinese government would allow this incredibly valuable slavelike underclass to learn enough to read web pages. The only ones who will benefit are the new Chinese capitalist elite, who have a similar vested interest in keeping the underclass ignorant.
  • by dweebzilla (871704) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @01:34PM (#15166418)
    "students thousands of miles from Shanghai or Beijing will be able to access online course materials from M.I.T."

    Will they also get other "ideas" from that coursework ... Shanghai is a long way to go to retrieve the Caltech Cannon.
  • People love to exaggerate the potential of the internet. It's going to make it so that you don't actually have to leave your seat to travel the world! You can go to school from your living room! It's going to liberate everybody!

    Like those stupid AOL commercials with that over-weight middle-aged guy running with professional runners or the kid swimming with athletes. Yeah, because reading a bunch of text, screwing with an unintuitive flash interface and looking at miniscule over-compressed photographs is jus

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