Why Google should stay in China

Why Google should stay in China

Summary: Google's actions will only hurt Google, its shareholders, and those that depend on the Web 2.0 ecosystems Google has been nurturing. Google will lose a lifeline into a vibrant economy and culture, one that that it desperately needs to understand and leverage in order to continue its historic growth in the years ahead.


Special Report: Google-China It seems all but inevitable that Google will not only close the doors on its google.cn search engine, but also its Chinese development offices as well. This is a tragic and preventable mistake.

Update: Google decides to stay after all

For thousands of years, China shut itself off from the rest of the world. What started as a simple fact of geographical isolation became tradition and then a source of pride. Ignored by most of the world for centuries, the Chinese people nevertheless demonstrated a tremendous capacity for innovation that is even now not fully appreciated.

Technology and politics eventually forced both sides to open up to each other, but history tells us that any mix of cultures should be done slowly to avoid shocks and mistrust. Nixon set the stage for a gradual, constructive engagement. Google would lead us off that stage. This is wrong, and short-sighted.

China is the most populous nation on Earth. Think about it: almost 1 of every 5 people alive today live in China. How can anyone almost 6,000 miles away appreciate the complexities of keeping such a large and diverse society together?

It's arrogant to believe that we know what's best for the Chinese people, and that the norms and values of our own culture will work as-is in such a different situation. And it's incredibly naive to believe that threats and ultimatums will have any positive effect, especially with such a proud and self-sufficient people. The opposite is much more likely.

Google's actions will only hurt Google, its shareholders, and those that depend on the Web 2.0 ecosystems Google has been nurturing. By closing the development offices, Google will lose a lifeline into a vibrant economy and culture, one that that it desperately needs to understand and leverage in order to continue its historic growth in the years ahead. This lack of understanding was plain in the way Google made its decision - unilaterally and without even consulting its experts inside China. You need those people, Google, and so do we. So please swallow your own pride and reconsider before abandoning them.

Topics: Browser, Banking, CXO, Enterprise Software, Google, Outsourcing, China

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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  • Thoughtful comments...

    Good comments and appropriate for doing business in China where timeframes are measured in decades if not generations, unlike in the west where timeframes are measured in days, months or at best years (re: greed on wall street, housing and the resulting and ongoing collapse in the US). I note the stock market did punish google and reward Baidu.
  • If Google thought that China would negotiate...

    If Google thought that China would negotiate on this issue, they were also being naive.

    I though that Google would cave, while pretending not to cave, and stay in China. Perhaps they still will, although that doesn't look likely at this point.
    • does it really matter?

      Who cares if Google leaves. China is a communist regime and should be treated that way!
      • Does it really matter?

        Well yes, it does matter, for any number of reasons.

        China is not just a communist regime, (and there could be arguments about whether that is good or bad for the Chinese people), but it is also the fastest growing economy in the world at the moment. Every country trades with China, and the West now depends on China's economic growth to sustain our own growth and development.

        If we force China back into isolation 'just because' it is communist, then it's trading partners will hurt more.

        China is changing politically. It's a slow process, but if you were around when Mao ruled, and after him, the "Gang of four", which included Mao's wife, you wouldn't call today's China communist. By those standards China's present leaders are positively Liberal.

        Send them back into isolation and the Chinese people will also suffer.

        • I support Google's Right to Resist Intimidation

          Compared to the article, how in the world could we "push" China back into isolation? They are doing it to themselves.

          When Bush first took office, they forced an American military plane into Chinese airspace, forced it to land, then took it apart, holding the crew for ransom. What was the ransom?

          Most Favored Nation Trade Status.

          And since then, they have been killing our patients, pets, children, adults and poisoning our foods, dental products, hygeinic products and only who knows what else.

          I applaud Google for standing up for it's Constitutional and Trade Balance Rights. If China doesn't want American business, then screw them and they can all go back to wearing silk robes, bowing and scraping and waving their sabers and parading their missiles in their show of Welcome to China -- just don't expect us to like you.

          Come on.

          If you want to talk about how slow China is to change, I'll simply reference someone else mentioning Mao. Let's see, from 1944 to 1954, the Maoists fought Chiang Kai Shek, driving his forces off the mainland to Taiwan. Then there were the purges. And by 1956, they were a strongly solid Communist nation, already having flexed their muscle in assisting the North Koreans in the attempt to force the US and the UN out of Korea.

          So, that took a long time for a 3,700 year old culture. My, don't we all like to look like we're being all tolerant and all. China is the country that needs to change an un-isolate itself. We didn't put them where they are and we don't have to put up with their crap.

          Go Google Go!
          • Where can I read more about China forcing an airplane to come there and..

            ..holding its screw ransom? I've never heard of that before.
          • TheWiki version is reasonably balanced.


            The entire area around Hainan is awfully sensitive. The hardened submarine pens house at least one ballistic missile submarine which, although way too noisy and vulnerable for blue water patrols, could operate effectively in the shallow waters inside within the coastal defense perimeter where it would be harder to detect despite its noisy signature. As far as known at www.fas.org, that submarine is far from operational today. Anyhow, the USN would want to know as much about the coastal defense network and local seafloor.
          • Thanks, that was an interesting read. Is it the right one, though?

            In the link you posted, it says the U.S. spy plane was illegally spying on China, crashed into one of China's fighters (killing the pilot), landed in China without permission, and that China returned its screw after 11 days, and the airplane itself when the U.S. agreed to pay shipping, and paid for the food and bedding supplied to their crew.

            Nothing about any trade agreements, or about China forcing the U.S. aircraft to come there.
            I looked back in the history in case someone recently vandalized it, but there were no changes like that.
          • There are other versions of the incident on the web

            For a thorough analysis of the Hainan_Island_incident, please refer to
            the following link:


            (Amazing what one can find on a free internet search)

            Here is an excerpt from the article.

            "Both the cause of the collision and the assignment of blame were
            disputed. The American government claimed that the Chinese jet
            bumped the wing of the larger, slower, and less maneuverable EP-3.
            After returning to U.S. soil, the pilot of the EP-3, Lt. Shane Osborn,
            was allowed to make a brief statement in which he affirmed that the
            EP-3 was on autopilot and in straight-and-level flight at the time of
            the collision. He reiterated that he was just "guarding the autopilot" in
            his interview with Frontline on April 1, 2001. The U.S. released video
            footage from previous missions which revealed that American
            reconnaissance crews had previously been intercepted by Lt. Cdr.
            Wang. During one such incident, he was shown approaching so close
            that his e-mail?address could be read from a sign that he was holding
            up. Based on the account of Wang Wei's wingman, the Chinese
            government stated that the American plane "veered at a wide angle
            towards the Chinese", in the process ramming the J-8. This claim can
            not be verified since the Chinese government refuses to release data
            from the black boxes of either plane, both of which are in its

            Its just my opinion but its always best to search out more than one
            source for background information. Wikipedia is a fine resource but
            there are other sources available.
          • @ kenosha7777

            That's basically what Wikipedia said.

            That the U.S. blamed China and that China blamed the U.S..

            But none of these articles say China forced (or even wanted, or even were okay with) the U.S. spy plane flying around spying on China.

            They also don't say anything about the crew being held hostage, or any kind of trade agreement whatsoever.

            Still, very interesting, nonetheless. Thanks.
    • Why China?

      China has a totalitarian government which does not respect civil liberties. Freedom means defending civil rights of our families closer to government or corporate abuses. Companies that have dealings with totalitarian governments or what is the same, with corrupt governments, are complicit with these goverments. Money is not the only thing in life. On the other hand, you've seen Avatar? Respecting cultures sometimes means moving away from them.
      Sorry about my english, is not my language to everyday tasks.
  • Naive, thoughtless, and cliched

    So, [i]...It?s arrogant to believe that we know what?s best for the Chinese people...[/i]

    Let's see now, China tells Google what to do, and somehow you believe Google is trying to tell China what to do?

    China threatens Google with criminal prosecution and you believe Google is acting "unilaterally" for leaving?

    Your column has got to be one of the most naive, ignorant, foolish, and deluded pieces of sophistry ever to disgrace this website. How dumb can you be?

    Hey, if China started bossing me around, threatening me with prosecution because I wanted to be ME, I'd leave as well.

    The point isn't weather Google is going to force itself on China, but weather China is going to force itself on Google.

    Wake up and get an education.
    • wow...

      and who is arrogant here?
      By the way, I think you mean whether...not weather. Perhaps you should learn to spell before you comment on international business and politics. I'll bet you have a drivers license but not a passport.LOLOLOLOLOL
      • Your probably right in that Takalok may not have

        a passport and his proof reading skills are definitely not up to your
        standards. However, his talkback opinions are valid regarding this
        blog topic. And, I for one, applaud Google's decision to remove itself
        from the Chinese market because sometimes, a decision has to be
        made based upon what is "right" and not what is convenient or
        financially expedient.

        You see, I still remember Tiananmen Square and one brave individual
        standing in front of a column of tanks. He was later shot in the head
        by the Chinese Government for his actions. However, you would
        never know that if you were in China and "Googled" that incident. You
        wouldn't be able to because of something called government
        mandated censorship and lack of internet based freedom of speech,
        important concepts and ideals which the author of this Blog seems to
        have forgotten or chose not to care about.

        No one is disputing that the Chinese have a dynamic and evolving
        industrial base. And, no one is disputing that the Chinese people
        have a right to a government that they wish to have. But currently,
        that government does not support intellectual freedom and openness
        .. two hallmarks or ideals that the modern Internet was founded upon
        and because of that is it any wonder that Google and the Chinese
        Government have come to this impasse?
        • Tank man

          Are you comparing Google to "tank man"? The brave soul standing in the path of oppression? As far as anyone knows, he simply melted into the crowd after his standoff. (for example see http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6390782.ece)

          Or are you using tank man as an example of an image that is censored by the Chinese government? I don't understand or agree with that kind of censorship personally, but I'm not there. And besides, there are ways around the great firewall.
          Ed Burnette
          • Tank Man .. how quaint a name and such a convenient legend, too.

            Yes, Ed, I was referring to that person. And, I also read the Times
            article you cited in your reply. In fact, I can "Google" several such
            references to Tank Man and come up with similar references
            pertaining to that brave soul such as the following PBS Frontline


            Let me quote a particular paragraph from that PBS web page.

            "The Chinese government has responded to this threat by cracking
            down on dissent, and on the media. The regime has managed to erase
            the Tank Man's image, famous throughout the world, from Chinese
            memory. Thomas shows the iconic picture to undergraduates at
            Beijing University, the nerve center of the 1989 protests; none of them
            recognize it. Central to the regime's struggle to control information is
            its filtering of the Internet, a complex undertaking that raises serious
            issues about the role of Western IT companies in China's censorship

            I would have to say that the above conjecture was somewhat prescient
            in regards to your blog content.

            I appreciate your honesty in admitting that this type of government
            censorship is beyond your understanding or agreement. You should
            also appreciate, as I do, that we can debate the merits of your blog
            article in a free and uncensored internet .. a priceless gift earned by
            the blood, courage and conviction of our fellow citizens .. a gift never
            to be willing squandered thru expedient adherence to
            Kissinger/Nixonian global economic "Realpolitik" policies. You can't
            talk about one (Nixon) without speaking of the other (Kissinger).

            I stand by my previous statement to applaud Google for its adherence
            towards their principals.

            As for the man in front of the tanks on June 5, 1989, I honestly
            thought I had heard that he had been shot years after the fact. But
            that "memory of a memory" was so long ago that I was not aware of
            reports to the contrary until your reply today. And then I did some
            research on a free Google internet search query.

            Still, lets cite the often quoted phrase "Occam's Razor" and ask
            ourselves what is more likely to have happened to the man. Could he
            have simply "melted into the crowd" and escaped the fate of the other
            Chinese dissidents of Tiananmen Square by a Chinese Government
            bent on not only destroying that movement and its people but
            engaging in a policy, in effect to this day, of erasing from memory
            the entire history of that time period. Are we to believe the current
            government's story of a local man who was able to escape the
            resources of the entire Chinese Government or the story that he was
            simply shot (as I had somehow recalled) and a convenient legend
            created by the government to placate, perhaps, any guilt that a
            western journalist or businessman might have over doing business
            with a totalitarian government. He simply "melted away" .. how
            comforting .. how quaint.

            As you say ... I'm not in China and there may indeed be a way around
            "the great firewall". But that way is never, ever accomplished by
            making a deal with the devil .. even the "devil that you know". Its only
            accomplished by first taking a stand for what's morally right. And
            Google may have taken that first step.

            Mike Babiuk
          • For Bradish

            And Bradish,

            That was not a spelling error, it was misuse of a word. I bet Einstein was a lousy speller too.

            You must be a very angry and bitter person.
          • Well said Mike Babiuk (nt)

        • Joe McCarthy and Kent State and...

          We could never do the experiment, but what would have happened in those times if the Internet had been around?

          Can someone help me understand the US' response to certain 'freedom' events?
          • basics of civil obedience & disobedience

            Google didn't start this by going out of their way to boycott/insult/protest China. They're refusing to directly participate in an unethical action. In your experiment, if Kent State happened and Google was a China-based company, they should stay; if Joe McCarthy wanted them to censor the news on their website they should refuse and if forced they should leave -- exactly as they did.

            I'm a big believer in respecting other cultures' right to do things differently, but this situation isn't that. Google is now forced to respect the Chinese people vs the Chinese gov't: the original story mis-frames it as Google vs. China.