Dusk is settling on The Google Empire in the high tech park of Haidian District in Beijing. Still, a trickle of Google fans gather outside the building where just a few hours ago, security guards took away a bouquets that Googlers set on the Google plaque in a gesture of mourning. Now, only a few single stem roses lay there, and on top of them, three stone weights holding down “mourners” notes to Google (see below).
A twenty-one year old high school drop out who calls himself Bamind arrived on this morning’s 8am train from the city of Shenyang in Liaoning province. He took the 700 RMB train ride just to stand in front of Google’s office. “I’m the lowest rung of society in Shenyang. My mother is unemployed and we rely on my grandfather’s retirement compensation. I’m a loyal Google fan; they don’t do evil,” he declared. He heard the news morning of Wednesday, immediately tapped into Twitter, and was inspired by netizens who were mourning Google. “Bamind” feels conflicted about Google’s announcement to pull out. On the one hand, he feels that Google has made the right decision because the current climate in China is not conducive to the company’s growth. But on the other hand, Google’s departure is Chinese netizens’ loss.
Google’s departure threat is a mixed New Year’s blessing not only for young netizens like Bamind but also for certain officials within the bureaucracy who have been hoping for reform in censorship rules. The day after the announcement, a senior editor in a major state-run newspaper confided to me that he hopes this will finally force the government to create a much smarter system for monitoring online content. Google has generated much-needed internal debate and external pressure at the cost of their stocks. But both Google and the US Congress are now facing a China who is not afraid to say “no.”