Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Google vs. China for Jan. 28

This topic is deeply personal to me. I left China in 1990s out of frustration over the corruption and suffocating environment there. Years later, the country has achieved great success in upgrading its hardware (infrastructure, economy, Internet penetration, etc.), but not much in upgrading its software (political system, rule of law, media, etc.). The Google case is one indicator of that.

Just like the party rivalry in American politics, the fight between the two factions in the Chinese ruling party -- pro-business technocrats and leftist hardliners -- is equally bitter only much less open. It seems that the hardliners are gaining strength. The government recently tightened up its control on the media. It gave an 11-year jail sentence to a well-known moderate dissident writer for drafting an open letter, and fired the editor of the most independent magazine in China. Is Beijing’s tough stance on Google another sign that the hardliners are gaining an upper hand? Prof. Edward Friedman, from whom I took a course last year, is one of the best China experts I have known. He’ll give an excellent tale about the dynamics and intricacy of Chinese politics.

Google is not a usual company. Its innovative spirit and practice (check out The Google Way by Bernard Girard) have won many Chinese fans who look up to Google as a symbol of American entrepreneurship and business integrity. If even Google can’t stand up to the bully from Beijing, all those American talks about democracy and values will be just hot air. I’m glad that Sergey Brin, co-founder and co-CEO of Google, prevailed this time in Google's decision about China. Born in Soviet Union, he and his parents had first-hand experience of oppression, and developed strong rejection to authoritarian rule (check out The Story of Sergey Brin). But will Google always choose moral value against profit? Is Google's action to have any impact on China’s censorship policy or other international businesses’ practice? I have my doubts thus look forward to hearing what Prof. Friedman and you listeners have to say.

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