Please, Google, stay in China

Published 9:07 pm Monday, March 15, 2010

Reports indicate Internet giant Google may be getting closer to shutting down access to its services by Chinese citizens in protest of the Chinese government limiting access to much of the Internet.

For the past several months, Google has been negotiating with the Chinese government to allow all of its users open access to the Internet, a move that would clash with China’s abundant censorship laws. Among those laws are statutes that forbid access to Internet sites that criticize the government (imagine if that happened in America — nearly every Internet site would be blacked out), display pornography (there goes a good chunk of the Internet right there) or promote certain religious material (anything with which the government disagrees).

The possible decision of Google to back out of the country is a disheartening development in the fight for the free flow of information in China. In a land where the government micro-manages media, bans seemingly innocuous American films, screens literature and bans foreign missionaries from spreading the word of their religion, Google and social media sites, at times, seemed to be getting somewhere in working around the Chinese laws and allowing a more free flow of information through citizen journalism.

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Those of us in America can hardly imagine what life would be like with such a censored lifestyle. We worship (or don’t), search the Internet, read books, newspapers and magazines, view television and films, travel, and evaluate the government’s performance as freely as we like, with hardly any fear of retribution for performing or not performing any of these activities. Some censorship happens in America — for example, the past banning of books in public libraries — but it doesn’t come close to the Chinese practice of censorship.

Chinese citizens, on the other hand, live in fear of the possibility of being jailed for what they say, do or post online at any time. Chinese censors control almost all aspects of television and film. Missionaries to “East Asia,” as they call it, have to keep their exact location of service secret from all but the closest family and friends. Mail to the missionaries must not mention God, missions or the phrase “I’m praying for you” — all things that could endanger the missionary’s safety, life or at least length of stay in the country.

I can certainly understand Google’s mission to have its content open to all its users, but I also understand China has put them in a difficult situation. I would hope Google would continue its services to Chinese citizens, because withdrawal of that service takes away one more lifeline to the outside world, even as censored as it is.

Tracy agnew is a reporter for the Suffolk News-Herald. She can be reached at