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Googling for tanks in China

Here’s an odd thing.

I was sure that when Google China first started cleansing its results, a search for “tiananmen” at Google Images did not return the famous photo of the man standing in front of the line of tanks, or other photos of the Tiananmen demonstrations.

Today it does.

Even odder, I was talking with Lokman Tsui of the Berkman Center about this, and he discovered that if you search for “tiananmen” using the Chinese characters (天安门), you don’t get back photos of the demonstrations but sanitized, post-card-ish touristy photos.

On purpose? Fluke? A crack in the structure of control?

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16 Responses to “Googling for tanks in China”

  1. Weird. I’m writing a paper on this right now and not sure what this means…

  2. This makes sense. The Chinese authorities care what Chinese people are seeing on the Internet. They couldn’t give a toss what foreigners look at on the internet. The vast majority of Chinese people in China do searches in Chinese. Probably the main people searching “tiananmen” in Roman letters are foreigners like you, me, and Kevin who do so with the express purpose of seeing how and what Google China is censoring, many with the aim of showing what nasty running-dogs-of-the-Chinese-commies they are. So it’s a cheap and easy thing for them to do, to get all the Americans (many who don’t read or write Chinese) who are always up their butt about their censorship practices, to ease up on the censorship of English-language and Roman-lettered searches which are pretty irrelevant as far as actual Chinese people and their real search habits are concerned. Do a search using the Chinese characters for “tiananmen massacre” 天安门屠杀 on google.cn and you get two things: sanitized tourist photos as you describe, and historical photos from the Nanjing Massacre, when the Japanese committed mass murder in WWII.

  3. My 2nd to last sentence had an omission. It should read: “So it’s a cheap and easy thing for them to do, to get all the Americans (many who don’t read or write Chinese) who are always up their butt about their censorship practices to shut up, to ease up on the censorship of of English-language and Roman-lettered searches which are pretty irrelevant as far as actual Chinese people and their real search habits are concerned.”

    That teaches me to attempt such long when writing quickly and publishing before proofreading… :)

  4. So, Rebecca, you think it’s probably Google making this decision since they receive little specific guidance from the authorities?

  5. Also, notice that the “Tiananmen” search still has the censorship disclosure: 据当地法律法规和政策,部分搜索结果未予显示。(According to local laws and regulations and policies, some search results were not revealed.)

  6. Interesting, if you want to read about something that is truly disturbing, read about the Chinese mobile execution buses and the corresponding black market sales of organs.

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