As China ratcheted up the pressure on Google to censor its Internet searches last year, the American Embassy sent a secret cable to Washington detailing one reason top Chinese leaders had become so obsessed with the Internet search company: they were Googling themselves.
An article from yesterday’s New York Times. Beyond the revelation that Politburo members like to egosurf, the second paragraph contains something striking: it was in May of last year that the country’s propaganda director was “taken aback to discover that he could conduct Chinese-language searches on Google’s main international Web site.” Could that really be the case? Unless the cable was written several years after the fact, that reflects a pretty big disconnect from the man at the top of the information food chain in China and the average web user. Chinese language search has been available on Google since 2005, and google.cn started operating in 2006. I’m looking to find the original text of the cable, but from the way the Times reports it, it seems like an awfully strange anecdote. The article is worth reading, though – particularly the report that in the eyes of the Chinese government, the web is “fundamentally controllable.”PS – I’m in the midst of finals at Minzu, and then will move to Nanjing. More frequent posts will resume later this month, as I begin my research project.[Update: the cable can be found <a href=”http://188.8.131.52/cable/2009/05/09BEIJING1336.html”>here</a> (thanks, Lea). It doesn’t illuminate the timing much. Also, James Fallows has a <a href=”http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/12/must-read-nyt-wikileaks-on-china-and-google/67499/”>couple</a> <a href=”http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/12/too-good-to-check-google-and-the-chinese-propaganda-boss/67509/”>posts</a> on the article and is skeptical of the same anecdote – his take is that the story is “too neat and convenient,” and we should be hesitant to accept it without probing a few more sources]