What the Search Results Say about Google and China

Michael Giberson

Google’s relationship with China is much in the news and all over blogs. Applying the “a picture is worth a thousand words” school of rhetoric, Little Green Footballs offers “Two Versions of Google”:

tiananmen – Google Image Search.

tiananmen – Google Image Search in China

Found via Liberty Belles “Nothing Much Happened There

Pretty dramatic, at least to American eyes that know little of Tiananmen Square beyond the June 4, 1989 massacre. As commenter Tanner points out in a comment on the Liberty Belles site, there is a great deal more Chinese history and culture associated with Tiananmen Square than just June 4, 1989. Tanner suggests it may be like expecting a google search for L.A. images to turn up only the Rodney King riots.

Another commenter, Mews, offered for comparison a Google search on “Kent State.” I wondered what a China Google Image search on “Kent State” would show: a single result, a listing of U.S. universities that had a small image next to the Kent State name. I thought that was odd enough, but the truly strange thing was that commenter Tanner tried the same thing and got completely different results.

A little exploration allowed me to find the source of the variation – my search, but not Tanner’s, had a “&cr=countryCN” embedded in the string of characters, limiting my results to Kent State images on websites in China. Here are two image searches on the China Google site:

http://images.google.cn/images?hl=zh-CN&lr=&cr=countryCN&q=kent+state

China Google image search with cr=countryCN in search string.

http://images.google.cn/images?hl=zh-CN&lr=&q=kent+state

China Google image search withOUT cr=countryCN in search string.

Okay, let’s go back to the US Google image search, and limit the tiananmen search to results from websites in China:

http://images.google.com/images?q=tiananmen&cr=countryCN

US Google Tianamen search with cr=countryCN in search string.

So, a US Google image search restricted to sites in China roughly duplicates the China Google image search.

Or, to put the matter the other way around, Google has fixed the China Google site such that a search on “tianamen” is inherently limited to images on websites in China. The China Google site does not similarly limit searches on “Kent State.”

See also SearchEngineWatch’s “A Picture Says 1000 Words About Google’s Censorship In China“, which mentions that misspelling tiananmen can get you uncensored results in China.

By the way, I lean in favor of Google’s approach to engagement with China, thinking that in the long run it will do more good than harm.


2 thoughts on “What the Search Results Say about Google and China

  1. If you search http://images.google.com/images?q=tiananmen site:.cn

    You will get the same results as the google.cn search.

    You can use the site parameter on any searh. E.g. “site:.knowledgeproblem.com”, will limit the search to this estimable venue.

    Google.cn is merely a site limited search. Chinese users who can access Google.com will still be able to get global search rsults. The real issue is whether the chinese government can block access to the international .com domain.

  2. If you search http://images.google.com/images?q=tiananmen site:.cn

    You will get the same results as the google.cn search.

    You can use the site parameter on any searh. E.g. “site:.knowledgeproblem.com”, will limit the search to this estimable venue.

    Google.cn is merely a site limited search. Chinese users who can access Google.com will still be able to get global search rsults. The real issue is whether the chinese government can block access to the international .com domain.

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