Page last updated at 14:16 GMT, Friday, 22 January 2010

Google builds loyal following in China

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

Chinese internet users Wang Xin and Liao Yuting
Chinese internet users Wang Xin (r) and Liao Yuting both use Google

Google launched its Chinese site only in 2006, but it has already attracted a loyal following of dedicated users in China.

They use the site to send e-mails, look up maps and translate material from Chinese into English, or visa versa.

There are other China-based websites that are more popular - most notably the search engine - but some will mourn if Google pulls out of China.

The US firm said recently that it was no longer willing to continue censoring its China-based site in line with official regulations.

Information censored

Liao Yuting, a first-year journalism student at the People's University of China in Beijing, said many think it will be a disaster if Google shuts down.

"My friends and I went to the headquarters of Google in Beijing when it made its statement. We wanted to witness a historical event," said the 18 year old.

"Google is a symbol of the internet in some ways - Google is part of our lives."

Despite Google's obvious success in attracting Chinese users, many people agree with China's determination to censor the firm's search engine.

Chinese users are not able to access results for sensitive words, such as Tiananmen massacre, a reference to the bloody crackdown on protesters in Beijing in 1989.

Google logo
Google says it's no longer willing to accept censorship

Student Wang Xin, also studying at the People's University, said: "I really would like to have free access to information, but I'm not recommending that everyone have this right."

He said China was a big country - and not everyone could be trusted to use information in a responsible way.

This student's views echo those of his government.

Officials said riots and demonstrations in the western region of Xinjiang last July were fanned by the spread of information by text messages and the internet.

The government shut down both in the region following the unrest, and is only now gradually allowing limited services to resume.

Internet symbol

"Maybe it's reasonable to have some extent of censorship here in China," added Mr Wang, who is 22.

But even he uses Google's e-mail service because he says his Chinese account does not always allow him to receive messages from abroad.

A man walks by the offices of China's top internet search engine, Baidu, in Beijing - 20 January 2010
Baidu has a much larger share of China's search market than Google

Of course, not everyone uses Google - the firm's big rival in China is Baidu.

Figures vary but, according to internet research firm Analysys International, Baidu had 58% of China's search engine market in the final quarter of last year, followed by 36% for Google China.

Many users in China prefer Baidu because they say it provides a better service. The translation service, for example, is more accurate.

"Generally speaking, I use Baidu first, and then I use Google as a back up. Baidu is better with Chinese searches," said Guo Chao, a third-year student at China's prestigious Peking University.

His fellow student, 23-year-old Ma Delin, said he preferred to use Peking University's own research website when looking for information because the sources are more dependable.

"I rarely use Google for academic purposes, but I use it for entertainment or news information," he said.

But, as journalism student Liao Yuting put it, Google has become a symbol of the internet and many Chinese people support its recent stance.

"In the past, I have always been very supportive of our country's positions," said one internet user after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's criticism of China's internet censorship.

"Now I suddenly feel that I really agree with the views of the US. Have I just woken up?"

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