How Google Ended Up At War With China

Sometimes sacrificing American goodwill, Google has tried to develop a lasting business relationship in China, complying with the stringent censorship demands of the Chinese government.

From buying stakes in Chinese startups to going through the tough Chinese bureaucracy to open local headquarters, the Google journey in the communist country has been marred with roadblocks.

Re-live Google’s troubled decade In China →

Image: Flickr

August–September 2000 – Google introduces search in traditional and simplified Chinese; Google sings a search agreement with China's Netease.

From Google 2000 press release:

'No matter what language our users speak, Google helps individuals find the information they are looking for on the web with unprecedented levels of ease, speed, and relevancy,' said Sergey Brin, co-founder and president of Google. 'Through our licensing relationship with NetEase, more than 5.9 million Chinese speaking NetEase members will now benefit from the accurate and rapid return of Google search results.'

China's leading Internet technology company announced that NetEase has selected Google as its premier Chinese language-specific search engine and default web search results provider. Under the agreement, Google will provide its Chinese language-specific search and underlying global web search engine to complement NetEase's web directory and content channel network found at NetEase expects to unveil its next generation web directory and integrate the Google services within the next 15 days. NetEase provides Chinese language services centered around Internet content, community, and e-commerce.

September 2002 – China blocks access to Google and directs traffic to local search engines, prior to a major Communist part summit.


China appears to have blocked access to the popular search engine, Google.

The site was repeatedly inaccessible when tested by BBC News Online using a system developed by researchers at the Harvard Law School.


The ban is being widely debated on the web. On an online forum, a Chinese webmaster wrote: 'Google is a very important tool for me and many other Chinese people.'

'Please tell the world, that we need Google, or Yahoo or something else that's useful to do the research. We don't care about politics, but please help us to reach Google.'

September 2004 – Google's news service in China doesn't display results from sites blocked by the government.

The Official Google Blog:

There has been controversy about our new Google News China edition, specifically regarding which news sources we include. For users inside the People's Republic of China, we have chosen not to include sources that are inaccessible from within that country.

This was a difficult decision for Google, and we would like to share the factors we considered before taking this course of action.

Google is committed to providing easy access to as much information as possible. For Internet users in China, Google remains the only major search engine that does not censor any web pages. However, it's clear that search results deemed to be sensitive for political or other reasons are inaccessible within China. There is nothing Google can do about this.

July 2005 – Google hires Kai-Fu Lee, a former Microsoft executive, to lead Google China.

Microsoft sues over Lee's contract breach, but settles a year later.

CNET News:

'Accepting such a position with a direct Microsoft competitor like Google violates the narrow non-competition promise Lee made when he was hired as an executive,' Microsoft said in its lawsuit. 'Google is fully aware of Lee's promises to Microsoft, but has chosen to ignore them, and has encouraged Lee to violate them.'

January 2006 – Google launches, and complies with China's strict censorship demands.

The Official Google Blog:

We have agreed to remove certain sensitive information from our search results. We know that many people are upset about this decision, and frankly, we understand their point of view. This wasn't an easy choice, but in the end, we believe the course of action we've chosen will prove to be the right one.

April 2006 – Google launches its new brand name in Chinese

July 2006 – Brin explains why Google gave in

June 2006 – Google sells its stake in Chinese search engine

-- Google sells its stake in Chinese search engine


Google's stake was worth $63 million on May 25, the date of the sale, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Google was once considered a potential acquirer of Baidu. But Google, a distant No. 2 in the Chinese Web search market, has subsequently moved to establish operations in China and competes ferociously with Baidu.

January 2007 – Google teams with the top Chinese mobile provider China Mobile Ltd.

-- Google teams with the top Chinese mobile provider China Mobile Ltd.

Google 2007 press release:

Google will provide its world class search engine technology to China Mobile to enable 'mobile search' on China Mobile's Monternet WAP portal, and China Mobile users will be able to easily search Monternet and its vast content, including sports and entertainment news, ringtones, games, images, videos and novels.

-- Google buys stake in video and game download service Xunlei Network Technology Co.


Google, which recently closed its $1.65 billion purchase of the video-sharing Web site YouTube, has bought a stake in China's Xunlei Network Technology, which provides file-sharing and other services. The move was widely seen as an attempt by Google, which dominates the Internet search market in the United States, to compete better with, which controlled nearly 57 per cent of China's search-engine market at the end of June, according to Analysis International, an information technology research company based in Beijing.

May 2007 – Google fights with New York over China

-- Protecting its business relationship with China, Google rejects a proposal from the New York City Comptroller William Thompson that would have barred the company's 'proactive' censorship efforts.

The Register:

Thompson makes six proposals - that Google should not store user information in countries which consider political speech a crime, that Google should not engage in censorship, that it legally resist demands for censorship and that it will warn users when it does accept legal censorship demands.

June 2007 – Google gets a regulatory approval to provide content in China.


The approval sets the 'necessary and foundational conditions' for Google's growth in China, said Hou Tao, a Beijing-based analyst at iResearch Consulting. 'It provides support for future product development and marketing,' he said.

October 2007 – YouTube launches a service in Taiwan, but it is temporarily blocked.

Sina Taiwan:

The site features locally produced content, including that from YouTube's four Taiwan media partners, China Television Co., Sanlih E-Television Co., Lion Travel Service Co. and Taiwan Broadcasting System, YouTube said in a statement.

March 2008 – China temporarily shut down YouTube after images of China's crackdown on Tibet become viral on the site.

Five clips made it into the low-600s in TubeMogul's list of the Web's most popular videos. Unfortunately for China's state-run image aparatus, it's the first summer games of the YouTube (GOOG) era, and Tibet's international cadre of enthusiasts are net-savvy and active.

August 2008 – YouTube is not allowed to show Olympic broadcasts; China directs viewers to the state-controlled CCTV.

Eventually, the International Olympics Committee announced that Google's video site will stream about three hours a day of exclusive content -- summaries and highlights -- from Olympic Broadcasting Services on a dedicated channel, the Wall Street Journal reports. YouTube can sell ads around the content, but only to Olympic sponsors.

China demands Google exclude foreign websites from the search results in China.

March 2009 – China blocks YouTube for undisclosed reasons.

The block appears to remain in place today.

Access to YouTube has been spotty for weeks in the Middle Kingdom, with Chinese censors taking down the video site earlier this month ahead of a one-year anniversary of Tibetan Independence protests. China has also been scandalized by the popularity of the 'grass-mud horse' viral video, a pun that translates roughly as 'f**k your mother' (youtube video, translation nsfw) and contains anti-censorship themes.

-- Google launches a free online music service in China.


Google China has taken the beta label off its dedicated, free MP3 search engine now that the local Google branch announced deals with all four major music labels (Warner, Universal, EMI and Sony)

September 2009 – Google's Kai-Fu Lee quits

Google's president of its China business, is leaving the company to 'work on his own venture.'

Under Lee, Google has built a decent business, but is far short of the leader, Baidu, and far short of the dominating position it holds in the U.S. and in many other countries.

Google had about 20% search market share in China last quarter, versus Baidu's 76%, according to iResearch stats published by the WSJ.

January 2010 – War is declared

-- Google accounts in China are attacked, reportedly by the Chinese government.

-- Google says it may shut down its Chinese search engine -- and potentially close its offices in China -- if the Chinese government does not allow it to run an uncensored search engine within the law.

-- Chinese Google users rally in front of the company's headquarters in Beijing.

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