My friends ask me what I miss about home when I’m working in China. These days, instant messaging and Skype make contact with friends, family and the office in the UK easy enough.
Sadly my dogs cannot email, but thing I really miss is Google.
It’s only the absence of Google that makes you realise just how dependent we’ve become on it and how valuable it is, from doing that quick bit of rough and ready research to acting as the antidote to perhaps the early stages of Alzheimer’s —“ I just can’t remember when that happened so I’ll look it up on Google”.
All other search engines pall into insignificance. The Chinese have Waibu but I’m afraid I can read Chinese script yet and the western offerings like Yahoo and Bing are, in my humble opinion, not in the same league.
Google’s withdrawal from China, now almost in its fourth year, is regrettable on both sides. It goes further than the search engine. Travel on any train in China, go into any gathering place and you will see young Chinese totally heads down and engaged with their smart phone or tablet device.
A good many are Apple devices, but an equally large number are Android and it’s the latter group who are disadvantaged. Build an app for both systems and you can test functionality. And while the Android version will download in China, it will not work there. Android devices can only obtain their apps in China for a limited number of Government regulated stores. Not surprisingly the numbers of Apps are limited a few games but not much more.
In launching our Apple-based app for Chinese BEST, ESPL went through an extraordinarily drawn-out approval process. And not surprisingly. Chinese BEST is a publication. It could be a source of potentially seditious material — or porn. It’s neither.
Apple, rigorous, compliant and mindful of the importance of the Chinese market’s power does its absolute best not to offend. Google Play isn’t so favoured.
Considerable effort is expended by young tech savvy Chinese in breaking through the great Chinese firewall to access Twitter and proscribed web sites. And some I meet complain about the lack of democracy. But a one-party system that lifts half a billion out of poverty in a generation has a lot going for it, I respond.
The real lack of freedom is a freedom of access to information and ideas Premier Li Keqiang must address, and soon.