I've got a movie scene in my head. It's not from an actual movie; it's a dreamscape compilation of every movie you've ever seen where a submissive population suddenly decides it's "not gonna take it anymore." The scene starts with one student or soldier or citizen standing up, despite the teacher or general or dictator yelling at him to sit down: "I'm warning you, Private Jones!" Another ordinary member of the community rises -- "Private Smith, you sit down right now!" -- then another, and then they all begin to rise in a rush, while the guy in charge yells ever louder, apoplectic and turning purple. Cue stirring violin music.
Yesterday, Private Jones stood up, in the form of Google redirecting searches from mainland China to an uncensored site in Hong Kong. The search giant had been told to stay seated; just 11 days ago, Li Yizhong, China's Minister of Industry and Information Technology, warned, "If you insist on taking this action that violates Chinese laws, I repeat: You are unfriendly and irresponsible, and you yourself will have to bear the consequences."
But in the movie, another ordinary citizen has to rise. Otherwise the first one just stands there looking like a fool, accepting flowers as condolences for having stuck his head out where it's sure to be chopped off.
The key to quelling an uprising like that is, in fact, to chop off the head as quickly as possible. The Los Angeles Times reports that even though mainland Chinese users can at least see results for the June 4 Tiananmen crackdown and the Dalai Lama, they can't actually click through to any of them.
Google is under additional pressure from the folks who pay the bills in China: namely, the advertisers who have already paid to appear in front of mainland Chinese users. The New York Times reports that "Chinese firms selling advertising space on Google's search pages have... [warned] they will demand compensation if it shuts its Chinese portal."
And, of course, the rest of the community has been given the hard word that they'd better not stand up -- or else. As the New York Times notes, the same day Li complained about Google being unfriendly, "the Chinese government information authorities warned some of Google's biggest Web partners that they should prepare backup plans in case Google ceases censoring the results of searches on its local Chinese-language search engine."
Surely it would be easier for Private Jones to just sit down. But that would be an eminently unsatisfying movie ending. Let's envision the other one, the one we all secretly or not-so-secretly hunger for: Sina.com.cn -- China's most popular web portal -- has the chance to stand up and leave the Google search box smack in the middle of its home page. Ganji.com can also rise, allowing people to continue to search Mountain View's uncensored results. Blacks can go to school with whites, the Berlin Wall can fall and we can pass a healthcare reform bill. The violin music can swell and those of us who cry at that sort of thing can get out our tissues.
It's possible. All the necessary conditions are in place. All that remains is for those in a position to stand to do so.
Keep standing, Private Jones. Stand up, Private Smith and Private Jackson and Private Wilson. Together, you are an unstoppable force.
Comments, as always, are welcome.