I arrived in Beijing today to take part in a Mongolian investment conference (I have magically become an expert in mining-related infrastructure). Dreary as this sounds, this trip gave me the chance to check out what happens when you google politically sensitive topics in China. I've been curious about what would happen ever since Google pulled the plug on its China operations because of censorship.
So I typed in "Dalai Lama" and pushed the button. To my surprise, I got a page full of results - 11,500,000 of them. I could see from the Web address that Google had used its Hong Kong server, but I had read that China was filtering out content. I didn't realize that they didn't filter out the results page.
Next, I tried to go to www.dalailama.com but the connection timed out. I tried to go to the Wikipedia page on the Dalai Lama, and had a problem loading the page. So I scrolled down and clicked on links further down. Success! I was able to read information about him on wisegeek.com and read an article on ABC news entitled Dalai Lama: China Aims to Annihilate Buddhism. So the greatest firewall in the world can't stop everything, even if the number of censors is probably greater than the population of most countries.
You have to admire Google for what it did. By standing up the the Chinese government, it will lose billions in the world's biggest market. For now, people in China who google sensitive topics will see that there are millions of pages of information available - but not to them. Maybe enough people will get pissed off to do something about it.
While I'm here, I won't be able to go to Facebook or even read this post (China even blocks Posterous, a fact which could be turned into a great marketing tool). But at least I can create it.