June 2006 - Per Inquriy

Made in China

Google has taken heat akin to a dragon’s breath for agreeing to the Chinese government’s demands that they censor certain information from its citizens in order for the search engine to operate in the Communist country. Apparently, the ruling party considers the free exchange of information rooted in a democratic process a threat to its reign of life. Imagine Google’s dilemma, especially for a company with the informal slogan, “Do No Evil.” Do you choose to forego doing business in the largest emerging market in the world or gain a foothold, even though the fate of the Chinese and that of Western business interests have become inextricably intertwined? After all, with Wal-Mart representing a purported 5 percent of the Chinese national gross product, surely this can’t be a one-way aisle.

Besides, anyone who has teenagers knows that no matter what rules you put in place to try and dictate behavior, they will find a clever work around. It’s probably not too much of a stretch to assume the Chinese have a few of that demographic hanging around. In fact, it was a young Chinese male who tried to buck the system in June 1989 during the massacre at Tiananmen Square. He became known as Tank Man, the defiant, bag-waving everyman who stood his ground and assailed the military with sheer determination of will before being scuttled away by his countrymen.

A great mystery remains as to what ever happened to Tank Man. Was he spirited away to be summarily executed like so many others or live in anonymity amid a transformed China, replete with enterprise zones that have given a new Chinese middle class heretofore unrealized economic clout and access to virtually every luxury good known to man? Somehow I don’t think Tank Man faced down that armored carrier so he could wear a Cartier Tank watch. But in a way, that is the bargain that has been struck: support the single party Communist political system, forego freedom of expression, and you too may be permitted to trade your drab Chairman Mao getup for a glistening Chanel suit. Workers Unite: Veni, Vidi, Fendi!

In two years, the Chinese will have their real coming out party in the form of the Beijing Summer Olympics. With thousands of journalists onsite and untold numbers paying attention, the ability of the Chinese government to suppress free thought will be severely tested. The international multitude in attendance will become a human form of search engine, responding to queries from host citizens eager to exchange ideas along with their currency. The modern Olympic rings come with a catch: onion rings from Burger King and a host of other Western brands ready to swoosh in with sponsorships. Once billions have been served from this Pandora’s box, how can their world possibly remain the same? As it did in 1989, the world will be watching to see if the system crashes.

Rick Petry is chief marketing officer of Downstream. He can be reached at (503) 226-1944, or via e-mail at r[email protected]. Or, visit www.downstream.com.


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