From the Times of India to Jalopnik, all have the harrowing story that the Chinese government did “ban the word “Ferrari” from online searches.” According to the reports, a young man was killed on Sunday after his Ferrari 458 was split in two in Beijing. The reports say he was the son of senior Communist party official. According to the reports, that caused the word “Ferrari” to vanish from Internet searches in China. The Daily Mail wrote yesterday: “All references to the Italian supercar company were mysteriously removed from China’s online search engines in the early hours this morning.“ Jalopnik explains in its trademark shallow detail “why Chinese censors banned ‘Ferrari’ from internet search.”
I happened to be in China since Sunday. I volunteer life, limb, and personal freedom to put the story to the test.
When I put “Ferrari” into Google, I get pages of stories.
“Ferrari” definitely is not banned from this search engine, despite a hit that says that the story is off limits in China. Google even leads me to a big Chinese car site, Autohome.com.cn, which reports that “Jia Qinglin’s illegitimate son is suspected to have died in a black Ferrari 458 Spider that crashed under a bridge in Beijing, killing the driver and injuring the passengers.” The site delves deeply into details, says that the 458 Spider has only two seats, but was occupied by a driver and two females. Jia Qinglin is a member of the Politburo.
Well, you say, Google. Sure, Google searches in China are re-routed to www.google.com.hk, but that’s mainly a face-saving exercise. My (and anybody else’s) searches from China on Google are unmolested. After hours of on-line searches for “Ferrari” from a desk in China, using the public network and no VPN circumvention, my door has yet to be kicked in. Should I write again tomorrow, I will not have been dragged away for questioning. Keep your fingers crossed. Or keep hoping, wherever you may stand.
Ok, let’s move to a truly indigenous Chinese search engine, Baidu. Ferrari is alive and well here. Baidu likewise shows walls of hits for “Ferrari”, along with juicy tidbits about the crash of a Ferrari in Beijing that “suddenly hit the walls on the south side of the bridge, then crashed into the north side of the fence.”
The hits are (duh) in Chinese, you just have to take my word for it. Baidu even has snippets on the story being blocked from Chinese “fishing nets” (i.e. search engines.) Oddly, those very snippets are not blocked on Baidu, the premier Chinese search engine. Inscrutable Orient.
Further digging shows that “Ferrari” as a search term is alive and well on all Chinese search engines. Typing “Ferrari” into any Chinese search engine produces pages upon pages of hits. It does not lead to the familiar sudden temporary outage caused by, say a Google search for nude pictures. It also does not lead to the familiar connection reset that immediately happens when I accidentally access Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube from China.
Also, I can access, from China, a story in the New York Times, where a reporter writes about yesterday’s top searches in China. He writes about finding the Ferrari story in Baidu, he writes that “Bloggers, microbloggers and tweeters quickly seized on the story, lighting up the Sinosphere with photos, rants and rumors.” The New York Times hardly corroborates the story that searches for “Ferrari” are being blocked in China.
The source of the rumor finally is being traced to Global Times. Oddly enough, Global Times is the English-writing sister publication of Communist Party owned People’s Daily. Global Times writes in great detail about the accident, and finally says:
“Sina deleted all microblog posts which mentioned the accident, and blocked online searches of the word “Ferrari.” The Global Times also found that news reports about the crash were deleted from many web portals, such as Tencent’s QQ online chat service.”
Well, that’s down from “China’s online search engines” to “Sina.” However, a search for “Ferrari” on Sina.com.cn likewise produces ample hits. Even more inscrutable Orient. “Sina” probably stands for “Sina Weibo,” a fake Twitter. The real Twitter is blocked in China.
The story about “Ferrari” being blocked from Chinese search engines is a red-faced lie. Oddly enough, it may have been caused by a too hasty read of a newspaper that is owned by China’s Communist Party. True, some microblogging sites may have been moderating initial posts without the necessary moderation. It didn’t prevent the Sinosphere from wading knee-deep through photos, rants and rumors.
As the New York Times attests, the story of the dead son of a party chief and his two girlfriends is all over China. “Ferrari” can be accessed on all search engines. Jalopnik, along with other lazy outlets, has been led astray by China’s Communist Party.