Google Searching in China- Did I PWN It?

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 8.59.28 AM

Before moving to China, everyone told me about how it was impossible to “use the internet”. I heard stories of schools using VPNS and losing 75% of their speed just to access Google search and Google products.

I personally experienced teachers claiming they could not run their classes unless they had a VPN. I heard fairly experienced educators claim that laptops and iPads were useless because Google search just simply was not dependable.

In another post I may explain why it is unacceptable to have students doing Google searches as part of their educational technology curriculum objectives, but for now, I want to focus on how I have potentially PWN’D Google searching in China.

First off, I don’t believe in giving-up. This is an important characteristic for anyone working in a tech field. Technology never actually works, and I would describe the best tech out there as “semi-functional” or “accidentally functional”.  Knowing this allows me to believe, and I mean strongly believe, that maybe the Google search is just mal-functioning or adding some “feature”that is literally breaking itself.

So it began. The experimentation. First I created a control environment. I used a VPN and connected to Google. I did searches in Chrome, Safari, and Firefox. I assumed Internet Explorer had a secret script to put the hurt on Google so I did not use it. Then, I turned off the VPN, and did the testing again.

I moved on. I used Google image search, Google Scholar, and any other service they have that is mostly search oriented. Next, I re-created the experiment with Bing. I used Bing because it is not blocked in China. What I found was that any search conducted in China that has any form of auto-complete, or auto-display feature, simply does not work well most of the time.

For example, if you go to and do a search, while not logged into a Google account, it will often fail. As you type Google starts to rapidly list results. However, if you go to, this does not happen. ignores the country level search features, and does not auto-complete searches.

Because I work in education, I wanted to make sure that searches were as student friendly as possible. This is difficult with the material that can appear in an image search. This time I read through the Google Custom Search documentation. I found a way to create a search that automatically limits certain types of content.

After combining my research lead me to code samples in Google’s documentation I created a custom search. The search can be tested here:

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 9.19.12 AM

Basically this search stops any auto-completing functions, and forces a safe search to always be on. Before, using the default Google search, I was getting a blank page about 50% of the time. With this, I get a delayed result, never blank, about 10% of the time. Yes, I did 100 searches, and 10 were delayed. I did that fairly methodically over the course of a week. Now I just start searching here everyday.

I feel like I have PWN’D it :).  Also, the nice Wikipedia search to the right has a cool feature as well. It allows for a search in the English or Mandarin collections. This means native Mandarin speakers can search the Mandarin collection, not just a translated version of the English articles. That was actually easy to do.

If you would like the code, look at the image at the beginning of the post. If you email me, or comment on this post, I will gladly send you the code as well.

This is all public information, all I did was extract it and apply it.

Tony DePrato

7 thoughts on “Google Searching in China- Did I PWN It?”

  1. I love the “can do” approach! Congratulations and thanks for the post. Would you please send me the code snipet?

  2. Hey Tony,

    I love stuff like this. Thank you for sharing. Could you please send me the code snippet so I can play with it? I have been learning about wireshark (and I am NO EXPERT), but it has proven to be an excellent tool for understanding network traffic. You mentioned your concern about IE, and wirehsark would be helpful in determining if IE was not playing nicely with google. Packets don’t lie!
    Good solution to a tricky problem.

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