Two minutes hate for Google begins
It was a bright cold day in March, and the clocks were striking 13. Winston Zhang, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the air pollution, flashed his digital security pass to gain access to the newsroom, located his cubicle and logged on.
It was the day after Google had pulled out of China - so he was expecting an instruction from the Propaganda Department and sure enough, there it was, flashing in the red-gold colours of the flag from his computer screen - "This is a high impact incident!"
The guidelines were clear:
"1. It is not permitted to hold discussions or investigations on the Google topic
2. Interactive sections do not recommend this topic, do not place this topic and related comments at the top
3. All websites please clean up text, images and sound and videos which attack the Party, State, government agencies, internet policies with the excuse of this event
4. All websites please clean up text, images and sound and videos which support Google, dedicate flowers to Google, ask Google to stay, cheer for Google and others have a different tune from government policy
5. On topics related to Google, carefully manage the information in exchanges, comments and other interactive sessions
6. Chief managers in different regions please assign specific manpower to monitor Google-related information; if there is information about mass incidents, please report it in a timely manner."
... but this is not Orwell. The above bullet points are real, as translated by China Digital Times from what they allege is a leaked memo.
I can't verify its authenticity independently but there are numerous parallel reports and briefings coming out which indicate the Chinese official media is being told to a) censor all independent discussion of the Google issue and b) begin blackening the character of the US web giant.
South China Morning Post reports that Sina.com has received verbal instructions to: "toe the line and stick to [the] official version to prevent our media becoming mouthpieces for [Google] and tools attacking our national polices".
Outside the Google HQ in Beijing on Friday I am told the 40-odd journalists who had initially gathered have dwindled to just one, and those journalists speaking to the company off the record are saying they won't be allowed to print anything.
Meanwhile it appears that the company has become an unperson on China's equivalent to Facebook, Renren. Its profile, with 25,000 "friends", got shut down on Wednesday for "inappropriate behaviour".
Now this may shock you, but such methods are not reserved for dealing with Google. To give you a taste of what Chinese Communist Party (CCP) does not like, here's another recent leak of Propaganda Dept instructions to journalists.
"Propaganda direction: Please every platform block the following information. 《Examining China》（《透视中国》); exposing five industry fields controlled by China's princelings; Wen Jiabao's solo 'democracy' performance; at the crucial moment of the core power transition, political inner-circle releasing subtle messages; Beijing high officials' 'outrageous behaviors' during the 'two sessions' causing many guesses. Please execute."
In the West of course we do things differently. The Bush administration was caught paying newspaper columnists tens of thousands of dollars to promote its policies. And when you get a verbal ear bashing, or a 3am profane text message from a UK government spin-doctor here it's only your career they're threatening, not your liberty.
(In this context, I have to say to the outraged Hong Kong reporter who posted this transcript of a call to the Chinese State Council News Bureau - dream on if you think officials significantly more helpful here!)
All over the world people in power try to heavy journalists and stop them reporting the truth. In China, it's usually over incidents or the actions of forlorn dissidents who, like Gao Zhisheng, just disappear and then turn up in jail.
But it's going to be hard for China to make Google disappear. For one thing the corporation seems to be toughening its resistance - massively aware of the brand enhancement effect it's having in the West versus its arch rival Microsoft, whose boss, Bill Gates insists:
"The Chinese efforts to censor the Internet have been very limited".
The danger for Google is it finds itself out on a very long limb. The US State Department is not going to burn its boats with China over Google and, as Rio Tinto found out, things can get nasty. Who will blink first?