BEIJING — Bouquets of flowers were laid in front of Google Inc.' s headquarters in China on Wednesday, a show of support for a company whose threat to exit China rather than tolerate more censorship is a dramatic shot across the bow of the Chinese Communist Party.
But while Chinese cyberspace was awash with chatter on Google's gambit, state-media downplayed the news, saying Google had been a victim of cyberattacks in China but made no mention that the company also alleged that human-rights activists had their e-mail accounts hacked.
Nevertheless, word spread quickly among China's savvier Internet users that the Mountain View, Calif., company was no longer willing to censor its Chinese-language search engine. Some noticed that Google searches for the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown turned up the banned, but iconic, photograph of a protester standing in front of a line of tanks.
"It is the first time a company this size has made a stand like this. People are cheering Google," said Jeremy Goldkorn, whose influential Web site, www.danwei.org, has been blocked since last summer by China's Internet filtering technology, known as the "Great Firewall."
Bei Feng, a blogger who led a campaign to abolish the firewall, said losing Google would be a big blow. However, he and many others like him would likely use proxy servers to continue accessing its products.
"I admire Google's decision a lot," said Bei, whose e-mail account has been hacked into in the past. "Obviously it is a huge loss for Chinese Internet users. Sometimes such a price has to be paid for the long term. It's a huge slap in the face for the Chinese Communist Party. I think they will try to retaliate."
Beijing has yet to respond in name to the search engine's announcement. The government's New China News Agency reported Wednesday that an unnamed lower official in China's Cabinet was seeking more information on Google's new stance.
"It is still hard to say whether Google will quit China or not. Nobody knows," the official said.
Human rights groups viewed Google's decision to make its allegations public as a step in the right direction — explaining it placed pressure on Beijing to reconsider its approach to the Internet because of the purported cyberattacks on, not only Google, but various foreign companies.
"The ball is now in the Chinese government's court," said Sharon Hom of Human Rights in China. "They have to prove that doing business in China is safe, fair and predictable."