China's army of knockoff artists has long irritated the powerful by producing cheap DVD copies of movies still in theatres and imitation clothing at prices so low, designers faint with embarrassment. Now, an Internet-savvy copycat has gone even further, producing a look-alike of a very familiar billion-dollar search engine that just happens to be in hot water with the Chinese government.
Goojje.com, which appeared online last week and looks almost exactly like Google's Chinese search engine, seems set to distinguish itself from more run-of-the-mill knockoffs through the rare feat of rankling both sides in the growing dispute between the world's most powerful brand name and its most populous country.
The site uses the same fonts and colour schemes as Google, and appears to return the same results as google.cn. Its name is seen as a play on Google's Chinese name "Gu Ge," substituting "jie," the Chinese word for older sister, for "ge," which means older brother.
One difference from Google's familiar main page is an apparent plea for the search giant - which has publicly threatened to leave China after being targeted by a cyber-attack it has implicitly blamed on Beijing - to stay in the country. "Sister was very happy when brother gave up the thought of leaving and stayed for sister," the site's main page reads.
Goojje is one of the more lighthearted interventions in the high-stakes war of words between Beijing and the California-based Internet company. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and competitors such as Yahoo! have publicly supported Google since it came forward with its allegations two weeks ago. China's government, meanwhile, has responded by denying it was involved in the hacking attack - which Google says targeted the G-mail accounts of Chinese human-rights activists - and warning Washington not to intervene in its internal affairs.
Beijing has made it clear that Google must fall into line and continue restricting searches if it wants to continue doing business in China. Sensitive searches - such as "Tiananmen Square 1989" or "Falun Gong" - remain censored on google.cn (as they have been since Google first started doing business in China five years ago), despite the company's threat to stop limiting such searches in the wake of the hacking attack.
"Google will come to its senses at last. When it's doing business in China, it must respect China's laws and regulations. It must learn to compromise and accept China's conditions," said He Maochun, director of the Centre of Economy and Diplomacy at Tsinghua University, in a commentary published by the Global Times, a newspaper affiliated with the ruling Communist Party.
The standoff carries significant risks for both sides. Google's failure thus far to act on its threat to leave is seen as a sign that it is reluctant to give up on China, which has the world's largest online community, with more than 380 million Internet users. Beijing, meanwhile, knows it risks international embarrassment - and potentially the anger of those "netizens" - if Google does indeed quit the country.
The Chinese government already blocks access to websites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. But Google - the second-most popular search engine in the country after China's own Baidu - is seen as far more significant, as its departure would be noticed by many more people, potentially leading them to question what it is their government is so intent on keeping from them.
Many Internet users in China, meanwhile, believe they will be the primary losers if Google does leave and their country ends up cut off from yet another part of the World Wide Web.
"Goojje is just a joke," said Michael Anti, a prominent blogger and journalist based in Beijing. "But it reflects a worry among Chinese Internet users. Everyone is wondering if Google will quit."