Virtually all of their products are blocked by China’s Great Firewall. But Google still attracts a sizable number of volunteer developers, willing to take the company’s cause to the mainland.

Dozens of Google Developer Groups (GDGs) have developed throughout the country, sharing information on Google products and technical advice. Unaffiliated GDGs are a feature in many nations, but China’s relationship with Google makes their work particularly difficult.

Last month, Google congratulated developer group GDG Nanyang for its assistance in launching the new Google developers channel on YouTube (which is also blocked) in Mandarin.

According to organizer Cheng Lu, Nanyang is one of many groups spread to over the country volunteering for Google projects.

“The main translation work was actually done by enthusiastic volunteer developers all over the country, Nanyang GDG was just the initiator of this project,” says Cheng.

“We use Google sites and Google Docs to collaborate, as well as Github. The practise of Google Developers is to usually publish relevant English videos, and we will translate them into Chinese.”

Developer tools Github & Google Sites are blocked in China, along with Google services including Gmail, Google Docs and the Google Play store.

With regards to the Great Firewall, Lu Cheng believes the less said the better. “Surmounting the Wall is a necessary skill for any developer. In this country I can only express respect, so I have nothing to say.”

Some of the most active Google developer groups hail from surprisingly isolated areas. Lanzhou, a relatively small city with just 3.5 million citizens in the central north of China holds the current title for most Google Developer Group events in the past six months, meeting 21 times. Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, came third with 17 events.

Last month, Google Senior VP Sundar Pichai claimed that Google does not think of China as a “black hole,” saying they are content to play the role of an “enabling platform” for now.

Other Google products have been making headway in the country despite the company’s poor standing with the government. Google Chrome is estimated to have around half the browser market. In the wake of Internet Explorer’s slow death, they are expected to take an even larger chunk of the pie.

Google’s Android OS is also dominant, with over 70% market share, though the gap is closing with Apple’s iOS tipped to have overtaken Android in urban areas.

Image: Chukcha /

Editing by Mike Cormack (@bucketoftongues)

Cate is a tech writer. She worked as a journalist in Australia, Mongolia and Myanmar. You can reach her (in Chinese or English) at: @catecadell or

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