Tag Archives: Blogs

The More Things Change on the Chinese Internet…

…the more they stay the same. This has been an interesting week for the internet in China. First came the news — not surprising to anyone, probably — that China’s internet user base continues to grow, and reached 420 million in June. Then came the Beijing Daily report sounding the death-knell for Green Dam censorship and monitoring software that was going to be required on all computers sold in China before netizen complaints forced Beijing to back down. The news that the company behind Green Dam is belly-up (and that the government is no longer supporting it) might seem like cause for a little celebratory grave-dancing, if some less terrible things hadn’t also happened this week.

Microblogs nationwide went down, and when they came back up, they had all slapped “Beta” on to their logos. Slowly, netizens are discovering what that means. We reported yesterday that Sina’s weibo service no longer allows links to any foreign websites (blocked or not). Danwei reported ((Can’t load Danwei because of the effin’ GFW? Try Freedur.)) today that at least one person has discovered his name is now a “sensitive word” on Sina. What’s worse, the stepped-up censorship doesn’t seem limited to blogs.

Renowned lawyer and blogger Liu Xiaoyuan posted his own story of Sohu’s censorship to his Sohu and Sina blogs today:

In March of 2007, Sohu started to block and hide some of my blog posts. I got fed up with it and on August 16, 2007, filed a lawsuit with the Haidian district People’s Court. After nearly a year and two trials, both of my suits ((The second, presumably, was an appeal of the decision on the first suit; Liu does not go into any detail about this though.)) were rejected. If even the People’s Court sees but does not care about the violation of a citizen’s right to free speech, what could I do?

My blog posts continued to be blocked and hidden. Especially during the period of Yang Jia‘s case, a large number of posts were “purged”, but I had already become numb to it.

On July 28, 2009, I had been writing on my Sohu blog for more than three years. That day was the first time my blog was forcibly closed. They didn’t tell me anything [about why the blog was suddenly closed]. So fine, if you won’t tell me anything, then I will tell you something! I immediately registered another Sohu blog and gave Sohu a piece of my mind.

I never thought that this blog would be killed on July 12, 2010, before it had even reached one year of age. On the 13th, I opened another Sohu blog, but it only lived for a single day and was “assassinated” on the 14th.

I’ve said before, the best wat to protest when they close your blog is to open another. [I’ve opened another blog,] I really don’t know how long this one will survive.

Open your own blogs, let other people worry about closing them!

Within a few minutes, that post had been deleted from his Sohu blog, although it remains on his Sina blog, at least for the time being ((Although Sina also deletes specific posts of Liu’s on a fairly regular basis, as Liu often posts lists of the titles of recent posts of his that have been deleted.)). His Sohu blog now consists of a single brief post, entitled “Sohu moves so fast”:

Today, I opened a new Sohu blog and my first post [the post translated above] was deleted within five minutes. Sohu, Sohu, when did you become such cowards?

Green Dam may be dead, but censorship is clearly alive and well on the Chinese internet. Stepped up censorship from domestic portals (both microblogging and real blogging portals) is definitely a grave sign. On the other hand, there’s a chance the push could trigger a push back from netizens, just as the Green Dam software initiative did. Only time will tell, but feel free to speculate with me in the comments in the meantime.

You can also follow Liu Xiaoyuan via his Twitter.

China Blogging and the Big, Stupid Echo Chamber

This is sort of part two of another post, one I hadn’t originally intended to follow up on. But in discussing his new podcast with the ever-wise Kaiser Kuo the other day, he reminded me of something important and something all-too-easy to forget. When it comes to China, none of us really knows anything.

I mean that figuratively. Of course, many of us know many things, and I obviously think that what English-language China bloggers do is extremely valuable, or I wouldn’t still be doing this. Moreover, I get a ton out of all of the English sites on our blogroll. My point is that being a “China commentator” on the internet can become intoxicating, especially in our little community, which is small enough that many of the “scene’s” most popular bloggers know each other personally. Speaking from my own experience, with a little mutual linking and press attention, one can come to believe that he has become a “China expert” — someone whose advice people should seek out whenever something of import occurs in China. And that is always dangerous.

China, to its credit, always seems to find a way to remind you that you’re an idiot. But it doesn’t always post that on your blog, so let me take this moment to remind everyone who reads ChinaGeeks: we are not experts. We are not expert translators, we are not expert analysts, and while many of us have studied China formally for some time now, the number of things we don’t know and don’t understand could fill vast tomes, and these tomes, when stacked, would form towering, ominous stelae, reminding netizens whose ships have docked or been dashed upon the rocks of our shores that while our words may be interesting, they are never infallible.

As a blogging community, perhaps we congratulate ourselves too much, and challenge ourselves a bit too little. Perhaps we’re a bit too willing to stay within the confines of our well-defined community here and keep doing the same things we’re doing, to our own detriment. I’m not talking about anyone in specific other than myself, but the shoe probably fits elsewhere, too. To put it bluntly, fuck that shoe. Let’s try to get rid of that shoe.

My own translation, especially, concerns me, as although I have now posted hundreds, I’m not actually qualified to do it. Serving as the bridge between Chinese writers — more often than not, the capable ones — and English readers who may draw conclusions about a nation based on my translation is a daunting thought, and one that keeps me up at night from time to time. Shouldn’t somebody far more skilled, more qualified, more experienced be doing this, rather than me?

David Simon, the creator of The Wire (probably the best television show ever written), once said of his writing that his goal was to have the real people — the people he was writing about — feel as though he had captured them. He said,

That’s my goal. It derives not from pride or ambition or any writerly vanity, but from fear. Absolute fear. Like many writers, I live every day with the vague nightmare that at some point, someone more knowledgeable than myself is going to sit up and pen a massive screed indicating exactly where my work is shallow and fraudulent and rooted in lame, half-assed assumptions. I see myself labeled a writer, and I get good reviews, and I have the same doubts buried, latent, even after my successes. I suspect many, many writers feel this way.

As a translator, that fear might be stronger for me. I live in fear that the people I’m translating might someday pen such a screed, or assert, as Ai Weiwei did on Twitter a few months ago, that something I’ve translated got his meaning absolutely wrong. But people generally compliment my translations even when they’re kind of crap — there’s the echo chamber effect again — probably because no one else is writing them.

The point of this post is not to condemn anyone else — please don’t look for hidden messages here about other blogs or bloggers; there aren’t any — or necessarily to condemn this blog, the product of my own blood and sweat as well as that of my excellent staff. It is more to remind you, and to remind me, that while we have a bit of a pulpit here, we are still — and will always be — students. There are moments worthy of celebration, yes, but you as readers must also bear witness to our failures, and they, too, are many.

Note: None of the wonderful ChinaGeeks staff had any say in the writing of this article one way or the other, so if you want their thoughts on the issue, you may need to look to the comments.