As internet use continues to grow in China, a new kind of online journal is emerging as one of the most exciting corners of the net. Web logs, or blogs, allow users to update their websites quickly and easily, and are giving rise to a new style of online writing.
Reliable figures are hard to come by, but according to some estimates, there are about 300,000 bloggers in China. Blog, a shortened form of web log, is a kind of online journal which allows users to write and post journal entries on line in a quicker and easier way than ever before. The new software is growing rapidly around the world, and covers a wide array of subjects, from commentary on news and current events, to personal accounts of daily lives.
Jeremy Goldkorn is one of the founders of Beijing-based advertising agency Standards. His blog, danwei.org, reports on media and advertising. At times serious, but mostly lighthearted, his blog, written in English, usually features descriptions of news making headlines in Chinese newspapers, and links to interesting articles and Chinese websites. I visited him earlier this week at his offices in a sleekly renovated factory in downtown Beijing. We talked about blogging in China, and he told me about Mu Zimei, a young reporter from southern China who began recording intimate details about her private life on her blog. Her kiss and tell stories about random sexual encounters with rock musicians sparked a controversy in China which was quickly picked up by the mainstream print and broadcast media.
¡°I think it was the first time the mainstream starting paying attention to it, but came at the same time as there was a sort of critical mass of people doing it. There were a few websites that offered free blog hosting that had, last year some time, there was a critical mass of people who were aware of it or were blogging themselves. She was the focal point that certainly the print media became aware of.¡±
So who¡¯s blogging in China. The internet in general is still a minority affair, with students and professionals the most likely to have the time, and internet access to keep a blog. Jeremy says that of the Chinese blogs he follows, a large number are kept by Chinese women.
¡°I think specifically urban Chinese women are in some ways more liberated than they¡¯ve ever been in this country, in almost every way you can think of¡There are a lot of Chinese women who are computer literate and quite enthusiastic computer users, internet users, and I guess the fact that there¡¯s another avenue where they have some chunk of the universe that¡¯s their own and they can do whatever they want with that is connected to the greater freedoms in all aspects of their life.¡±
As interest in blogs grows around the world, blogs from different geographical areas are taking on different characteristics. Many of the most visited blogs in the US for instance are run by writers and journalists and consist of political commentary, especially in the run-up to the next presidential election. The kind of obsessive political commentary you find in American blogs is not found in China, where blogs tend to be about ¡®softer¡¯, more personal subjects as well as discussions of technological innovation.
¡°Anglophone blogs, a lot of them are writing about politics, whereas there are very few of those in China¡most of the ones that I¡¯ve seen are very personal types of websites where people write random thoughts and links to stuff they find interesting, and tends to be personal, and it¡¯s pretty geeky everywhere, but the Chinese world of blogs is even more so¡±
Geeky seems to be the right description of Wang Jianshuo¡¯s website, one of the most popular Chinese blogs. Wang Jianshuo is from Shanghai, and his blog, written in English, records changes in the city, descriptions of major landmarks and descriptions of trips he takes, like visiting every Starbucks in the city. Wang says making the blog changed his life for the better, putting him in touch with readers all around the world, and forcing him to think carefully about how his city is changing.
¡°It changed my life a lot. At first it forced me to think every day to observe new things in this city every day. Actually, if I don¡¯t host a blogging website, I will just get up and work and sleep. But now I have a blog webstie, that means every day I have to find something new and something valuable for my visitors and for myself to write about. The other is to keep a record of the city. Sometimes I will write something and I will often refer to an article that was written one month or half a year or a year ago, so people can clearly see how the city has changed.¡±
Jospeh Bosco is an American journalist who moved to China 2 years ago and is currently teaching a course on Media at the University of Foreign Languages in Beijing. Joseph¡¯s own blog, The Longbow Papers, is a very liberal commentary on mostly American news and current affairs. We met up on his campus in north-western Beijing, and talked about blogging in the US, and China. He said that while it¡¯s growing fast, Chinese blogs have yet to make a significant impact on internet users in China.
¡°As best we can determine, there are about 300,000 Chinese bloggers, or bloggers in China. Now that¡¯s not a lot of people in a nation of 1.3 billion, so it¡¯s just barely starting to make any kind of ripple at all. However in those people that do blog, the intellectuals, it is having an effect. But you have to go far and wide to find it¡
The internet is still their major source of information. But it¡¯s your mainstream internet sites. Blogging still has a long way to go yet, it¡¯s still very small.
And it seems that view is shared by almost everyone I spoke to. While blogging has emerged as an interesting way to share information and a unique format, it is a relative newcomer to the internet and still has an uncertain if interesting future. Jeremy Goldkorn again:
¡°I don¡¯t think the idea of a blog as being different from other kind of web content is particularly valid. I think its part of the same phenomenon, it being easier than any other time in human history for anybody to publish something and for pretty much anyone in the world to see it. Yes it is having an effect, but as part of the effect of the internet.¡±