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There is a question coming up from time to time when I introduce my research project to chinese friends and students or western expats living in China, especially when I talk about my interest in the portal websites: Why is it that chinese media websites, especially the portals, look so completely different from western ones? Chinese pages usually are packed to the brim with hundreds of headlines and links, whereas western news sites, even the portals, consistently present much less content, usually with shorter pages and a much spacier layout.

An ad hoc count at the Sohu homepage, done in the evening hours of December 1, found, under a navigation leading to 67 different channels, a total number of nearly 1000 links (forgive me for being not utterly scientific here), most of them headlines, some of them links leading to channels or subchannels. For comparison, Germany’s biggest portal T-Online offers 24 channels, and a number of around 200 links, 50 of which belong to a special subnavigation at the page footer.

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Trying to understand Zuola’s old and new roles as citizen reporter or network engineer, we should consult another important contributor to CNBloggerCon, the Hongkong-based Sino-American Roland Soong. Unfortunately, Soong had to cancel his trip to the conference for private reasons, so he published his announced talk on his blog, the legendary EastSouthWestNorth.

Soong is one of the most important ‘bridge bloggers’, crossing the all-important language boundary between the Chinese Internet community and western readers with carefully selected translations of chinese language blog and forum entries. In his talk he reflects on his work and what has changed over the last five years. There are too many valuable and fascinating insights in Soong’s talk to summarize it fairly. I can only recommend to read it thoroughly. Instead I want to focus on one aspect I find particularly intriguing.

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Blogger Zhou Shuguang (周曙光) a.k.a. Zuola or Zola, who some days ago was barred from going to Germany by the chinese authorities, has also been one of the more conspicuous participants at this year’s chinese blogger conference CNBloggerCon, two weeks ago in Guangzhou. In front of the entrance to the conference venue, Zuola sold t-shirts showing his picture, most of the time you could see him networking eagerly, distributing his name cards, advertising his talk.

People knowing his reputation as one of China’s most famous citizen journalists could easily see that there was a subtle re-branding going on. Zuola.com (his Skype handle) is still promoting himself as an advocate of those common people who are neglected by the mainstream media. But he doesn’t want to be seen any more as ‘blogger on demand’, who can be called to help and publish the suppressed truth. He is now a “Network Engineer”, says his namecard, and many participants misunderstood the announcement of his talk, thinking he would talk about technical topics like GFW evasion. In fact Zuola was giving a lecture on how to become a citizen journalist. His newly declared aim is the empowerment of the chinese people to self-publish their concerns.

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Rebecca McKinnon has a highly interesting posting on her blog about recent research she has done at the University of Hongkong. (Unfortunately her blog cannot be easily accessed in mainland China. Even the RSS Feed in Google Reader is blocked.)

Following up on a conversation McKinnon had last year with BOB 2008 award winning Beijing lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan, she did some empirical study on how much chinese blog service providers (BSP) interfere with their hosted blogs on sensitive topics. It turns out that what Liu had observed with his own blogs is true: There is a high degree of variation. Of the 108 entries with sensitive content that McKinnon and her teams consistently posted on 15 different blogging platforms the most rigorous BSP deleted 60, the most lenient only 1!

CIC has published the first two parts of their white paper “The Internet IS the Community”. Over the last years, Sam Flemming and his team in Shanghai have done a lot to bring the importance of the chinese Internet community to the attention of their target group, which consists, of course, mostly of business people interested in learning new ways of marketing their products. But the range of CIC’s inquiry is so broad that most of their publications are interesting also to a much wider audience.

The white paper parts, published on Slideshare, provide a wealth of neatly presented current data and numbers and some carefully picked examples to illustrate the enormous potential of the chinese online community (part 1) as well as some interesting insights into new ways to measure and analyze its dynamics (part 2).

And I think they should provide a bigger version of their beautiful chinese conversation prism for download.

Yesterday Deutsche Welle announced the winners of the Best of Blogs Award 2008. Winner in the chinese language section is the Beijing-based lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan (刘晓原). Liu, who blogs about all kinds of legal matters, has recently received some international press coverage when representing the mother of Yang Jia, the man who had killed six police officers in Shanghai on July 1st and had subsequently become some kind of popular hero with the chinese public, especially after some irregularities during his trial. Yang Jia has been executed on November 26.

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China’s Internet community is ablaze these days with the Social Networking phenomenon. Whereas the Facebook hype seems to finally deflate (at least according my own subjective observations), the Chinese have just discovered the joys of six degrees social graphs and buddy functionality.  Big portal providers and bloghosters like Blogbus are adding SNS features to their blogs, and some bloggers even go so far as to proclaim the end of blogging.

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Genau eine Woche ist es jetzt her, dass ein gewaltiges Erdbeben weite Teile der chinesischen Provinz Sichuan verwüstet hat. Noch immer sind Rettungstrupps unterwegs, auch wenn die Aussichten, noch Überlebende unter den Trümmern zu finden, praktisch gleich Null sind. Die Gefahr von Überschwemmungen, von Seuchen, von Trinkwassermangel, auch von Nachbeben ist keineswegs gebannt. Und selbst wenn irgendwann die akuten Bedrohungen vorüber sind: Tausende von Familien haben ihre Kinder verloren und sind somit auch ihrer Zukunft beraubt, die Wiederaufbauarbeiten in der Region werden Jahre dauern.

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Sie begreifen es einfach nicht. Die Bürosessel-Korrespondenten bei Spiegel Online können sich einfach nicht vorstellen, dass nicht alle Chinesen entweder unterdrückt oder von ihrer Regierung ferngesteuerte Roboter sind. Und dass ausgerechnet ihre eigene strunzdumme Berichterstattung zu jenem gewaltigen Schub an Nationalismus, jenem Schulterschluss mit dem ‘Regime’ beiträgt, den wir in den letzten Wochen in China beobachten konnten – und der nun wahrlich nicht nötig gewesen wäre.

Man beachte auch die wieder einmal wirklich bemerkenswerte Einhaltung der journalistischen Sorgfaltsregeln: Da reicht ein einziger Informant aus der Agenturmeldung, noch dazu von der Gegenpartei, für die steile These der Überschrift. Zitat aus dem Artikel: “Einer der Tibet-Aktivisten warf der chinesischen Regierung vor, sie habe den Gegendemonstranten Fahrt- und Verpflegungskosten erstattet, damit sie nach Canberra kommen.” Selbst wenn dieses Gerücht stimmen sollte – und es ist nicht Aufgabe des Journalismus, Gerüchte zu verbreiten – kann man sicher sein, dass die chinesische Regierung zur Zeit niemanden nötigen muss, an pro-chinesischen Kundgebungen teilzunehmen. Da finden sich genug Freiwillige.

Just found another voice of reason in the German media subculture: “Spiegelfechter” Jens Berger (I guess the title of his blog is not meant to be addressed against my favorite tabloid magazine/website – at least not primarily… :-) ) has also put some effort in debunking the “chinese killer robots” myth (cf. here). Additionally, he contributed an O’Neill-inspired article about the current China bashing to the German online magazine telepolis.

His arguments even made it into the mind and breathless discourse of German ‘alpha-blogger’ Robert Basic who admits having had the prior impulse to reject Berger’s postings, according to his own anti-chinese prejudice, and then provides some musing about what it takes to liberate your mind and start to think outside social or nationalistic ‘framing’.

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