July 1 Rally: A citizen reporter from China

2007-07-09 - chong

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We've passed half of the year of 2007. The name of Zhou Shuguang or Zuola is definitely one of the men of the year in mainland China. This "citizen reporter" has become famous for less than half year. Early this year, he covered the story of "the strongest nailhouse" in Chongqing and other eviction incidents in China. In June he went to Xiamen to study the movement against the project of PX chemical plant. In July, he came to Hongong to observe the mass rally on July 1. "Now I want to make more money. I am going to return home to work as vendor selling vegetable," he told me.

Citizen reporters=ordinary people

This surprises me. But he thinks he is consistent. "Everyone could be a citizen reporter at a particular moment. But we are still ordinary people," he said.

Zhou Shuguang, an ordinary young man, aged 26, comes from a small town, a place you and I might not know, in Hunan province. It is next to Changsha city and Shaoshan. He did not like studying in school after finishing his first year in university. He went to Shenzhen and worked as internet management staff for five years. He learnt computer skill from his work. Since May 2004, he began writing blog because he was quite free in his job.

He likes to identify himself as "blogger" but never managed to become a "citizen reporter". After some named him as "citizen reporter", he realized that what he did is citizen reporting. Like him, thousands of internet users in China have record what happened in their everyday life since long time ago. They just write anything they want. But he added that his discontent with the current situation also motivates him to write blog. "There are some news the government-controlled media do not want to cover. But they are important and interest many people. I want to satisfy people's curiosity by reporting them," he said.

Citizen reporter sponsored by citizen

What he reported is often about civil right movement. But he is also not very clear in what way his reports are helpful to movement. In his mind, he does not have a lot of long-time plans. But by intuition he believes that exposing the incidents to the public is good to civil right movement.

In March when the incident of "nailhouse" in Chongqing was still hot, the posts of his "news channel" received over thousands of visits. When he stayed in Chongqing, many people offer him sponsorship. He estimates that the total amount is about RMB 7,000! He did not have a good digital camera. An ethusiastic person sponsored him a set. He finds it incredible. But after this incident cooled down, the visit rate is no longer so high. He said humbly that about 1,000 people subscribe his website through RSS. They are the most substantial readers particularly after his website was blocked by GFW (Great Fire Wall). Most ordinary users in China could not get access to it except through RSS readers.

A thousand subscribers make a small journal rather than a mass paper. But it is already enough for an ordinary blogger. As Zhou said, he travels not only for reporting, not for becoming celebrity, but for promoting internet techniques. He wants more people could build up their blogs and media, and write up their stories online. In China, it is not so bad that no media, no matter if commercial or independent, could be totally autonomous from the party-state. But internet techniques could enable individuals to make their news channels. The government finds it difficult to suppress all.

There is a website called "interlocals.net" in Hong Kong In-media. Zhou applied for the "Citizen Reporter Fellowship" to come to Hong Kong to report news. But his style of news reporting is very personalized and like a journal. I suggest you read it. Some said that his report is not deep enough. But he has a lot of smart ideas. He uses a lot of photos and videos. On July 1, he transmitted the scenes of mass rally to Chinese internet users through computer's webcam.

Hong Kong: a city difficult to understand

Despite his smart ideas, he finds it difficult to understand Hongkong in such short period of time. I asked him some questions about Hongkong. But he did not know how to answer them and it was difficult for me to follow up. I asked him directly: What do you feel about the July 1 rally?

"Hong Kong is not harmonious!! Ha..ha.. I'm kidding! Here everyone could speak out their different feelings. A society could not be harmonious without freedom of speech... ... The official version of "harmonious society" is like it: You only have three or four pot covers for ten pots boiling water. If one keeps thinking cover all pots, one will always fail."

People in mainland China like talking about "quality" (Suchi). Zhou is no exception. He highly appreciates the quality of Hong Kong as a "harmonious society". In his eyes, the participants and police in the July 1 rally are high-quality. They did not overreact and were relaxed. On the contrary, the police in the rally of anti-PX chemical plant in Xiamen was nervous and worried too much. Some participants were so extreme that they threw garbage to police. They were stopped by others. He thinks that Hong Kong's culture of demonstration is worth to learn by mainland Chinese. Chinese people (or China government should learn more?) should learn how to fight for their rights in accordance with the rule of law.

He is very optimistic. He believes that the "quality" of official and police will improve with the quality of Chinese citizens in genearl. And the political problems could be solved gradually. To be honest, I am not that optimistic. Neither do I believe in the theory of "quality". Yet his rough and simple thinking, without complicated analysis, shows that he is only a citizen having something to say.

China and Hong Kong

If the July 1 rally is something mainland China should learn, what should we Hong Kong people learn from China? Zhou is not able to understand this question. It seems that a young man from Hunan like him thinks so different from the leaders from Beijing. He said, "I couldn't think of anything about mainland China worthy of learning by you unless you are businessmen who need to understand the style of government officials. I don't know what you should learn. We are all Chinese. We share a similiar culture!"

He does not agree with the notion of "Chinese characteristics" (Guoqing Luen). "The so-called "Chinese characteristics" is China government's strategy of flexibility. When something favors it, it would say it is Chinese characteristics. When it does not favor it, it would also use "Chinese characteristics" as an excuse... ... If I need you Hongkong businessmen to come to invest, I will say tax exemption is Chinese characteristics. When the leaders want to reject your criticism, he would use "Chinese characteristics" to defend," he said.

The editor by my side cannot help asking, "For you, what is patriotism?" He said that being patriotic is to love your country and people. But it does not mean loving government! His idea is not different from Szeto Wah. But he further said that one should have the right to love or not to love one's country! The editor asks, "So do you choose to love your country?" I suggest you guess the answer.

Zhou is not interested in our questions. But he told me that if he come again next time, he will study more about Hong Kong young people's personal growth rather than political problems. There is a misunderstanding that everybody gets rich in the rapid economic development of China. Zhou said that many young people in China suffer a lot. Their families pay over one hundred thousand of dollars for their university education. But they just earn about RMB 1,000 each month after graduation. If they need to take care of parents, they will come across more difficulties. Even survival is a big problem, no mention of getting success. Hong Kong is better or worse?

Zhou felt that Hong Kong young people are luckier and happier. Why? I don't know. But the young people he met in Hong Kong are really happy. On July 1, we left the rally. Disregarding police's warning and fences, we went to the Queen's Pier for watching firework. With the firework as the backdrop, we beat drum, danced and sang together with a lot of youngsters. At the moment of celebrating the anniversary of Handover, were we disillusioned?

China-Hong Kong connection: Real or fake?

If we are serious about the mutual understanding of Hong Kong and China, we could start from young people's happiness and pain. However, all these are buried by the slogans of "China's glorious century" and "Hong Kong's big opportunity". The dialogue with Zhou leads me to realize that many terms defining the relationship between China and Hong Kong are only the private language of the Beijing government and pro-Beijing political camps. But we are forced to learn it. If you really wants to talk about it with mainland Chinese, you'd better choose another set of language. If you really want to learn about China, please read his blog. I am sure it costs you much less and gives you more.

Before we said goodbye, he mentioned about his plan to sell vegetable again. After he began his business for a few months, his plan was disturbed by his activities of citizen reporting. Now he is going to recover his business. He believes that selling vegetable in market is much better than working in the information industry (This is really a Chinese characteristics worthy of learning!). After interview, he went to the Queen's Pier and stayed there with some friends overnight. He suddenly felt excited and said that he might bring a proposal to look for investment partner next time after he turns his business bigger.

No matter whether his plan of vegetable vendor is successful, I hope he could play the role of "citizen reporter" occasionally.

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