China and Hong Kong: Bloggers who eat river crabs

2008-01-21 - oiwan

During the weekend, Hong Kong In-Media organized an off-line salon on “Noise amidst of the Politics of Harmony – bloggers who eat river crabs”. [和諧政治中的雜音--吃河蟹的博客們] (The Chinese pronunciation of river crab is similar to Harmony.) We have invited Beifeng from Guangzhou and Roland Soong for sharing their experiences in the Chinese blogosphere. Beifeng applied mobile SMS to report on the Xiamen Anti PX demonstration. Roland is a most awesome translator of Chinese internet discussion and a major news source for foreign reporters.

Time Race

Beifeng has a most systematic account of the censorship of traditional media and internet media. As the traditional media has a strong control in the editorial room, some of the news, such as mass incidents or social unrest would be banned from publishing, whereas in the internet BBS and blog, censorship only happens when the news or information sources have been published and taken effect in the public. Usually a nationwide censorship would only take place 2 to 3 days after the publication of the first post; netizens can use the time gap to disseminate information as wide as possible. The tactic is to write the story without spelling out the political implications and to wait for the politics to reveal itself in the dissemination process.

Civic right movement

Although in 2007, the traditional media had suffered from the strongest censorship pressure and there was an increasing number of netizens arrested, Beifeng is rather optimistic. He believes that the development of Great Fire Wall or the Golden Shield would be slower than the global internet technology. Moreover, more and more people are aware of their citizen right. During the Xiamen anti PX demonstration, he used the mobile SMS for instant report, with the backup of another blogger for posting the information to major BBS and independent BSP (Blog service providers). The reports were translated into English on the same day by bridge blog, like DANWEI. He also notices that there are more and more mass incidents related with citizen right and when issues are related with people’s interest and livelihood rather than “political projects” that challenge the party’s ruling, it is very difficult for the government to repress.

Local news and local politics

Roland tried to address the Chinese Internet politics by looking into the top 10 internet big events. He pointed out half of the events are very localized and have no place in traditional international news (but all of them managed to get international coverage because of the web participation). The five local news are: Chongqing nail house, Shaanxi fake tiger photos, JiNan: arrest of netizen’s post on flood, Xiamen anti PX demonstration and Shanxi illegal brick kiln slave labour. Most of them are local, ordinary and apolitical (at the beginning). However, because of add on comment, investigation and interpretation of the stories, they became politicized and subversive: Nailhouse / Property law; Fake Tiger / government’s integrity; Parent looking for abducted children / moral crisis; anti PX / departmental conflict and central PK local government; JiNan arrest / netizen protest. The internet provides a space for collective participation of news and events, or in other words, the internet has transformed news and events into a citizen participation process.

Roland is also optimistic about the development of Chinese internet public space. Netizens are keen on digging out fact and truth. In the case of Shaanxi fake tiger, it is incredible to see how photographer, botanic expert, professional reporters and ordinary netizens worked together for months to dig out the truth. It is a mixture of fun, professional knowledge, political commentaries. When the news have gained impact from the public, the mainstream media very often would pick up the news with very elaborated investigative report.

Social actors

The success of the Chinese internet citizen movement depends on the massive participation of individuals and they have to take risk in voicing out because of government crack down. A most boring and repetitive question is “how come we have relative freedom in Hong Kong, but we don’t have much serious discussion in our internet public space?” Beifeng jokingly said that if he lived in Hong Kong, he may also write on-line diary rather than citizen report and comment.

Over the dinner table, Chong (from inmedia) raised the question by explaining the citizen radio incident: “In Hong Kong, we don’t have experts counter arguing with the government about the ‘frequency’ distribution issue! And we let the government manipulated expert knowledge.” And I complained that professional and citizen reporters are not working together. Then we found out that there are some institutional and structural backgrounds for internet activism in China: most of the active bloggers were dissents in the state media enterprise before. The capital market transformation has freed many individuals from the establishment and they have found their new positions in new media companies. “The internet has been occupied by liberals!” Beifeng grinned.

Next weekend, we will have the second salon on Shi Tao incident and freedom of press.

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