I enjoyed Kaiser Kuo’s recent Sinica podcast on Popup Chinese featuring Jeremy Goldkorn of Danwei.org and Will Moss of Imagethief. They started off with the provocative statement that “the English language China blog is dead,” and went into some analysis of how things are different now than they were. Their analysis seemed pretty spot-on to me.
This is an issue I’ve been thinking about for a long time: how the “China blogosphere” has changed, how I still fit in, and how it’s still enjoyable or worthwhile. I think when I first arrived in China and was doing various English teaching jobs while I furiously studied Chinese in my free time, aside from intangibles like Chinese learning and friendships, my blog and website was the most important, lasting thing I created. It’s what led to a job at ChinesePod in 2006, the point at which I officially embarked upon what would become my career. Blogging, for me, had to take a backseat, and it has to this day. The “top ideas” on my mind were less and less often blog topics as work usurped my focus.
I’ve revisited this same topic as I’ve considered whether or not to put more time or effort into the China Blog List. There are just so many blogs out there now that organizing them really does seem too big a task for one tiny directory. It’s a task that needs to be crowd-sourced or done through social media somehow, if it even needs to be done at all. That site still has potential (and good Google rank for “China blog” and “China blogs”), but the concept needs to be rethunk. In the meantime, it’s just no longer relevant.
I was pleased to hear those guys mention my blog in their podcast as one of the ones that’s been around the longest, but as the list of blogs went on and on, I had to think, how do these guys have the time to read so many blogs? Like Will Moss said in the podcast, I’ve found that the decreasing signal-to-noise ratio has just led to less overall blog reading.
This afternoon I had the pleasure of sitting in on a talk at Glamour Bar hosted by history professor Jeffery Wasserstrom of China Beat as he discussed various issues with the New Yorker’s China correspondent Evan Osnos. The topic was writing and blogging, and they kicked off the discussion by mentioning Sinica’s take on the issue. Both writers had begun blogging relatively recently, so Evan referred to them as “post-modern, or, perhaps, ‘post-mortem’ bloggers.” Both Wasserstrom and Osnos were optimistic about the role of blogging. Evan was particularly happy about the recent proliferation of translation bridge blogs like China Geeks.
One of the more interesting questions thrown out by the crowd was basically, “yeah, you both write well about China, but how much do you guys (or anyone) really understand China?” Both men were humble in acknowledging the limits of their knowledge, but I liked Dr. Wasserstrom’s response that despite the smallness of what we can know, the view from outside offers a different perspective which contributes in an important way toward the full picture. This closely parallels the view I take on language learning: the native speaker perspective should be combined with the learner perspective to reach a fuller picture of the language more relevant to the learner.
> A China-focused blog that includes Mandarin speaking tips and apolitical, largely irreverent (and in some cases irrelevant) observations about Shanghai and the rest of the country, among other tidbits.
“Irreverent and irrelevant.” Heh, I can live with that. I have to say, though, that this blog is only occasionally relevant to Shanghai.
But relevance is always an issue on my mind. The new business is getting quite busy, and while I have less free time than ever, it’s a rich source of new observations and blogging material about Shanghai and learning Chinese. I won’t keep those bottled up. The search for relevance is not fruitless.
The new aggregator in town is Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop, and it’s almost four months old. I really have to wonder if there’s still much of a future for aggregation sites, now that RSS Readers are so freely available. I’ll put that debate aside for now, though.
I became aware of China Alltop when Sinosplice was added to it. I don’t have time to read many blogs these days, but browsing over the various blogs and news sources aggregated on China Alltop, the big ones all seemed to be represented. It’s a good collection of China blogs.
One thing bothered me, though. Some of the most well-known and well-respected blogs (no, not this one!) were buried somewhere down the middle of the page. I started a dialogue with Mr. Kawasaki via Twitter, which led to an e-mail.
I’m still skeptical about the idea that a limited, static list of blogs can stay current and compete with individuals’ personalized feed readers in this crazy Web 2.0 world, but I’m very impressed with Guy Kawasaki’s willingness to listen and enthusiasm for his product. I’m looking forward to seeing what develops.
Related:The China Blog List is still going… Not long ago, all dead blogs were purged. It’s now in the process of collecting more new blogs.
Mouse Umbrella is a “free beautifully illustrated Chinese/English children’s book.” I probably would have written about it sooner if it were e-mailed to me rather than submitted as a new blog on the CBL.
The author’s explanation:
> As an educator I was hoping you would take a look at my book and give me some feed back. This beautifully illustrated 6 page haiku is intend for Pre-K children who speak Chinese as a first language or English speaking children learning Chinese as a second language. A little mouse is enjoying a bright red cherry at a restaurant when he is washed away by a flash flood. He has only a drink umbrella to help him. Originally written and illustrated by me – Tansy O’Bryant as a bridge between Chinese speaking children and English speaking children. Chinese translation was provided by and Chinese student who was afraid to write because her characters where not perfect. It was esteeming for her to know that the act of not writing is far worse than a little “wobbly” writing. Helps children understand both the power of writing and the beauty of reading with Mouse Umbrella.
It is a nice book, and the illustrations are great. The art reminds me of one of my favorite illustrators ever, Graham Oakley. It’s not the best book for studying Chinese, perhaps, but I’m sure some of my readers will enjoy it. (Anyone out there reading stories to their children from an on-screen PDF file yet?)
For a while now, the CBL has been suffering from massive spam attacks. John B, the original architect of the current version, had already helped me implement simple filters and batch delete functions, but I was still just getting bombarded by automated spam blog submissions. Recent additions of a captcha on the submission page and a “check range” greasemonkey script (which allows me to check hundreds of spam submissions for deletion at once) have enabled me to get the problem under control.
Being back in control inspired me to do the long-overdue layout update. Now that I am back in control, I also have a lot of blog submission approving to do. If you’re one of those people that submitted a while ago and you feel like you’ve been waiting forever, this is the explanation. And I will get to your submission.
I still have a bit of work to do on the layout. It breaks in IE. I’m not overly concerned though. (Do real web designers still care about IE??)
Oh, and while I’m on the subject of web updates, be sure to check out Dave Lancashire’s latest contribution to ChinesePod: the ChinesePod Dictionary. Very cool!
A while back I mentioned a blog called Sex in Shanghai in which a Western guy tells about all his exploits with Chinese women here in Shanghai. (That blog is still #1 on the “hottest blogs” list on the CBL, but it now seems to be inaccessible.) Since then, the Chinese have found out about the blog, and they are (understandably) pissed.
> From time to time, Chinabounder uses his own experiences as a springboard to make sweeping generalisations on, among other things, the sexual frustrations in Chinese marriages, the failings of Chinese men, and the overly tradition-bound upbringing of Chinese girls which makes them rebellious and sexually adventurous. Chinese netizens have routinely been posting venomous messages on his blog in response to his pop-social commentaries — and his occasional outpourings on the Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedong’s womanising ways.
> But last week, a professor of psychology at the prestigious Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences gave new direction to this hyperventilating when he called for an Internet manhunt “to find this foreign trash until we kick him out of China.” In a posting on his own blog, Prof. Zhang Jiehai said that Chinabounder, “an immoral foreigner”, had routinely used “obscene and filthy language to record how he used his status as a teacher to dally with Chinese women… At the same time, he did everything that he could to insult the Chinese government and men.”
> Giving sparse details about Chinabounder’s identity (he’s probably a 34-year-old Briton) Zhang called on “Chinese netizens and compatriots” to join this “Internet hunt for the immoral foreigner”. That message has found echo in numerous Chinese websites and blogs, which have resonated with calls for lynching Chinabounder.
Yikes! Real life consequences for licentious behavior in Shanghai? What is this world coming to?
Last Thursday I met up with Dr. Lyn Jeffery, Research Director of the Institute of the Future and co-author of the excellent blog Virtual China. I invited her to stop by ChinesePod HQ to see what it was all about. Since what we’re doing over there is the “education of the future,” Dr. Jeffery was very interested in ChinesePod.
At lunch we chatted about internet usage, Chinese BBSes vs. American blogs, the China Blog List, our blogs, and other things. You know… the future. (The future is clearly very nerdy.)
At the time I opined that the Chinese probably prefer BBSes in general because blogging is very much an individual activity, putting one person in the spotlight, whereas BBSes offer a sense of collective security. Sure, BBSes can get shut down too, but no one person is likely to be targeted for action if the BBS members keep the scope of their comments within certain limits. Bloggers, on the other hand, are taking more of a risk. I admitted, though, that I’m no expert on Chinese BBSes, nor do I even read them often at all. I’m no Sam Flemming.
I later talked about this issue with a Chinese friend whose job in Shanghai is intimately related to the internet. He had a less political take on the issue. He felt the Chinese prefer BBSes because blogs are seen as private. BBSes are public forums, places where you can post something that can be read by thousands if you write something worth reading. Sure, blogs can be read by thousands too, but a lot of time and hard work is required to build up that kind of readership, and many just aren’t interested.
I consider myself very priveleged to be in a time and place where I can do work that appeals to me and just really stimulates me creatively and intellectually. It’s all part of the crazy exciting China feeling. Next week there will be a new editor to help me out with some of the day-to-day academic work at ChinesePod, so that will free me up for more creative and progressive work.
Frank Yu set up the meeting, and I thank him for that. It was good to see him when he visited from Beijing for ChinaJoy recently.
No, I’m not talking about that Chinaman. I’m talking about ChinaMan!
So I grew up during the 80’s. I still like some of that cheesey stuff like ewoks and Adventure for Atari 2600. Not long ago I discovered that I could acquire all three seasons of the old TV show “The Greatest American Hero” through the magic of bittorrent. Acquire it I did, and I’ve been getting a real kick out of those old episodes (especially all the parts about fighting the commies). What really surprised me, though, was the logo on the main character’s suit.
The Greatest American Hero
When I first watched the show some twenty years ago, the logo meant nothing to me. Now when I look at it, it very distinctly looks like a stylized Chinese character 中 (meaning “middle” or “China”).
Of course the resemblance is most likely just coincidence, but when I showed the show to a Chinese friend, the question immediately arose: “why does he have a 中 on his chest?” I responded, “yeah, it does look like a 中, doesn’t it? But it’s not.” That got me a, “what are you talking about? It’s a 中!”
So is the Greatest American Hero actually ChinaMan? Or maybe the “aliens” that gave him the superpower suit in the first place were actually just the Chinese?
Totally not photoshopped
One more weird GAH/China connection: in Episode 1 of Season 2, the hero stops a bus marked “CBL.” CBL also happens to stand for the China Blog List, which, as luck would have it, also uses “中” as its logo. Coincidence??
OK, yes. That one is a coincidence.
But what’s the deal with the Greatest American Hero and 中?
When the China Blog List got a redesign and its own domain, I added a list to the front page called “10 Best Blogs.” This name was somewhat misleading, because it was based on clicks to those blogs through the China Blog List. Later the name was changed to “10 Hottest Blogs,” which is much more accurate.
It soon became clear that the blog in the #1 “hottest blog” position was hard to dislodge. The #1 “hottest blog” gets the most clicks because it’s #1, which keeps it at #1. John B and I tried some ideas to make it fairer, and they have worked pretty well. Since then, several blogs have come and gone from the #1 position. I have noticed that the most influential factor as to what puts a blog in the #1 position is clearly the name.
The blog that started at #1 was the Shanghai Streets photo blog. It was there for a while while we tweaked the ranking algorithm. Pretty soon after a new blog called My Chinese Life rose quickly to the top. Apparently people liked the name. When John changed the name of his site, however, he quickly fell from #1 and was replaced by Chinese Chic. Ah, we all love alliteration.
Chinese Chic was #1 for a long time, but has finally been displaced. The new victor? Sex and Shanghai, the tales of a sex-hungry foreign guy. It rose to the top of the “hottest” list a mere two days after being added to the CBL. I have a feeling this one is going to be hard to dislodge.
The moral here? If you’re looking for traffic for your blog (from the CBL, at least), the name matters a lot.
I remember when writing a blog about teaching English in China was a new idea. Blogging itself was new back then. We felt that people in the States needed to know about the Chinese hellos and the crazy food and the linguistic torture. Nowadays, though, there is no shortage of this type of blog. As lone administrator of the China Blog List, I see quite a few. I certainly have nothing against them, but after seeing so many, I start to lose interest.
Until now! One of the newest additions to the CBL has me rediscovering China all over again from Shandong, and starting all over with the language as well. Meg at Violet Eclipse writes with enough charm and good humor to make me ashamed of the dry, linguisticky discourse that passes for blog entries these days on Sinosplice.
She shares lots of the everyday:
> Fresca and I wandered in to a Qingdao street market as part of our ongoing quest to try all the barbarqued tofu in Shandong. We bought scallion bread and rice dumplings and strawberries, which was a lot harder than in sounds. First, because we can’t understand what they’re saying with Qingdao accents. Even when we use the Chinese handsigns for what we want and how many we want, the vendors seem to interpret “2 dumplings” as “Please call the rest of your family over to see the Americans. Really. And touch my hair, I love that.”
And even the occasional “romantic” story:
> The shopkeeper called over an interpreter from another shop, a younger man who said he speaks English. He speaks English the way some of us can remember a bit of bit of our high-school French or Spanish, only his high-school English teacher was not only not a native speaker, but had probably never met a native speaker. Anyway, he was able to ask us questions as long as we wrote down the answers in block letters. The two men were shocked to find out how old we are, and then the interpreter started to practice his next question.
> “Marry. Marry? Marriaige? Marring? Marry?” he says to himself. Just when we think he’s going to propose, he asks us if we’re married.
When was the last time you heard that a blog is an “online diary?” The inaccuracy of such a narrow definition is becoming more and more apparent. Blogs are getting so specialized it’s sometimes surprising. Recently the China Blog List received a submission for a blog called USA and Chinese Nurses. In the first post is a description of the purpose of the blog:
> My name is Mary Jane Evans and I am a Nursing author and instructor in the US who has travelled extensively in China. While in China on a lecture tour, I met many nurses at Universities who wanted information on the realities of emigrating to the US for employment. My experiences left me to wonder how I might help .
> My answer is one nurse at a time, through blogging and direct communication with as many nurses as possible. A former Assistant Director of a 900 bed Hospital in the US, it is my wish to repay the kindness of so many Chinese nurses toward me by devoting some of my time each day to you.
Now the question I have to answer is: is this blog a candidate for the CBL? I’m leaning towards no, because as stated on the CBL help page, blogs listed must be “mainly about China.” This one is about nursing, with a Chinese audience.
The phenomenon of foreigners blogging in Chinese was once extremely rare. I remember when I started back in early 2003 there didn’t seem to be anyone else doing it. Then Alaric came along and blogged in Chinese with dedication (something I’ve never pulled off). He has gained quite an online following. Then came Todd, offering Chinese readers similar dedication and a different point of view. Another very noteworthy blogger is Carlo. His written Chinese is superb. A friend of mine has even started up his own: 帅土包子曰.
I fully expect the number of foreigners blogging to continue to grow. There’s a name for these blogs: CSL (Chinese as a Second Language) blogs. Now, they have even made it into their own page on the China Blog List. Bloggers represented in the list come from Japan, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States.
If you read Chinese, check out the CBL CSL list (RSS feed to come). If you’re studying Chinese, these bloggers just might inspire you.
A big thanks goes to Todd, who collected about half of the links in the list.
It’s something I’ve wanted to implement for a while, and the new China Blog List made it possible. Although its main function is still to list China blogs written in English, The China Blog List now features a separate listing of non-English (non-Chinese) blogs about China.
If you’re interested in blogs of only one language in the non-English list, you can easily bookmark that one language (and RSS feeds are on the way). So far, the languages covered are:
C H I N A B L Ä T T E R (German): the format looks like a German ESWN (except fancier, hehe), but I think it’s more like a German China Digital Times. (No serious China blog can compare with ESWN content-wise, right?) A lot of the links are for English articles.
Max (French): An entry on English Corner caught my eye. I was curious what a French speaker would think about this oft-reviled Chinese tradition. Translated by Babelfish:
One meets full with world, especially people culturés thus trés interesting.
Assailed by questions, people are intrigued by our presence… or you come, what you do make here, how you are called, is what it is beautiful Paris, you préferes Chinese girls or the European ones?… One do not know any more or to give head…
Good experiment, dice which I have a little time the week end I go back there to do to me a little pocket money…
Trés interesting indeed. I don’t read French, so I’m not sure if that was supposed to be dirty or what…
Bingfeng of Bingfeng’s Teahouse did this week’s Top Ten List for the China Blog List. I think it’s kinda interesting to see which blogs about China–by foreigners–a Chinese guy reads. There you have it.
In other news, for the blogs that provided the URL, I have added RSS links to the lower right corner of the entries in the list… sort of. I can say for sure that it works in Firefox, but there’s an occasional 1-pixel lower gap. (Firefox, what part of bottom: 0; don’t you understand??)
The interesting (or maybe “interesting”) thing is that while the CSS doesn’t work in IE, it has absolutely no ill effects… the links are just totally not there. I have no idea why, or where they went. As is often the case with IE’s rendering, it’s a mystery. If anyone can take a look at the CSS and clear it up for me, I’d appreciate it.
I recently received a new submission for the CBL called blog中文翻译 (“blog Chinese translation”). It doesn’t qualify to be listed on the CBL, as it’s almost entirely in Chinese, but it’s a good idea nonetheless. The author starts an entry with a link to an online English article, then translates it.
It could be very useful to Chinese readers as well as to advanced students of Chinese. The topics all seem to be geeky tech topics. I haven’t yet taken the time to judge the quality of the translation.
There are some terms in the translations which I would not be at all sure how to verify. For example, in one article the author translates “semantic web” as “语义网.” 语义 is indeed the Chinese linguistic term for “semantic” or “semantics,” and 网 clearly means “web,” but is that the official translation for “semantic web?” In this case, it is. However there have to be plenty of cases where a convenient translation standard doesn’t exist.
“Superhuman Linking Machine” Simon of Simon World has recently put together a Halloween treat for you. You won’t need a costume to join the fun. You don’t have to go door to door and beg for it. You don’t have to scoop out pumpkin innards or create fire hazards in the name of tradition…
scRambler recently put together a page on Shanghai. It’s loaded with all the sites he likes related to this crazy city. That’s cool in itself, but what makes the page especially intresting to me is that it uses MagpieRSS to pull in info from RSS feeds and then hides most of it, giving users the option to view it with a visibility toggle script. I was thinking of using a similar method for something of my own, so it’s good to see it in action first, and to know where to get the necessary components.
It just so happens that the latest version of MagpieRSS is also probably the best solution to Matthew’s question about how to display the latest additions to the CBL on one’s own blog. When I get a chance I’ll try to add a how-to to the CBL, but I’m too busy with work and school right now.
John B and I put in quite a lot of work over the weekend, and the new version of the China Blog List is now mostly complete, up and running on its own domain. John really did a great job on the new functionality, and I’m very grateful for all the programming hours he put into the project. I focused on the design and organization of the new site.
After putting all that work into the new site, I’d like to take a post to not so subtly call attention to its multifarious awesomeness.
First of all is the hierarchical geographical labels. I’ll quote the CBL Help section here:
> Having a very specific location for each blog is useful because the location filter is hierarchical. A blog listed as based in San Francisco, for example, will show up in the listings for (1) All locations, (2) Outside China, (3) USA, (4) California, and (5) San Francisco. A blog listed as based in Hangzhou will show up in the listings for (1) All locations, (2) Greater China, (3) mainland China, (4) Zhejiang, and (5) Hangzhou. Including the specific location of each blog is to that blog’s benefit.
You can filter the blog listings by location on any level of the hierarchy.
Categories have also been added. To prevent abuse, no blog can claim more than three categories, but I think it could prove very useful for filtering purposes. I have added categories myself to a lot of blogs, but there are just too many; I’m hoping blog owners will submit blog corrections telling me which three categories they would like their blogs listed under.
Traditional methods of sorting are still there, as well as sorting by “date added.” This is great if you want to see, for example, the latest Shanghai blogs or the latest Beijing blogs. Confine it to a specific category, if you want. Simple.
Blog listings are now paginated, and the user can specify the number of listings per page.
You can also use the map feature to filter blogs. It’s not especially useful, but I made it in Flash, and it looks pretty cool. You could use the map to quiz yourself on the locations of Chinese provinces, if you were that bored.
On the front page you will see that there is now a popularity ranking based on clickthroughs. Clicks are limited to one per day per IP, and there are security measures in place. But that’s not the only “Top Ten” list you’ll find…
All new to the list is two additional ways of getting China bloggers more involved in the CBL: China Blog Reviews and China bloggers’ Top Ten Lists. The CBL itself remains neutral, but it hosts the opinions of other bloggers in these two forms. (Currently you’ll find the top ten lists of Dan Washburn, Peking Duck, and me. More soon.) Both the reviews and the top ten lists give China bloggers a way to simultaneously promote other blogs as well as their own.
Last but not least, the dead blogs have been removed. If your China blog was down over the weekend for whatever reason, it’s no longer in the CBL. An astounding 30-40% of the blogs in the CBL were dead. Wow. We have a plan for keeping it from getting that bad again. (There are also some other features planned that are not yet ready.)
The design is intentionally minimalist. I can’t believe I managed to only use one image and two flash files for the whole site. I’m not satisfied with it yet, though… I’ll be tweaking it some more later.
Anyway, now is a better time than ever to use the CBL. The blogs in it are all essentially current, and there’s lots of new functionality. There will be a new wave of additions soon. ChinaBlogList.org is the new URL.
I need a break from all this computer mumbo jumbo. Posts will resume in a few days.
The new China Blog List will be finished pretty soon. John B has done some amazing work, starting from scratch, and the new version will be way better than the current one. I’ve known for some time now that the burgeoning CBL is decreasingly user friendly. The new version will change all that.
I’m not going to spell out all the new features at this point, but I will say this: during the switchover there will be a lot of deletions of dead (resting?) blogs. The China Blog List will stop listing “no longer updated blogs.” I’m going with the definition of blog which includes “frequently updated,” so anything that hasn’t been updated in the past three months or so gets axed. That means if you use any of those links, get them while they’re still there.
New submissions have been suspended until the switchover is complete. Thanks for your patience.
Since I personally verify every blog that is added to the China Blog List, I see a lot of blogs. Unfortunately, I have very little time these days to read blogs, and I’m not really looking for new ones to add to my reading list. One that nevertheless caught my attention, though, was Talk Talk China. I especially like DD’s entries.
There are not a lot of entries up yet, but these are the ones I liked:
– Language Rapists. Another variation of a familiar theme. Worth reading. It has a great closing line. (Here’s my version of this rant.)
– No, You’re Not Really Tone Deaf. Sometimes I feel this way, but I’d never write something like this. …but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it when someone else does!
– Beijing Cab Driver Excuses. Pretty funny. Read the comments… I found the comparison between Shanghai and Beijing cabbies to be kinda interesting.