Hong Kong Blogosphere Up In Arms

Perhaps the mainstream media were only trying to help, but the truth is that they really don't get 'blogging.'  For the past few days, the luminaries of the Chinese-language blogosphere are up in arms about a special cable television news program on the phenomenon of 'blogging.'  Oh, sorry, they don't call it that -- to them, this was just 'online diaries.'  The bloggers have even posted the entire television program as a 40-meg RealMedia file!

Everybody seems to point their fingers at this following piece of research by BreakThrough on "online diaries" (see Chinese-language link).  The cable news hosts and producers apparently based their concept around this survey.  This was an Internet survey of more than 1,000 young people visting various websites (and it is therefore not necessarily representative of any population).  75.5% of these survey respondents have written "online diaries"; 97.0% have read the "online diaries" of friends and 63.0% have read "online diaries" of strangers.  The content of these "online diaries" are about "daily trivia" (72.8%), "friendship" (70.8%), "studies and jobs" (62.4%) and even "views about current social affairs" (27.3%).

Here is Sidekick in translation:

1.  I must agree that most Hong Kong bloggers are young people.  They are the mainstream, whereas we are not.
2.  Most of the interviewees describe their work as "blogs" or "online journals," but the program kept referring to "online diaries."  It was enough to make people cough blood!
3.  The program host insisted that the Hong Kong bloggers are young people who write only about daily trivia.  So program hosts don't have to research information?
4.  A Hong Kong University student advisor insists that blogs are merely "diaries" from his self-appointed position as the expert.  You can either be angry or bemused!  You can google the word "blog" and find the correct answer immediately.  When the media misinform this way, shouldn't they be ashamed?
When the mainstream media explore the blogging culture, all they are showing is their own ossified thinking.

Here is Alex Chow in translation (in summary):

1.  The program hosts defined a "blog" as an "online diary" from the outset.  For me, this may mean something like an "open diary" but it certainly does not touch on the technical features such as "trackback" and "comments" nor does it refer to other issues such as differences among mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan online journals.  At the very least, they made no distinction between "online diaries" and "online journals."
2.  The two program hosts offered the same proposal: "Parents ought to read their children's online diaries."  Hmm ... maybe I'm nitpicking, but are online diaries here to serve as tools for parents to monitor and supervise their children?
3.  The television program claims that online diaries are easy to write and administer but fails to mention any of the other functions of blogs.  As for the differences between local and foreign online diaries, the simple characterization is politics/diversity (for foreigners) versus daily thoughts/friendship (for locals).  Is that a correct observation?  If the term "online diaries" is used to characterize the best-known foreign blogs, how would those bloggers feel?
4.  If they don't want to deal with the American blog culture, could they at least deal with Chinese blog culture?  As far as I was concerned, my first contact with the term "blog" was through Muzimei.  At the same time, even if the United States is the leader in blog culture, mainland China is not so far behind.

From Florence Lai (at Over the Rainbow), who is a professional newspaper journalist in real life (note: this is an abridged translation):

"Florence, can I add the word 'blog' next to the 'online diaries' to help the reader understand?" my editor asked me.

I hesitated for five seconds.  "You may," I answered confidently.  Actually, I have mixed feelings.  If I wrote it that way, I am equating "online diaries" with "blogs" for which I shall be detested by by bloggers for all eternity.

But in order to familiarize more people with the word "blog," I have decided to be more daring.  I did not have sufficient room in my article to cover the concept of blogging from the beginning of time to Lien Chan's visit to China.  But since "online diaries" are blogs (even though blogs are more than that), it is not a mistake to invoke the word "blog."  Far too many people don't know anything about blogs.  As long as there is any opportunity, I should let people hear about "blogs."

Beside, the focus of my report was about the survey results from a certain online survey about why local young people write blogs.

The survey results from more than 1,000 youths who have made contact with blogs is that 75% have written online diaries, of which 75% felt that they can get their friends' concern.  From this, the conclusion was that parents ought to encourage their children to write blogs in order to communicate with their friends and know themselves during the process.  (Based upon my understanding, they were not encouraging the parents to monitor and supervise their children's blogs even though this recommendation was rather 'parent-directed' in nature).  From the platform of online diaries, young people can express their opinions about current affairs.

The people of Hong Kong are most likely to know blogs through Muzimei.  This is how blogs became synonymous with "online diaries."

Even in foreign countries, blogs are treated as "online diaries."  Many media and enterprises use the bi-directional characteristic of blogs -- every person is a medium -- to communicate with the customers through means beyond the mainstream media.

Which of our officials or blue-chip bosses see it this way?  Which of them will write blogs for the sake of public relations?  Compared to the English-language blogosphere, the Chinese-language blogosphere is still loosely organized, unable to engage in the commercial order or influence corporate decisions and consumer culture.

As for media authority, the Chinese bloggers are not powerful enough to compete with the mainstream media, and therefore unable to have the multiple channels that dilute the influence of mainstream media.

Perhaps some day Li Ka-shing or Donald Tsang will write blogs; or perhaps some bloggers in a large organization are fired for divulging organizational secrets.  Then blogs may become more prominent in media discussions.  That is the moment when blogs will demonstrate their social strengths.

As I was conducting the interview for the article, I was actually somewhat disappointed.  Even a youth-focused entity as organized like BreakThrough has restricted the concept of youth blogs to youth online diaries.  So what organizations are out there to realistically investigate the broader meaning of local blogging culture?

I don't know whether it was because of BreakThrough's understanding or because they thought it would be easier to deal with "online diaries", but I realized after interviewing the youth present at the press conference that I must accept that many young people are treating blogs as online diaries without thinking about the deeper meaning of blogs.

They represent the thinking of some local bloggers, as well as the narrow definition of blogging used by the mainstream media.

I was obviously hoping that BreakThrough's research could take a further step about blogger culture.  Actually, this may mean that blogger culture is still underdeveloped locally to the point where it can neither subvert media authority nor direct mainstream social opinion.

For the grand finale, I will let the Hong Kong blogosphere's best-known face to the outside world, Glutter, present her own reactions in the post: Censorship/Self Censorship: Watering Down My Interview.  The case of Glutter is completely different.  It is freedom of of thought and speech for the television program producers to present their own views on what blogs are.  But it is something else for the television program hosts to be told by Glutter that her points will be about freedom of speech and democracy, to have them nod their heads in assent and promise to transmit that message and then to edit those points out afterwards.  If they wanted to do that, they should have told Glutter what their take was going to be up front and let her make the decision whether to appear on the program or not. 

Question:  But what does the EastSouthWestNorth blogger/diarist/journalist think?


  1. EastSouthWestNorth is usually considered a blog.
  2. The proudest moment in the history of EastSouthWestNorth was when somebody reviewed it and wrote, "... but it is not right to say that this is just another blog."
  3. There are no trackbacks and comments as most blogs do.  In fact, there isn't even an email address for contact purposes these days (note: too much SPAM!).  So this is not a blog in the usual sense.
  4. If you read this blog, you will have little or no idea what this blogger does from day to day, so this is defiintely NOT an online diary.
  5. I live in Hong Kong for most of the year, but EastSouthWestNorth is considered a 'global' blog and not a 'local' blog, as the principal subjects of interest to me are Greater China, Latin America and Iraq.  I am not and do not intend to be classified by physical geography.  I consider myself a citizen of the world.
  6. The bottom line is this: I do what I do because this is what I am.  I don't want to be boxed in, one way or the other.  This is neither blog, nor online diary, nor online journal.  This is EastSouthWestNorth, and I am not going to worry about what others want to call this.  The logical generalization is that I am not interested in endorsing or promoting anybody's specific idea of blog culture, but I do want people to be whatever they want to be (instead of being told what they are, either because they are not or they do not want to be only that).