The History of Blogging in Hong Kong

This post is a collection of some key newspaper articles:

(SCMP)  New kids on the blog.  By Carrie Chan.  August 22, 2005.

Meet Sidekick, one of Hong Kong's more quoted bloggers. A media-industry worker, she started her internet musings with reflections on her daily life. These days, though, her topics range from the latest gadgetry to comments on song-writers or the legacy of China's struggle against the Japanese invasion.

To her surprise, the postings attract one of the highest readerships among local blogs (short for web logs), and are frequently linked to other sites. But with about 300 to 400 visits daily, that's a far cry from the following that prompted Microsoft to put tech expert Robert Scoble on its payroll to help engage critics. Even Xia-xue, the persona adopted by 21-year-old Singaporean blogger Cindy Cheng, boasts 10,000 hits daily.

In a world in which blogs seem to spread like viral infections (the blog search engine Technorati estimates that 80,000 blogs are created every day, while the latest Nielsen/Netcast survey says blogs now draw 29.3 million visitors), Hong Kong's blog presence comes across a little like a damp squib.

Still, after a slow few years, blogs are beginning to take root in the city. More locals are either publishing online journals on an ongoing basis, or adding their views to blogs. Local internet host claims to have had more than 7,000 members last year.

It's a good publicity tool. Pop stars such as Edison Chen Koon-hei and Eason Chan Yick-shun keep fans updated through their online journals. Civic Express, launched by think-tank Civic Exchange, tries to stimulate discussion on social issues through the blogs of former legislators such as Cyd Ho Sau-lan and radio host Ng Chi-sum. A group of designers started the blog Flying Bricks to encourage so-called art jamming on the web.

As with Flying Bricks and Civic Express, it's the opportunity for networking and exchanging ideas that draws Sidekick to blogging.

"I just hope to create a social community," she says. "I don't confine myself to big statements like writing about the July 1 demonstration, Ching Cheong [the journalist who was charged by mainland authorities for spying] or June 4 commemorative events."

What's most important is the amount of discussion she can stimulate among bloggers, who are aged from their teens to their 40s. She's proud that her blog on anti-Japanese sentiments among Chinese people attracted comments from across the mainland and Taiwan.

Even so, Sidekick concedes that the blogging culture is much livelier elsewhere in Asia. Blogs are expanding so quickly on the mainland that some host sites are seeking listings on the Nasdaq stock exchange.

South Korea probably leads the region in blogging. Most famously, Ohmynews, the South Korean blog host site launched by journalist Oh Yeon-ho, gave rise to 36,000 so-called citizen reporters whose postings helped propel South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun to election victory.

Sidekick attributes the thriving exchanges on the mainland and places such as Seoul to bitter encounters with political crackdowns. Hong Kong internet users have yet to learn to treasure the freedom of speech offered in cyberspace, she says. "For Hong Kong people, it's not very important whether they're allowed to express something or not."

Mainland media researcher Hu Yong says the difference in the development of blogging in Hong Kong and on the mainland isn't necessarily politically related.

"It's not because people can't discuss politics openly," he says, pointing out that most blogs on the mainland are about personal experiences. "People in China have a stronger yearning for individual identities."

In any case, it's only over the past year that blogs have been used in Hong Kong as an alternative news outlet rather than personal diaries, says IT researcher Rikkie Yeung Au Lai-kit.

"People may have come to the realisation that the room offered by mainstream media is shrinking," says Yeung, who is also a director of the think-tank SynergyNet. "There isn't that much diversity in the voices heard in established outlets. They're moving from the stage of writing personal diaries to discussing social issues in blogs. I reckon it won't be just a fad."

Ip Iam-chong, a researcher at Lingnan University's Department of Cultural Studies, was among the first bloggers to use the tool to stimulate exchanges on topical issues. Noting increased restrictions on the local press, Ip and several like-minded friends launched the blog host site In-Media last November. Despite the passive environment, Ip says he aims to introduce and cultivate the concept of citizen reporters.

"Generally speaking, Hong Kong people's interest in words is low," he says "Even if they're interested, they're not able to write prolifically. I think it's because of the media landscape here. Our newspapers are picture-laden."

Put another way, many Hongkongers are too used to being spoon-fed. Blogging requires a lot of initiative, which young people here lack, says Ip. "The do-it-yourself culture here is very weak. In Taiwan, people build servers on their own."

Nevertheless, Ip's blog site is fast gaining popularity. In-Media claims it has 1,500 regular users and about 120 people have registered as columnists.

Commercial Radio's controversial dumping of a series of talk-show hosts helped galvanise interest, Ip says. "We wanted to set up an independent media without government intervention. We wouldn't just want to post personal diaries," he says.

Their blogs tend to focus on such issues as December's World Trade Organisation meeting, the future of Wan Chai, and Disneyland as a symbol of globalisation. Cultural debate can be heated: blogger Little Wolf's challenge of a campus magazine article equating the Japanese comic Boy's Love with pornography drew dozens of responses.

Many blogs now include podcasts, with music and images. But Sidetrack reckons blogging and podcasts aren't about to take off in Hong Kong. The market is small compared with the mainland, and Taiwan makes it unattractive for locals to develop blogging tools. "China and Taiwan always have plenty of discussion on the latest tools," she says. "Their communities are worth more money. And Hong Kong is always slower in picking up IT trends."

Entertainment value certainly seems to come first for many local blog visitors. Pig, a 30-year-old Hong Kong scientist, can testify to that. She produces both an online journal and light-hearted podcasts about her life, but it's the latter that's more popular. "You can be very creative with blogs," says Pig. "But some media observers urge parents to keep an eye on the blogs of their kids."

Even so, blogs have an edge, she says. "Blogs serve as a way to interact with friends. This is unachievable through podcasts. The blog community is becoming more cohesive." 

(The Standard)  The blog is mightier than the sword.  By Douglas Crets.  May 17, 2005.

When Chinese journalist Cheng Yizhong was awarded the 2005 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, he was barred by Beijing from attending the awards ceremony in Senegal earlier this month.

Cheng, who broke the Sars story in China, was imprisoned for five months in 2004, but never charged. He is banned from practising journalism and his ordeal has become a symbol of state censorship in the mainland.

But Roland Soong, who works for a media research firm in Hong Kong, thinks Cheng's words and ideas need to be heard. He said the full text of the speech Cheng was to deliver in Senegal wasn't printed either in the mainland or in Hong Kong.

So Soong published the full excerpts in his blog, North South East West.

He has done the same with other reports about Hong Kong and China, filling in the blanks in what he says is an attempt to bring more balance to the news.

Unlike archetypal bloggers, who often cite personal experiences as examples of oppression, Soong measures and analyzes the Chinese-language media.

His work is a consolidation of reporting with a central message: the media needs voices from everyone, no matter what their social level.

In Hong Kong, journalists and the public assume freedom of the press exists, but some bloggers and activists are not so sure.

They see the creeping hand of authoritarianism in the territory despite the fact that most experts say the press here remains substantially unfettered.

Hong Kong's press is too young and working in conditions that do not foster excellence, says long-time press freedom campaigner and RTHK journalist Mak Yin-ting, the honorary secretary of the Hong Kong Journalists Association.

The association has given an annual report of press freedom since 1993. In last year's report, called Beijing Turns the Screws: Freedom of Expression in Hong Kong Under Attack, the association blasted Hong Kong's media environment.

The troubles have not gone unnoticed by bloggers, or Internet journal writers, and blogs, or Web Logs, are now posing an unlikely grass-roots challenge to mainstream media here and elsewhere.

There are more than 50 Hong Kong-based blogs that run the gamut from personal to political, that are adding voice to a growing grassroots democracy movement that may be virtual in presence but very real in the belief it represents: that Hong Kong people should work together to form a civil society.

These local bloggers use art and essays to analyze and express con- ditions that they say indicate Hong Kong can develop into a democratic society that values open discussion of issues, universal suffrage and individual rights.

Many bloggers work like amateur journalists and researchers, working collectively in their individual spaces to scour the Web for their passions, whether politics, football, television game shows or food, and often share their information with thousands of other bloggers.

Bloggers who analyze Hong Kong's political system keep track of thousands of articles printed in local and international media, as well as writings on hundreds of blogs, to assess and interpret the direction of Hong Kong, both politically and socially.

Yan Sham-Shackleton, a blogger who writes largely about art, press freedom and the rise of calls for democracy in Hong Kong on her blog, Glutter(.org), realized first hand in March that not every voice gets heard in the reporting of significant events.

Sham-Shackleton, who was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz, was nominated for a "Freedom of Expression Blogs Award'' by Reporters Without Borders, an international journalist advocacy group, in March, for the work she has done to highlight the younger generation's calls for change.

Soon after the nomination, she was interviewed on a local cable TV station for a story on blogging.

Before her interview, she asked the journalist and producers if they understood what she wrote about on her blog - democracy, the Basic Law and universal suffrage. They responded that they did - but the editing revealed something different.

Chinese-language reporters say that, generally, it is difficult to write about politically progressive ideas in their reporting.

Sham-Shackleton is probably the first known case of an individual who has experienced that difficulty first hand and who was able to write about it independently for an audience that watched the show.

"I talked a lot about the issues and [the reporter] asked me a lot about them as well,'' she wrote in a May 1 entry entitled Censorship/Self-Censorship. "Every single mention I made about politics was duly removed. Every one.''

She was blunt in her criticism of what she says is going on in Hong Kong: "Let's call a spade a spade. We should stop calling the sickness `self-censorship' and name it [by] what it really is - censorship.

"Frontline journalists seldom censor themselves. Their stories are usually killed by their superiors. It is plain old censorship. Chief editors, senior managers and publishers are doing dirty work for the government to water down criticisms or spike offensive stories,'' she wrote.

Sham-Shackleton was not the only one who was upset. Other bloggers who read about her experience teamed up in an email forum to create an online document to correct what they said were misconceptions about blogging.

That document can be found at

So far, 47 bloggers have signed their names to an open letter to Hong Kong media and researchers complaining about the misrepresentation.

They feel that recent media stories about blogging have painted bloggers simply as individuals writing cute stories for their personal edification or amusement.

In fact, a number of bloggers raise social issues and write in detailed prose about media inadequacies. Soong, who linked his blog in the protest letter, says his blog tries to tackle the issues of media censorship objectively and in a different way to "liberal'' bloggers.

During spare moments, he searches through the English and Chinese press for examples of how reporting leaves out critical news to inform his readers - 90 percent of whom come from China, he says.

"Government officials and big-time businessmen only have surrogates in newspapers and they don't have any presence in blogs,'' said Soong. "Li Ka shing doesn't blog, Donald Tsang doesn't blog.''

He means that the Chinese editors use newspapers to bring the messages of these high-powered officials to the public, yet they rarely provide direct quotes from them.

Those powerful business interests could add their voices to this unbalanced media, he figures, if they could be convinced to blog. For now, Soong tries to even out the score.

In East South North West, Soong translates Chinese-language media and blogs into English to show the fuller story.

"I am being forced to increasingly say: `Let's look objectively at a particular event,''' said Soong.

"In a breaking news story in Asia, you will see everything compiled from Chinese sources,'' he claimed.

A recent example, he said, was reporting on Cheng's inability to accept the UNESCO award. Soong said that most media gave the story limited coverage.

"If you come to my blog, I'll have the whole thing translated,'' he said. As far as he knows, his is the only English blog to have done so.

Blogs used to appeal to only a limited audience with the time and patience to wade through the reams of information on the Web to find nuggets of information they really wanted.

Recent search tools and linking sites such as, a "bookmarks'' engine that links corresponding keywords and links to other searchers, and, which does something similar, help bloggers and non-bloggers to find what they want faster.

Bloggers also use Really Simple, which embedded as code in their Web sites, automatically syndicates a Web site, allowing readers with a certain penchant for, say, politics in Samoa, or dentistry advances in the Dominican Republic, to be "fed'' those sites and links that pertain to those subjects.

Essentially, blogs have begun to act, technically, like electronic reporters, sniffing out stories as they happen.

(The Standard)  Between east and west.  By Justin Mitchell.  November 14, 2005.

A SAR blogger is becoming an authority on China for reporters from both sides , writesJustin Mitchell

For China watchers, one of the most influential Hong Kong and mainland media figures is a 56-year-old blogger and non-journalist who lives with his 79-year-old mother and a maid on Kadoorie Hill in Kowloon.

His blog is essential reading for reporters, ranging from those from the New York Times, Washington Post, the Guardian and Interfax News Agency to, yes, The Standard. China Daily has recently given partial credit to his work.

What makes ESWN the uber blog for China news is the combination of his intellect and his ability to quickly and accurately translate myriad Chinese-language newspaper, blog and Web site articles into English.

"I know that most bloggers are in awe, and that reporters look on in envy before pilfering his material [usually without attribution]," said David Stanway, an Interfax journalist based in Shanghai.

So who is this guy?

His name is Roland Soong. Born in Shanghai in 1949, he and his family fled to Hong Kong four weeks after he was born. "I'm a little bit older than the People's Republic," Soong said wryly.

He has a PhD in statistics, and when he isn't blogging, Soong is the chief technical officer for KMR, the world's second-largest media research firm.

He has also freelanced as a translator and interpreter for the US Drug Enforcement Agency's investigations of Chinese triad operations in New York.

Soong's blog, EastSouthWestNorth (, gave hints of where he's been and reflects what Jeremy Goldkorn, editor of, a Beijing-based Web site on mainland media, calls Soong's "catholic [which he spells with a small `c'] and voracious reading habits."

"East and west because I was maintaining two homes, one in New York and one in Hong Kong," said Soong. "South because my job involved a lot of work in Latin America and I also lived in Australia. North for North America because I spent 32 years in the United States before returning to Hong Kong."

Soong's wide-ranging interests are reflected daily on ESWN. The occasionally quirky China-related content covers a spectrum from avian flu and Hong Kong polls and politics to mainland demonstrations, heartbreaking suicide stories, press freedom, artificial hymens and the Super Girl competitions.

"I have lots of time to read because of my work arrangement," said Soong. "I read newspapers in English. I read newspapers in Chinese. And it is obvious that they are two different worlds - sometimes more than that within the languages and papers themselves. I also thought that because there was so much interest in China that Western readers would want to know more."

ESWN is a no-frills affair that Soong began in 2003 as Version 1.0 when the Iraq war began.

Now in Version 2.0, running since March 2005, it has no advertisements or graphics save news photos. When Soong comments on stories, it's often with an open-ended question or a skeptical jab.

A sensitive soul, he does not solicit comments due to crank e-mails he received when he established his first (non-news) Web site in 1996 for the Central Park Track Club in New York and shortly after the first version of ESWN debuted.

"I can't deal with it," he wincingly said of negative comments. "It's kind of like being a reporter. You worry about criticism."

Though Soong's personal life and thoughts are applied sparingly throughout ESWN, he does seem to wrestle with whether what he does is truly journalism.

In a rare essay entitled Am I a Journalist? posted on October 29, he first answered the question with a question and then came down firmly in the middle.

"Do I practice journalistic investigation? No. Do I work for a media organization? No. Do I belong to a journalist organization? No. But this is the Internet age, and a better test might be - if I am arrested, will the journalist organizations come to my assistance?"

Then he wrote: "If pressed into making a simple Yes/No choice, the answer is Yes/No because nothing is ever simple ... I certainly did not start off to be a journalist. I started ESWN from the viewpoint of a news reader."

"I have a very strange relationship with China," Soong mused. "With one small exception, I have never been blocked. But they steal from me. Not everything, though. They steal selectively."

Soong made a bigger journalistic impact for his ongoing work in compiling, organizing and translating diverse and often conflicting online, e-mail and media accounts of the recall election in Taishi village, Guangdong, and subsequent protests that began in July.

Those events climaxed last month with a hysterical and ultimately false eyewitness account by Guardian reporter Benjamin Joffe-Walt that an activist named Lu Banglie was beaten to death.

Joffe-Walt and the Guardian were harshly criticized by both pro-Beijing and pro-democracy media voices in a rare case of mutual agreement despite differing agendas.

Soong's evenhanded and comprehensive archiving and updating of the Taishi village events, however, has drawn nothing but approval from the Western media - and a tacit thumb's up from China Daily.

Following Joffe-Walt and the Guardian's debacle, former CNN Japan and China correspondent Rebecca MacKinnon summed it up on her blog, RConversation:

"So when it comes to the Taishi information situation, we have the following picture: the Chinese media hasn't been allowed to report on the details of the fight over the Taishi village elections.

"Chinese Internet bulletin boards discussing the issue have been forced to shut down. Chinese blogs are angry about how the Western media has let them down, and the Chinese foreign ministry is making statements about how foreign reporters have been going around [flouting] the law.

"But the foreign mainstream media hasn't been following the story in any real detail either.

"The only people following it closely and fully outside of China have been HKInMedia, a Hong Kong Chinese- language independent media Web site, and when it comes to English coverage, no other source beats the Hong Kong- based media researcher and blogger, Roland Soong of ESWN.

"As [a colleague] pointed out the other day: '.. this is a case where bloggers and citizen journalists have been running circles around formal journalism."'

There are other English-language bloggers who approach ESWN's depth, such as Australian Simon Masnick of Simon World. But Masnick (an occasional contributor to The Standard) happily defers to Soong.

"Roland was one of the first to provide good interface between the Chinese online world and the English- speaking online world," said Masnick.

"He's got a Western eye and a Chinese eye. He really is in a class of his own. Eventually there will be some imitators, but he was the first, he's the best and will be for a long time."

For his part Soong said he's pleased with the acclaim, but he'd welcome some collaborators and would like to expand his coverage.

"Maybe the time has come for Version 2.0 to go to Version 3.0," he said. "To find some like-minded people to do a group blog. For instance, I don't like global politics such as `Will China invade Taiwan in the next six months?' I don't have a clue.

"But if I have a group blog someone else can do that. If it becomes big enough maybe it can make a real difference."