Blogging in China: The Michael Anti Interview

(Deutsche Welle via New Century Media)

[In translation]  The Second Annual Deutsche Welle Blogger Awards commenced on September 1, 2005.  Among the 12 judges is a Chinese, as is the tradition.  The Chinese judge last year was Muzimei, a cultural reporter from Guangzhou.  This year, the Chinese judge is news reporter Michael Anti from Beijing.  How did it feel to follow Muzimei's footsteps?  What is the state of news blogging in China?  Deutsche Welle arranged to have an online interview with Michael Anti.

Although Michael Anti's news blog was set up less than 10 months ago and the number of hits cannot compare with Muzimei's blog, he has many years of Internet experience and he is the webmaster of a well-known discussion forum (锐思评论).  As such, he has gathered a considerable fame.  Since December 2004, has been operating in China for two years, with more than a million bloggers.  About 10% (or 10 million) Chinese netizens routinely read blogs.  At that time, Michael Anti began to blog, and his news blog maintains about 7,000 visitors per day.  This puts him among the top of Chinese bloggers.  With the increasingly restrictive Internet control, can news blogging create a new discussion space, or are news blogs just more useless whining?

DW:  Compared to what you do, the bloggers in the Chinese newspaper industry are more careful.  Are there clearly specified regulations to restrict the private blogging by reporters?  Or is this a case of split personality?

Anti:  I really have not heard of any regulations.  Many Chinese reporters tend to write only about their daily lives in their blogs.  For many reasons such as professional ethics, they cannot go too much into their reporting work because that may damage the interests of their newspapers.  Of course, some people have broken these restrictions and written many interesting things about their reporting work.

I feel that among the news reporters, the most popular blogs are Massage Cream (按摩乳) and Southern Yuan Northern Meng (南袁北孟).  That is because they are cultural and entertainment reporters and they are less impactful.  Another good one is Keso's technology news and commentary.  There are really very few who are influential in current affairs.

(Massage Cream is a blogger who is an editor at Sanlian Life Weekly and who provides spiritual massage to relieve the awkwardness of Chinese news reporters.  This is probably the most popular of the Chinese news bloggers.)

Q:  It would seem that news workers are more restrained when they blog.

Anti:  Since bloggers have individual responsibility, it is actually easy to control.

Q: After the likes of Muzimei and Hooligan Swallow, the mainstream of Chinese bloggers is still the Furong Jiejie type of self-revelations or diaries about trivia?

Anti:  If you measure by popularity, then that is true.  But from the viewpoint of subverting the mainstream values, then their impact should not be under-estimated.  But they are not what I called mainstream.

Q: Why do you mean by mainstream then?  Those that influence opinion -- opinion on the Internet?

Anti: Right.  Let us say influence.  That is, having the commentaries being read, discussed, re-posted and even considering the extent of their being googled and their pagerank.  These are all indicators.

(Many commentaries on Anti's blog influence Internet discussion.  Examples include, with respect to the Super Girl singing contest, his blog posts for the declaration of eternal support for Ye Yisi, the rehearsal for democracy and critical comments about Xu Jilin's essay.)

Q: In the long term, blogging appears to be more personalized and therefore weaken netizen participation in BBS discussions.

A: Yes.  In Chinese, both BBS and blogs are gateways for opinions to come out.  Compared to BBS, it is easier to see the effect in a blog and there is the tendency to move from BBS to blogs.  But BBS is still the major outlet for expressing public opinion on the Internet, and only a small fraction has moved to blogs.

When I say movement, it is mostly personal movement.  When you blog, you feel that you can affect the people through your own personal speech.  It is a good feeling to have the small part moving the large body.

(Chinese bloggers are far away from the level seen in France or Iran.  On this year's vote on the European constitution in France, the bloggers had a key impact.  In the recently held election in Iran, the bloggers influenced the people's decisions and the process of the election.  But the Chinese bloggers are beginning to come out of backwardness and raising the likelihood for in-depth and continued discussion of current affairs.  They are influencing Chinese media workers, and they may be able to rise above the superficiality and violent language of the BBS and hence to influence public opinion.)

(It was unfortunate that Anti recently published China Youth Daily veteran editor Li Datong's open letter and then Chinese Internet users found out that they can no longer access the blogcity blogs where Anti's blog was hosted.  The Chinese bloggers experienced the existence of the "glass ceiling" and had to engage in a mass "migration."  The outside world also saw what happened when the Chinese news bloggers had to move.)

Q: After your blog got blocked, did you have a sense of loss?

Anti: No.  If I can't get on the Internet, I can still enjoy canoeing, go to moves, play tennis ... of course, other than sleeping, my work is all on the Internet.  I am always connected to the Internet at home.  If they ban blogcity, there is still msn.  Many friends have left blogcn and blogchina to go to msn.  The world is not faraway.

Q: Your news blog is duller than Massage Cream but it can also touch political nerves.  Can you tell us about the prospects about Chinese blogging?

Anti:  Definitely, more people like Massage Cream than my blog.  Yet, the situation with the Chinese Internet is already better than many other countries.  For example, in North Korea, I conjecture that there is only one person who can get on the Internet at will.  When I was in Iraq in 2003, Saddam Hussein was even more extreme because even email servers were blocked.  Fortunately, they had not heard about  Besides, bloggers have more than one political function.  From sheer numbers alone, the number of Chinese bloggers have increased by large amounts.

In the future, there will be more column writers among Chinese bloggers and more political bloggers who will be influential.