Individual Blogging for Social Transformation

By Roland Soong
At The Fourth Chinese Internet Research Conference:
China ’s Internet and Chinese Culture. 
July 21-22, 2006
.  Singapore .



EastSouthWestNorth is a personal blog run by an individual Chinese citizen.  The blogger explains how his experience as a consumer of news and information led him to create the blog in this particular way.  His goals are identified and some examples of work are presented.  A discussion of the metrics of success is provided.



This is a statement from an individual Chinese blogger.  As such, I need to present my personal circumstances briefly.

I live most of the year in Hong Kong .  I am a media researcher by profession (specifically, in print and broadcast audience measurement), and I have worked as a Chinese-to-English translator in the United States . 

In 2003, I moved from the United States to Hong Kong , and I started the EastSouthWestNorth blog (URL: ).  This blog is written in English, and could be characterized as a traditional news blog – that is, I read many news articles, I mark the noteworthy ones and I comment.  If the article is in Chinese, I translate it into English.  The major coverage areas of the blog are media, culture, society and politics in mainland China , Hong Kong and Taiwan .  My goal in running the blog is for neither fame nor fortune, but it is a personal attempt to bring about a social transformation.

The Consumer-Centric Approach

The premise is consumer-centric in nature.  From the position of an English-language-only-reading person who is interested in finding out about China , what are the principal sources of news and information?

This is easy to enumerate:  

These news resources decide how attitudes, perceptions and knowledge about China are going to be formed by English-only news consumers.

By contrast, what are the principal resources for a Chinese-reading person?

In Hong Kong , I wake up in the morning and I have eight online newspapers to read, covering the entire political spectrum.  Every week, I read Next Magazine, Eastweek Magazine and Ming Pao Weekly.  That is just for Hong Kong alone.  For mainland China and Taiwan , I use the news aggregators such as Yahoo! because there are thousands of online news sources.  Then I check the Chinese forums such as Tianya Club, MOP, KDNet and Xici Hutong to pick up the happenings that do not make it onto the mainstream media.  Finally, I check the overseas Chinese websites such as Boxun and ChineseNewsNet for stories that are censored inside China .

So I have been reading the English-language news and the Chinese-language news on China continuously for more than three years.  These are two different worlds.

How are these two worlds different?

Firstly, it is about the speed of information.  On some important national matters (such as an earthquake), the speed is the same.  On other matters (especially Internet-fueled news), the Chinese reader will find out long before the English reader.  By contrast, a blog can report in near-real-time.

Secondly, it is about the breadth of coverage.  China is a country with 1.3 billion people.  How much does the New York Times tell you about China on a particular day?  One or two articles, at the most.  To quote New York Times editor Bill Keller: “That’s not bad.  But it’s not enough.”  There are many more things happening that the western media can possibly cover.  By contrast, a blog is free to cover as much or as little.

Thirdly, it is about the availability of space.  The New York Times reporter may be given 800 words to cover an event in China .  Let us say a couple of paragraphs is given to the background in the beginning; one paragraph to interview an expert to give one point of view; one paragraph to interview another expert to give the opposite point of view; one paragraph to summarize any conclusions; and that leaves about two paragraphs for the event itself.  Again, it’s not enough.  By contrast, a blog has no limit on the number of words.

Fourthly, it is about time, or the attention-deficit syndrome.  The western media do not have the resources, space and time to cover a long-term, slow-developing story with multiple characters and events.  Their readers do not have that kind of patience either.  By contrast, a blog can continuously cover a topic in a single-minded way and become the central reference resource.

Fifthly, and most contentiously, the western media have different perspectives and emphases on what they want to show their readers compared to what people inside China are reading/seeing and care about.  There is no right or wrong perspective here, but it ought to be important to see and understand how the Chinese look at the same event differently.

So EastSouthWestNorth is my attempt to bring the world of Chinese-language news to the English-only-reading world.  Maybe as an individual citizen, I cannot hope to bring all the news over.  That would be far too ambitious.  I never pretend that a personal blog could become the replacement of the English-language mainstream media, but my blog can supplement the English-language media.  My lesser but achievable goals are (1) to make a difference in specific cases and (2) to create an awareness that things may be more complex than it seems.

Detailed Discussion of Work

There are actually some more subtle issues here, and can be brought up by using illustrative examples.

The areas of interest are mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. There are three different political systems with different media environments.  This means that there has to be different approaches to address the different needs.

Mainland China

In mainland China, news and information are subject to government censorship as well as media self-censorship.  That plays a huge part, even though it is not the only thing.  In the following, examples will be offered to show how the blog performed with respect to speed, breadth, space, time and perspective.

Firstly, speed. 

On August 8, 2005 , at 2:32pm , there was an explosion on a bus in the city of Fuzhou, China.  At 2:42pm, local Fuzhou BBS’s reported the news with uploaded photos by civilians’ digital cameras.  At 3:02pm, the Fujian Hotline website published the story.  At 3:43pm, was on the case; at 4:03pm, reported; at 4:32pm, reported.  At approximately 5:30pm, EastSouthWestNorth had the first English-language report. [see Reference [1]]

On October 8, at around 8:30pm, the Guardian reporter Benjamin Joffe-Walt entered Taishi Villagein Guangdong province in the company of activist Lu Banglie.  The group was attacked by unidentified persons.  The alert went out via a SMS immediately and at 10:20pm, the overseas website Boxun had a brief report.  At 11:20pm, EastSouthWestNorth had the translation of the Boxun report [see Reference [2]].

In April 2006, a post at the MOP game forum was made by a husband denouncing a netizen of committing adultery with his wife.  This would become known as the most popular Internet issue of the year.  On April 17th, 2006, EastSouthWestNorth had translated the entire 5,000 word letter [see Reference [3]].  The story would appear in the New York Times on June 1, 2006 [see Reference [4]].

Secondly, breadth. 

On April 22, 2005, the Strait Times reporter Ching Cheong was arrested in Guangzhou by security agents.  Why was he arrested?  The reasons varied depending on the people, time and place.  EastSouthWestNorth gathered all the theories and evidence in one place for anyone interested in sorting things out [see Reference [5]].

On June 11, 2006, Beijing municipal government vice-mayor Li Zhihua was relieved of his duties abruptly on account of ‘corruption and dissoluteness.’  EastSouthWestNorth recorded all the various theories from western media and Chinese forums about why the evidence was said to be incontrovertible.  The most convincing case was: there were six hours of videotape of Liu having sex with various women, and the decision to dismissal was made immediately after the Disciplinary Committee viewed the film [see Reference [6]].

Thirdly, space. 

On January 25, 2006 it was announced that ‘Freezing Point,’ a weekly supplement to China Youth Daily had been closed for re-organization by the government due to the publication of the essay ‘Modernization and History Textbooks‘ by Yuan Weishi.  On January 26, 2006 , EastSouthWestNorth translated the full article for the English-reading world [see Reference [7]].  The article would have been too long for any traditional western media to carry.

On April 3, 2005 , a large contingent of police and security officers went to Huaxi/Huankantou village and was met violently by as many as 10,000 villagers.  This mass incident occurred without the media being present, but there were also many eyewitnesses.  EastSouthWestNorth compiled all the western and Chinese mainstream media, Internet news and information reports as well as forum discussions and photographs [See Reference [8]].  There is enough content to write a whole book.

In September 2005, Taiwan legislator and intellectual Li Ao delivered three lectures at mainland Chinese universities and these received a great deal of attention.  Obviously, western media can only afford to summarize and interpret these lectures.  EastSouthWestNorth translated each of the speeches on the same day [see Reference [9]].  

Fourthly, time.

In September 2005, some villagers in Taishi village, Guangzhou province, began the process to recall their village mayor by strictly following the constitution and the law.  Over the course of several months, there were multiple incidents involving a huge cast of characters.  This type of event is impossible for any mainstream media to follow.  EastSouthWestNorth has the chronology of events in a continuously updated web page that is 180K in size [see Reference [2]].

Fifthly, perspective.

On June 10, 2006, Britain’s Mail on Sunday reported on working conditions at the Foxconn factory that produces iPods for Apple Computer.  The Daily Mirror followed with another report on June 16.  Those reports were somewhat suspect because the reporters were apparently only able to talk to a security guard and a female worker.  On June 23, 2006 , EastSouthWestNorth translated a report from China’s NetEase portal in which the reporters were able to visit the factory and dormitory areas as well as talk to factory workers in detail [see Reference [10]].

In December 2005, the Beijing News newspaper was ordered to re-organize in a way that obviously implied stricter government control in the future.  EastSouthWestNorth translated a series of Internet forum posts by Beijing News workers which revealed what was happening in their view and how they personally felt [see Reference [11]].

Hong Kong

Hong Kong has independent and competitive media.  About 5% of the population is English-speaking-only, while the other 95% is Chinese-speaking only or bilingual.  There are two English-language newspapers and about a dozen Chinese-language newspapers. 

News is not reported equally in Chinese- versus English-language newspapers.  There are some news stories that are initially deemed unsuitable for publication in English for cultural reasons.  However, when a case becomes a phenomenon eventually, the English-language media will publish something eventually.  EastSouthWestNorth serves to fill in that gap by being faster and better.  While there are who question whether vulgar and low-brow stories should be published, one must also recognize that these constitute the mainstream in Hong Kong .

For example, in late April, a netizen uploaded a mobile-phone video onto an Internet forum about a middle-aged man scolding a young man in a public bus in Hong Kong .  This would become known as the Bus Uncle incident.  A lot more would happen with the man afterwards.  EastSouthWestNorth was ahead of all English-language media on this cultural phenomenon [see reference [12]].


The most important news in Taiwan is political news, which is best covered and broken by the Chinese-language media.  EastSouthWestNorth collates the results of the public opinion polls conducted by the media organizations.  Another important contribution is the translation of primary documents.

For example, it was reported recently that former president Lee Teng-hui asked someone to send a copy of Lung Ying-tai’s article titled “Today’s Lesson: Character” to current president Chen Shui-bian because it was relevant subject matter.  EastSouthWestNorth translated the article for readers [see Reference [13]] so the political message can be determined first-hand by the readers.

Metric of Success

Has EastSouthWestNorth been successful?  One can start off with the quantitative metric of success.  For the year 2005, here are the total website statistics:

 Converted to a daily basis, the numbers are:

These are respectable numbers for a blog, but this is far from mass media.  But the blogger really does not care too much about numbers.  Everybody knows how to get huge numbers already (hint: post photographs of scantily clad pretty girls), and the blogger does not care for that.  It is the quality of that audience.  At a minimum, from the media attention that the blogger is getting [see Reference [14]], this blog is well-known among media workers and may influence their coverage and behavior.  Even though this blog is written in English by a Hong Kong resident, it is regarded as a top blog brand name in China (see Reference [15]).  

Let us review the limited goals that had been set up previously.  The first goal was to make a difference in specific cases.  It is possible to list a number of cases in which the blog has informed and influenced opinion. 

The second goal was to create the awareness that things may be more complex than it seems.  The blogger should think that the regular blog visitors would agree that this is offering a more complex picture of China .  This blog cannot replace mainstream media, but it can supplement them.  It has even created the awareness that blogs can outperform mainstream media in covering certain types of stories. 

As for the larger goal of re-dressing the overall imbalance between Chinese-language and English-language news on China , it is beyond the capability of a single citizen.  However, this blog seemed to have raised the awareness for this particular model.  If there are dozens or even hundreds similar blogs run by individual citizens like this one, there will be a social transformation, both in transnational understanding and media culture.


[1] The Fuzhou Bus Explosion.  EastSouthWestNorth blog.  August 9, 2005 .  URL:

[2] The Taishi (China ) Elections - Part 1 (Chronology).  EastSouthWestNorth blog.  September 19, 2005 .  URL:

[3] The Most Famous Pervert in China.  EastSouthWestNorth blog.  April 17, 2006 .  URL:

[4] Mob Rule on China ’s Internet: The Keyboard as Weapon.  Howard French, New York Times.  June 1, 2006 .

[5] Grand Unification of Theories about the Case of Ching Cheong.  EastSouthWestNorth blog.  June 4, 2005 .  URL:

[6] The Case of Liu Zhihua.  EastSouthWestNorth blog.  June 13, 2006 .  URL:

[7] History Textbooks in China .  EastSouthWestNorth blog.  January 26, 2006 .  URL:

[8] Huaxi/Huankantou: A New Chinese Tourist Mecca .  EastSouthWestNorth blog.  April 16, 2005 .  URL: ; Q&A about Huaxi/Huankantou.  EastSouthWestNorth blog.  April 24, 2005 .  URL: ; Citizen Reporters On The Huankantou/Huaxi Incident.  EastSouthWestNorth blog.  May 24, 2006 .  URL: ; The Long Story About Huaxi/Huankantou.  EastSouthWestNorth blog.  June 1, 2005 .  URL:

[9] Li Ao’s Speech At Beijing University.  EastSouthWestNorth blog.  September 24, 2006 .  URL: ; Li Ao’s Speech at Tsinghua University .  EastSouthWestNorth blog.  September 25, 2006 .  URL: ; Li Ao’s Speech at Fudan University .  EastSouthWestNorth blog.  September 27, 2006 .  URL:

[10] A Chinese View of iPod City.  EastSouthWestNorth blog.  June 23, 2006 .  URL:

[11] From Inside Beijing News – Part 1.  EastSouthWestNorth.  December 30, 2005 .  URL: ; From Inside Beijing News – Part 2.  EastSouthWestNorth.  December 31, 2006 .  URL: ; From Inside Beijing News – Part 3.  EastSouthWestNorth.  January 3, 2006 .  URL:

[12] Bus Uncle.  EastSouthWestNorth.  May 24, 2006 .  URL: ; The Bus Uncle Interview in Next Magazine.  EastSouthWestNorth.  May 31, 2006 .  URL:

[13] Today’s Lesson: Character.  EastSouthWestNorth.  June 28, 2006 .  URL:

[14] Between East and West.  Justin Mitchell, The Standard.  November 14, 2005 ; HK Blogger Fills East-West, North-South.  John Ruwitch, Reuters.  March 1, 2006

[15] New Forms of New Media are in Vogue.  Raymond Zhou and Wang Zhuoqiong.  China Daily.  May 31, 2006 .  URL: