Some Thoughts About The Singapore Chinese Internet Research Conference

Ordinarily, I shy away from academic conferences, so this one is a first for me.  So why did I go?  Because I thought that this was an opportunity for me to meet many of the bloggers whom I have previously only known through by reputation, email correspondence, Skye chat or babysitting arrangements (note: this last one is hard to explain, but the connections among us along this line was truly amazing and unimaginable).  The most interesting part of the trip was probably that late night post-conference sitdown at a Singapore bar that went into early morning.

So what is it about the China-themed English-language blogosphere?  In the American blogosphere, there is the phenomenon of group polarization (see Example 1 given in Group Polarization on the Blogosphere) as illustrated by this graph of the linkage among the A-list political bloggers.  There is a clear split into the Blues and the Reds.  If this graph were updated for today, there may be greater connectivity, which is misleading in this type of graph because quite a bit of the increased exchange between the Blues and the Reds are vitriolic and uncivil (see, for example, Journalists: It's time for some articles on the pro-Bush blogosphere).

By contrast, the China-themed English-language blogosphere is civil and tolerant.  As evidenced by this meeting, we are a diverse group of people who do not necessarily hold the same ideas on the important subjects of the day (such as censorship, nationalism, self-determination, activism, religion, the road to democracy, digital divide, etc).  But we do not spend our time forming circular firing squads to attack each other.  Rather, we back off and give each other the space to articulate our ideas on these subjects.  So I am glad to have met some of these bloggers at this conference and interact/exchange with them.

On this trip, I also met a number of people who knew something about me and/or my blog in very unexpected ways.  Here are some examples.  

Example 1: In speaking to a communications/sociology scholar from Singapore who had never heard of my blog before, I mentioned that my father taught translation at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and he said immediately, "That must be Stephen Chi Soong then."  I had no idea that my father is so well-known that a scholar in another discipline in another country could name him instantaneously when my father had retired about twenty years ago.

Example 2: A European scholar who was presenting a paper on a Beijing online civic group came up to me and said, "I found your blog when I was researching on the translation works of Fu Lei, and Google directed me to your blog."  Over lunch, we talked about how my parents were neighbors of Fu Lei, that Fou Tsong practiced on my aunt's piano in our house, that among Fu Lei's letters was one directed to my uncle Soong Hsi to purchase piano wires because they were unavailable in China, that the world still loves reading Romain Rolland, that the Fu Lei and my father exchanged letters with each other probably with the realization that the correspondence was destined to be entered as a record for Chinese history and therefore the letters had been 'copied' (note: since photocopiers had not been invented yet, this means that my mother meticulously copied my father's letters word by word before mailing), etc.

Example 3:  The moderator for the panel in which I spoke was Mark R. Levy, a sociologist from Michigan State University.  I knew him abstractly from the third book from the left (The VCR Age) in this photograph of my bookshelf from You Are What You Read - Part 2.

At the conference, I also discovered a number of hidden translation resources that were not previously harnessed for the blogosphere but they may be brought online quickly.  One translator said that he translates quite a few things which he only circulates among his friends as he does not maintain a blog.  Clearly, such works deserve greater circulation and there are any number of blogs (including mine) and aggregators willing to host the information.  This translator was also kind enough to share his knowledge of how my translation of Li Ao's Peking University speech came to be read by a major political figure (his secretary asked the translator: "Who is this EastSouthWestNorth blogger?  Is his translation reliable?" and received an immediate endorsement).

Here are some related links: