A Blogger Reflects On Blogging
This page will be updated over time. It contains certain reflections about blogging as they occur to this blogger. As such, they are random thoughts which do not constitute any system of philosophy.
This blogger does not believe that it is possible to come with a blogger's manual about why or how to blog. Such a manual would be suffocating. Why would one willingly put a strait-jacket on oneself? The Internet wants to be 'free' and that does not refer just to 'money.'
I frequently come across many different things in different walks of life that play right back to my blogging life. I usually note the analogies, smile and move on. But I thought that it would be a good thing to note these things down on this page. At least, it will allow people to understand what influences this one particular blogger.
The first entry comes from the beginning of the essay Photography: A Little Summa by Susan Sontag. The topic is photography, but I substituted "photography" with "blogging" when I read it, and found it consistent with my personal approach to blogging, especially the fourth and fifth points.
1. Photography is, first of all, a way of seeing. It is not seeing itself.
2. It is the ineluctably "modern" way of seeing -- prejudiced in favor of projects of discovery and innovation.
3. This way of seeing, which now has a long history, shapes what we look for and are used to noticing in photography.
4. The modern way of seeing is to see in fragments. It is felt that reality is essentially unlimited, and knowledge is open-ended. It follows that all boundaries, all unifying ideas have to be misleading, demagogic; at best, provisional; almost always, in the long run, untrue. To see reality in the light of certain unifying ideas has the undeniable advantage of giving shape and form to our experience. But it also -- so the modern way of seeing instructs us -- denies the infinite variety and complexity of the real. Thereby it represses our energy, indeed our right to remake what we wish to remake -- our society, our selves. What is liberating, we are told, is to notice more and more.
5. In a modern society, images made by cameras are the principal access to realities of which we have no direct experiences. And we are expected to receive and to register an unlimited number of images of what we don't directly experience. The camera defines for us what we allow to be "real" -- and it continually pushes forward the boundary of the real. Photographers are particularly admired if they reveal hidden truths about themselves or less than fully reported social conflicts in societies both near and far from where the viewer lives.
6. In the modern way of knowing, there have to be images for something to become "real." Photographs identify events. Photographs confer importance on events and make them memorable. For a war, an atrocity, a pandemic, a so-called natural disaster to become a subject of large concern, it has to reach people through the various systems (from television and the internet to newspapers an magazines) that diffuse photographic images to millions.
13. Call it knowledge, call it acknowledgement -- of one thing we can be sure, about this distinctively modern way of experiencing anything: the seeing, and the accumulation of fragments of seeing, can never be completed.
14. There is no final photograph.
With respect to the fourth point, this certainly explains my preference for just narrating the facts and skipping the interpretative commentary. In as much as I don't want to be told what to think, my readers does not need me to tell them what they ought to think either.
With respect to the fifth point, my domain of interest is China about which much is "less than fully reported." This is what I hope to compensate for as a blogger. I take two approaches.
Firstly, I may be an aggregator who presents all views on a particular topic (e.g. The Urumqi Mass Incident - Part 1, The Urumqi Mass Incident - Part 2, The Urumqi Mass Incident - Part 3, The Urumqi Mass Incident - Part 4). On one hand, such materials would be of no interest to anyone who states up front: "I don't need you to tell me anything because I already know that the Chinese Communists are oppressing ethnic minorities here once again." On the other hand, such materials may be too overwhelming and impossible to process. But you are going to have to deal with it, because who says the world can be simplified down to a synopsis of 100 words for your brain capacity/attention span?
Secondly, I may also drill down on a subject about which nobody else is reporting at all (e.g. The Case of Yan Xiaoling, More On The Case Of Yan Xiaoling). The case of Yan Xiaoling is a landmark case in Internet freedom of speech in China, so how can anyone take a position while being totally ignorant of the details?
On September 18th, author Lung Yi-tai gave a speech on her new book Wide Rivers and Seas: 1949 (大江大海 一九四九).
She was interested in what people were doing in 1949, which was a cataclysmic year for China/Taiwan. What were people doing at that time? She tried to talk to survivors or read the historical archival materials. For this project, she went to the Hoover Library at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, USA. After two weeks of reading, she abandoned the hope of ever including major historical figures in this book. Why? She acknowledged that she did not think that she understood Chiang Kai-shek, at least not from the diaries or any other documentary evidence, because of the suspicion that they are self-serving.
In like manner, I do not normally blog about major historical or political figures on this blog. I have said nothing about the book by Zhao Ziyang; I have said nothing about Xi Jingping not being named a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission; etc. I don't know what these people are up to and I don't care either. If I occasionally write about Chen Shui-bian or Donald Tsang, it is usually with respect to how some people respond to their circumstances. If these very important persons leave writings behind, I wouldn't know to what extent they are self-serving. If other people report on their doings in detail as if they were eyewitnesses, I don't think I can trust them. After all, if someone really has the breakdown of the voting of the Politburo on a critical issue, why is it showing up exclusively in a Hong Kong monthly magazine with a circulation of several thousand copies at most?
Lung Ying-tai decided that her book would be about ordinary people instead of Chiang Kai-shek or Mao Zedong. When she mentioned Ma Ying-jeou in her book, it was neither as mayor of Taipei nor President of the Republic of China. She was more interested in what Ma Ying-jeou's parents were doing circa 1949. She described the tragedies that ordinary folks experienced in 1949. However, she said quite clearly that she was not going to determine who was right or wrong (the Communists, the Nationalists, the various levels of government, etc). She only knew that many people were wronged and she wanted to describe their hurt (or, even worse, their apparent lack of feelings of hurt in spite of their bitter experiences).
In like manner, I would like to quote the dedication in her book: "To pay respect to all the people who were trampled upon, abused or hurt by their times" for my own blogging. I blog mostly on ordinary people whose stories have great resonance among the Chinese people today for whatever reasons. And I will not spell out the rights or wrongs explicitly, because my readers ought to decide for themselves instead of me telling them.
In a recent blog post, I translated the following:
(Southern Metropolis Daily)
In September 2007, Wu Baoquan spoke from his Qingdao home to Kang Shulin who lives in Kangbashi village, Ordos city, Inner Mongolia. They chatted about certain issues that villagers have against the land requisition by the government. So Wu Baoquan made the post <XX, do you want to murder your peasant brethen?> about the problems. Soon afterwards, he was arrested by Ordos police who traveled across provinces and detained for ten days for libel. After Wu Baoquan was released, he continued to made Internet posts to support the villagers who have lost their land. In April 2008, Wu Baoquan was detained again. He was formally arrested in June, charged in August and sentenced to one year in jail in October.
Wu Baoquan filed an appeal and the case was reheard in February this year. In the absence of new evidence, the Dongsheng district People's Court increased the jail sentence from one year to two years.
Wu Baoquan appealed again but the Ordos city middle court upheld the original sentence.
This case drew a lot of social attention. The Ordos city middle court then ordered the case to be re-tried.
In July, the Dongsheng district People's Court re-tried the case. Yesterday, the verdict was delivered.
The prosecutor pointed out that Wu Baoquan libeled then Ordos city party secretary Yun Feng. Afterwards, Wu Baoquan went to Kangbashi village to act as the spokesperson for the peasants. He accepted more than 295,000 yuan in cash from the peasants. Wu used the Internet, pretended that he was a reporter, used his imagine to make up facts in order to libel others and he did all this for the money. His action has defamed the character and reputation of others as well as seriously endangered local social stability.
The court said that Wu Baoquan repeatedly published the same content to liberl and insult people. Objectively, his actions were intentional. Furthermore, Wu made up and distorted facts to libel people on the Internet, where the information traveled far, wide and quickly. At the same time, it also seriously endangered local social stability. Therefore, Wu was guity and sentenced to 18 months in jail (which was 6 months less than the previous sentence). Wu said in court that he will not make any further appeal. He is due to be released on October 28 barring any new developments.
Yesterday Wu Baoquan's elder brother attended the court hearing. He said that compared to the previous trials, this trial introduced the new element of "pretending to be a reporter" because Wu Baoquan wrote as if he were a reporter in the Internet post. As for the libel aspect, the evidence now included the statement from current Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Political Consultative Conference vice-chairman Yun Feng who said that the posts caused his family to be suspicious of him and netizens to curse him so that he could not concentrate on his work, etc.
As for "profiteering by Wu Baoquan," a Kangbashi villager told the reporter that while Wu took more than 200,000 yuan from them, they gave it to him willingly so that he can file lawsuits to help them. When Wu Baoquan was arrested, many villagers cried and donated money for him to hire a lawyer. If Wu really swindled the villagers' money, would they be so good to him?
I just realized that the ESWN post above left out the final paragraph of the original story, which to me is crucial:
"The handling of this case was seriously in violation of the law," said Liu Xiaoyuan, a lawyer with the Qijian Law Firm in Beijing. If Wu's [actions] truly constituted defamation, the aggrieved party should have filed suit in court himself. One cannot simply believe that, because the party affected by the "defamation" is an official, that [the speech] therefore disrupts social order and thus treat it as a case for public prosecution. This is a clear abuse of power.
Yes, that is quite correct. I left out that final paragraph.
Why? Because everything before that was factual description and can be easily verified. If any part of it was false, the reporter and his editor would be in big trouble. The last paragraph is an opinion given by lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan. In normal journalistic practice, this should be countered by an opposite view for the sake of being "fair and balanced." It did not happen in this case for whatever reason. If I had presented this one view, I felt that I might have to present the opposite view. Since none is available, I would have to personally make one up on the opposite side. But I don't ever want to do that if I can help it. So I opted not to translate the final paragraph.
What might that other view be? Hmmm. How about this? This was not about the reputation of the Ordos party secretary. Rather, the Internet posts made by Wu Baoquan caused social disturbances and disharmony in Ordos city. This would make it a criminal case instead of a civil case.
I don't dare to tell you from this air-conditioned room in Hong Kong what the truth of this matter is because I don't know and I can't know what happened in Ordos, Inner Mongolia once upon a time. But you should be able to see that there can be different views on the same matter, and you really don't need me to tell you what or how to think. Right? I think that we can agree on this.
If you are an avid consumer of news from all sources and one day you come across these two news reports on the same incident/person:
(Chronicle of Higher Education) Chinese Officials Seek to Muffle Student Protest Over Lecturer's Detention September 22, 2009.
In the wake of rare demonstrations over the detention of a charismatic professor, Chinese university administrators visited student protesters on Monday and asked them to pledge not to cause more trouble, The New York Times reported today. The professor, Ding Xiaoping, who earlier spent three years in prison for his role as a student organizer in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, has recently built a career as a popular lecturer at universities around China. The protesters believe he is being detained as Beijing cracks down on dissent ahead of the 60th anniversary of the Communist revolution, on October 1.
(China Daily) September 24, 2009.
A man has been detained for intentional injury in Beijing, local police said. Ding Xiaoping, 46, allegedly attacked a greengrocer with a stool in a brawl on Sept 17 in Haidian district after the car he was travelling in destroyed lotus roots belonging to a vendor surnamed Zhang, when it was passing a roadside market in Nanying village near Fragrant Hill. Ding hit Zhang on the head with the stool he got from a nearby booth, according to police officials. Zhang received 13 stitches.
Might this inspire you to start a blog and write about it?
On my blog, I have full control over text and pictures, but not video and sound files. So there is never an issue of missing text or pictures for me. Either my entire site goes down, or else they are always there. I also won't use a blogging service provider such as blogspot, wordpress or typepad, because such dependence implies vulnerability and putting the control into someone else's hands.
I don't serve any advertisements because I don't want to accused of profiteering. Besides, how much money can there be? It is just not worth even the administrative trouble. But an extra reason is that I don't want my website to be slowed down because of problems with any ad servers (such as Google Ad-sense). Above all, I want to control my own destiny.
This also explains why this site has such a bare-bones design. The original reason was that bandwidth usage was quite expensive five years or so ago, and I had an episode in which the sudden surge in traffic could have been economically catastrophic for me. Therefore, I designed a bare-bones website which is mostly text and as few pictures as necessary. This site will run as fast as a rocket (barring any external Internet traffic jams). I control my destiny.
But increasingly the source materials come in the form of videos posted at video websites such as YouTube. I can link to them, or I can even embed them within my pages. Either way, there is always the unknown risk that the videos may be "disappeared" by the video hosting service. So I beg for your forgiveness when you click to a dead video link.
Is Dialogue Possible? These are my prepared remarks at the 2009 CoChina-5, which was scheduled to be the HKbloggerCon-CNbloggerCon online exchange.