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Can Blogging Help Foster International Understanding?

Last week I met with Elliott Ng, publisher of CNReviews, a US-based site which aims to help westerners get a better understanding of modern China. Today, Elliott posted on his site an idea about bringing both Chinese and western bloggers closer together through their attendance at a Chinese Bloggercon event in November to be held in the southern city of Guangzhou. As one can see from reading the comments section of the posting, the discussion has already become “lively”.

In 10 years, we probably we won’t talk about blogging, we will just call it writing, and writing will come to include the term blogging almost automatically in everyone’s vocabulary. It’s just that now, the technology and its capabilities are new enough, that some people have become enamored with its possibilities. Blogging, from my point of view, is just a new form of writing.

I’m convinced that a good part of the reason for the popularity of blogs has been because the mainstream media has done such a bad job of explaining for example, China and the west to each other. In particular, the US mainstream media, under the pressure to achieve profits and ratings, has turned everything into a gladitorial epic struggle. One moment it’s between China and the west, the next day it’s between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the following day it’s between the rulers of Myanmar and the international community. And on and on it goes.

Part of my reason for writing this blog is to highlight issues and bring to peoples’ attention issues which I believe are not shown correctly and intelligently in most of the western media. There is an awful lot going on in China, and 99% of it cannot be analyzed intelligently in terms of a gladitorial contest between opposing forces. Besides, gladitorial contests are a Roman form of entertainment! The Chinese much preferred strategy games to achieve their ends. Chinese heroes are Sunzi (writer of the Art of War) and Zhuge Liang, who used his wits to achieve his strategic goals.

The server logs indicate that most visitors to this site come from the US. If the articles on this site show visitors from the US and the west that there is more than one possible interpretation to events in China and Chinese behavior, then it has done a good job. It would be presumptuous to ask anyone who has not lived in China for more, but it certainly is a good first step. This is why I like writing about China as a medium. The reader can think things over, and then decide to agree or disagree. When they want, they can post a comment. I must say that I have been very impressed with the intelligence, thought and perception behind the vast majority of the comments, even when my opinions may be different. This is the kind of dialogue which engenders respect, even when people are separated by time, distance, language, culture and even opinions. The world needs more of this kind of dialogue.

I have become disconcerted at what I call the dumbing down of American society. Too much, issues have been reduced to 15-second sound bites and become trivialized. The relationship between China and the west is far too complex and complicated, and the relationship is so deeply intertwined, that it simply cannot afford to be trivialized.

It would be great if American bloggers visited the sites of Chinese bloggers, and western bloggers with a Chinese angle, such as this one, and posted thoughtful comments and questions about China. In my opinion, it would be entirely improper if well-known American bloggers came to China, lectured the Chinese about freedom, human rights and freedom of speech, without even making a dedicated effort to understanding what the Chinese bloggers were thinking about and discussing on their blogs. The Chinese would feel insulted, and I would agree with them. They would be insulted, yet again, by yet another example of arrogance, ignorance and stupidity. And then the Americans would move off, completely oblivious to all the damage which had been done to an event which had the best of intentions, but then didn’t play out right.

If China is about to become the great power that many think that it will become in the 21st century, wouldn’t it make sense to start reading the blogs of Chinese bloggers to find out what they are thinking about and saying? What’s so difficult to understand about that?

Why is it that Robert Scoble is so quick to condemn China’s lack of rule of law (as he recently has), and then quickly changes subject to something totally unrelated to China? The answer is simple: Robert Scoble is a media gadfly who is seeking new subjects which he can feed to his followers. He is not really interested in his subjects; he wants to stand in the spotlight and serve his own agenda. And he will move wherever the spotlight moves, as long as he is in the center. China is interesting to him only so long as it serves his purposes. After that, it becomes yesterday’s newspaper. He is incapable of going deep on any subject.

When are people like Robert Scoble actually going to make an effort to understand what Chinese are thinking about before they lecture them about how they should run their country? Is that too much to ask?

I hope that this event is not turned into a spectacle. The way to do that is to start talking to each other, through our blogs, NOW.

That is what real dialogue is about.




15 Responses to “Can Blogging Help Foster International Understanding?”

  1. Elliott Ng says:

    Paul, as you know I share many of these same sentiments. I felt it was important to announce our intentions clearly in order to solicit feedback. I expect the Anglophone China blogosphere and the Chinese-language blogosphere to comment on what we are doing and to help us shape it. I hope people listen and try to understand before condemning because that is exactly what the point is with what we are doing!

    Elliott Ngs last blog post..CNBloggerCon 2008 committee meetups

  2. [...] Denlinger of China Vortex adds his voice to both the idea that more dialogue is needed and “I hope that this event is not turned into a spectacle. The way to do that is to start [...]

  3. [...] The China Vortex added an interesting post on Can Blogging Help Foster International Understanding?Here’s a small excerpt [...]

  4. Hilary says:

    I’ve found this article very interesting, thank you. I work for local governement with young people and went on an exchange visit to China the year before last. It was an eye opening visit and made me realise the power of the media in defining some of out attitudes and understanding of different countries, both in the UK and in China.

    This year we are hoping to take a group of young people to China and will hopefully blog about this with the chinese young people. Perhaps setting up some exchanges like the Beijing Youth Voices blog.

    Hilarys last blog post..How to choose….

  5. karen says:

    Very interesting and thought-provoking post.

    I was disappointed by how some bloggers jumped to (misguided) conclusions recently about Chinese culture. This phrase came to mind: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Sadly, it’s easier to reduce complex relationships to “sound bites” than to really take a step back and seek to understand.

    Kudos to you for continuing the dialogue…

    karens last blog post..What’s your digital Swiss Army Knife?

  6. Xi says:

    It is a good point you have made. I am a Chinese living in Canada. I am keep blogging in English, making my tiny voice.

    I think, if some of you could write in Chinese, that would help Chinese understanding the West too. After all, most Chinese do not read English. There is a New Yorker blogs in Chinese: http://blog.sina.com.cn/honglaowai2008

    Well, maybe this is not a good example. This blog is more hilarious than serious. But it is pupular because using Chinese.

  7. beijinger says:

    I agree there’s a fair bit of sanctimonious claptrap on blogs, but isn’t that part of a wider issue you skirt a bit – blogging is writing, sure, but it’s also very instantaneous. In the same way that many people write in emails things they would tear up rather than post when they wrote letters, with internet writing it’s very easy to dash off thoughts which are then “published” with no editors to argue with the ideas contained, fact-checking, etc.
    I wonder also what you mean by the US mainstream media? Do you really think that what you say describes how the NYT, WSJ, LA Times cover China? It seems to me their coverage is far less knee-jerk than a lot of the chinese blogosphere… I know it’s a shocking thing to say, because there is so much that is good there, but it’s a bit of a myth to think that the blogosphere is an informed, egalitarian, democratic place. Apart from anything else, bloggers in China, and elsewhere of course, are by their nature – their education, their access to laptops and internet – a social elite. They speak for quite a narrow tranche of society, particularly in such a diverse one as China, and it is undoubtedly true also that young Chinese are not particularly well-travelled in their own country. They obviously understand a lot of things about China better than a foreign journalist, but there are also areas where I’d back the foreign corr (I am one – declaration of interest).

  8. Bob says:

    You definitely raise a good point that blogging fills a hole left by the mainstream media. A lot of the criticism of China and the anti-western sentiment within China has come as a result of the bias of the respective ‘main stream media’. The blogosphere is far more democratic; although you will get extreme opinions, you will also get a lot of practical and realist views that the main stream media don’t offer.

    This is a good example of how technology can bring people closer together, and by-pass controlling powers, whether those of Rupert Murdoch or the CCP.

    Bobs last blog post..New 100m World Record By Usain Bolt

  9. a Duoist says:

    The first reason Western media is so ‘confrontational’ is that the media reflects the deeply embedded cultural norms. In Europeans (including all of the Anglosphere and the Western Hemisphere), the ancient Greek concept of the ‘agon’ is paramount. The ‘agon’ is the clash between equal opposites (duality). Note that in the East, the opposites (duality) are complementary (the Yin and Yang), not necessarily dueling to the death. In Eastern culture, the two opposites cannot exist without the other; in Western culture, the two opposites are in a battle to the death, until only one is victorious. The Anglo/American legal system is entirely based upon this adversarial (antagonist) concept between two opposing ‘truths,’ which is a way of thinking now over three thousand years old among Europeans.

    Secondly, for the past five hundred years of ‘modernity,’ a cultural norm has developed from the spread of science which insists that criticism is a vital necessary requirement in order to practice good science. This norm, or ethic, is known as “open inquiry,” and is the most telling feature between modern societies and those that continue to languish in poverty, tribalism, and xenophobia. All of the most prosperous nations on the planet have ‘open inquiry’ as a mainstay of their governance, economics, and technological innovation.

    And on ‘open inquiry,’ China is where? Wherever China is on ‘open inquiry,’ that is where she will eventually settle, both economically and politically, regardless of whether the culture values the complementarianism of the Oriental Yin and Yang, or the competitiveness of the Greek agon.

    ‘Be free,’ China.

  10. Max Vittachi says:

    You may recall that China Briefing (www.china-briefing.com/news)
    ‘de-blogged’ themselves after having problems with the medium, and disassociated themselves from the blog community as they thought it diminished (I think I recall this correctly) the total package that they additionally provide – magazines and books. They now run their blog as a daily news service instead. So it didn’t work for them. They might be interesting people to have along to talk about the down side if you can get them to discuss it. I think Dezan Shira have an office in Guangzhou too.

  11. Richard Slayer says:

    @Max Vittachi,

    Sites like China Briefing are actually a large part of the problem. The person behind that blog, Chris Devonshire-Ellis, speaks little to no Mandarin and is often harshly critical of Beijing politics. You say “they now run their blog as a daily news service” but all they are really doing is rehashing the Western press’s China slams for their own pecuniary benefit. No, if we are to have an online detente here, we need the real bright lights of the blogosphere to get involved, not the wannabes.

  12. [...] you would like to read about a thread which has gathered a bit of attention in China.  Titled Can Blogging Help Foster International Understanding?, China Vortex argues that blogs are popular because the MSM has done such a poor job of addressing [...]

  13. ChinaVet says:

    @Slayer,

    I completely agree with you. It would be a complete joke to send someone like Ellis out as an emmissary to Chinese bloggers. We need to take this thing very seriously and Ellis is not the guy and it surprises me that anyone is putting him up for that task. His site does not even work on my RSS reader, so it is hardly fair to him to consider him a blogger.

  14. sondaj says:

    I always read your blog in high spirits. Thanks :)

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