Desperately seeking fewer China blogs

As you may have noticed, my posts have been much fewer and farther between. The main reason? I’m not in China anymore. The posts I enjoy writing and that I feel really make a difference (I hope) for the reader are never about current events, but about my personal experiences in China and the people I meet there.

Obviously, being sentenced to the strip malls of America’s Southwest doesn’t give me much opportunity to write these types of posts. I feel especially irrelevant now that there are so many superb China blogs out there (along with many more mediocre ones), and I know there’s not that much I can add to the conversation, especially when I’m 12,000 miles away from where the conversation’s taking place.

This has been weighing on me a lot lately, and this excellent post by another blogger showed me I’m not the only one who thinks China now has too many blogs, including my own.

Have you ever noticed how many English-language Chinese blogs (say that five times fast!) there are?

Sadly, I believe the time has come to drastically reduce the number of these truly redundant boards, these mostly paltry attempts to reinvent the wheel by reprising what’s already been written countless times online. We must begin to streamline these available offerings into a tight fist of “absolute-must-go-to” sites. Absolute online musts which shouldn’t be missed, in other words, with the rest somehow shunted off to the sidelines, clearly delineated as minor league attempts to achieve the same effect as the A-Listers.

I observed this recently while surfing through the offerings at Hao Hao Report, the creation of Ryan McLaughlin, a fellow “crazy Canuck,” and bionic blogger in his own right. I was astounded by the volume of stuff posted there, with seemingly less regard (not no regard, just less) for post quality or post appropriateness. It had been mentioned to me a few weeks ago by a China-blogging fellow and after devoting a considerable amount of time to Hao Hao during yesterday’s European afternoon, I couldn’t agree with the chap more.

In a situation of decentralized Chinese cities, say, where the wonders of the interwebs were unavailable to geographically-disparate expats in search of relevant information or in order to commiserate or seek out fellow-foreign succor, it made sense to have 20 different expatriate magazines or 35 different expatriate newspapers, each replicating the content of the rest. That made sense from an old world media perspective.

But in a Chinese marketplace where everything is being funneled around at the fingering of a hyper-sensitive touchpad, how many redundancies should the market allow?

Yes, I know what it feels like to be redundant. He then goes on to list what makes a great blog, and names the China blogs he feels meet his criteria. Alas, I’m not there, but I shouldn’t be. I stopped being a China blog nearly 10 months ago (10 months?!).

Man’s search for relevancy. I’m not sure yet where (or if) I’ll find mine, but I also know I don’t want to stop blogging, even if, as in the first couple months of this blog, I’m the only reader, and even if I’m not able to write the ideal blog post like the ones I cited above.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of China blogs out there now, way too many, and if this one isn’t on your daily read list anymore I totally understand.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 19 Comments

I don’t think we need to reduce the number of blogs. We just need better filters (like HaoHao Report) to separate the wheat from the crap. Voting is one way to filter, but there are others.

Personally I’d love to see a service that could take all the really informative China travel blog posts and plot them on a single map. Perhaps a site that allows bloggers to submit their links to a growing base of knowledge about all corners of China (even blog posts that they’ve written in the past that might still be relevant).

May 19, 2010 @ 10:33 am | Comment

Oh the terrible torture of abundance!

Personally, I am very glad that I can hop from The Annals of Wu where I can read about Shanghainese dialect to In the footsteps of Joseph Rock where I can read about an Australian tracking the journeys of the famous botanist on the 1920s to ChinaSMACK where I can enjoy the frivolous nonsense of China’s BBS culture to ESWN where I can find translations of serious journalism in the Southern Weekly and much else to ChinaGeeksChinaGeeks where there are thoughtful translations and commentary.

And that’s just to mention the blogs I was just looking at this morning: I am very happy that there are so many other excellent blogs out there, and blog-like sections of websites such WSJ.com, journalists who blog about China, like the New Yorker‘s Evan Osnos, academics who blog such as those at ChinaBeat.

The above is only a partial list, a smattering of the great variety of blogs that contribute to a better understanding of China in the Anglophone world.

What’s not to like?

May 19, 2010 @ 11:02 am | Comment

True Jeremy, but those are the creme de la creme, the A list. First you have to separate the wheat from the chaff.

May 19, 2010 @ 11:13 am | Comment

(Though I have to admit, I never saw Annals of Wu before. First-rate, if you’re into Shanghainese)

May 19, 2010 @ 11:15 am | Comment

Well, it’s one A-list, but it’s completely different A-list from the one by Adam Daniel Mezei you linked to, and I also follow the blogs he lists.

And — quick plug for our own joint — you can check out our newly revamped and regularly updated Model Workers section on Danwei for more.

Abundance is good. There’s a lot of chaff, but the wheat is delicious.

May 19, 2010 @ 11:36 am | Comment

A good list. And needless to say, no blog is higher up than Danwei.

May 19, 2010 @ 11:41 am | Comment

I’m with Jeremy on this one.

Adam has his A-list and doesn’t need to venture elsewhere if he so chooses. But there’s a lot of informative stuff lurking beneath the cream – both in and of itself.

Nor should anyone seek to deny the individual the right to blog, however assinine or redundant his/her comments may be. That would be just too CCP.

Besides, anyone halfway serious about China matters quickly assembles the names of the truly insightful – there really aren’t that many of them.

May 19, 2010 @ 11:42 am | Comment

Hi Richard,

I know how you feel on this. Having moved to Hong Kong, which is still technically a part of China, I feel well outside the “conversation”, as you put it. As a result, I ceased updating my blog. I still get some ideas for blog posts, but they focus more on life in Hong Kong and its relationship with China, which doesn’t have much interest for traditional Sinophiles focused on changes in the mainland.

For the record, I appreciate your writing on here whether it’s about China or the recent enactment of the controversial law in Arizona. So keep it up, and I’ll certainly keep on stopping by.

Cam.

May 19, 2010 @ 1:58 pm | Comment

Thanks Cam.

May 19, 2010 @ 2:08 pm | Comment

Discussing validity of blogs is the same as discussing music taste. Some might love it, while others find i infinetely uninteresting.

There ARE many blogs out there (I have one of them), and I agree that many offer no new stuff to the main crowd. That doesn’t mean that they are abundant or worthless. That just means they appeal to a smaller audience. If I take a hard look at my own blog, for example, it’s obvious that I haven’t got much to contribute with to 99.0% of the netizens, but that has never been my intention. So when you find a blog useless, remember that you might not be the intended audience.

As written above, what is needed are better filters. In my view HHR is a good tool for that, but not as great as the netizens themselves should be. If you end up in a site you find crappy, just move on.

May 19, 2010 @ 4:42 pm | Comment

I struggled with this. The only times these days I feel compelled to blog about China is when I’m actually there and on the road. I truly dig doing these idiosyncratic travel articles on the fly, or relating my weird past history to present events. For deeper analysis though, I much prefer to tweet or link to articles which I recognize have some depth/substance/interest that I myself would not be able to bring to the table.

You can only write what you can write, and as Cam said, the stuff you’ve posted about Arizona (to take just one example) is full of passion and relevance.

So just keep on keeping on. The topics will come to you and your gift will never leave you.

May 19, 2010 @ 5:04 pm | Comment

Richard, I disagree. You and Adam Daniel are underestimating the value of people who digest and consolidate information, think about it carefully, write about it, and encourage discussion. Nobody is harmed, and there is no real down side, to having more people thinking and writing about China. Even if no one else reads it. I note that one of the authors of the excellent “China Law Blog” is based in Seattle. Readers are smart enough to separate wheat from chaff.

May 19, 2010 @ 11:29 pm | Comment

Bob, I don’t at all disagree. The point, if I have one, is that there are simply too many China blogs to wrap your head around and simply to survive we all need to cull our lists and find the ones that best suit us, or we’ll be adrift in a sea of redundancy. Good ones, if they’re really good, will usually find their way to the top because that’s how the blogosphere works.

So that’s my point of view as a blog reader. As a blog writer, this fact forced me to realize I have an uphill struggle if I want to keep this site relevant the way it used to be, an issues-oriented opinion factory mainly about China and, more importantly, my personal experiences there. The great China Law Blog has a niche that he can fill forever, providing actionable information to the thousands of business people who may want to set up shop in China. What really brings out my blogging passion are the day to day experiences of living in China, and obviously I can’t write such posts very often, and I’m depressed as hell about it. Who wants to read about my trip to the gun store around the corner? (No, I’ve never been to a gun store but I walk by it all the time, reminding me I’m not in Beijing anymore.)

Apologies in advance if that was disjointed. I had a long night.

May 20, 2010 @ 12:01 am | Comment

Like rats leaving a sinking ship.

May 20, 2010 @ 12:30 am | Comment

That’s not a nice thing to say about rich Americans, Rob A.

May 20, 2010 @ 6:42 am | Comment

Nice post. Sorry for not commenting recently, but I too am out of China so I generally don’t comment “out of the loop”.

Having said that, I still try and look at my A-List including this blog and others. Some of the blogs authors have moved from the Middle Kingdom, but I still respect the bloggers views as I now they were, at some point, “in the loop”.

Case in point, this post, which I found looking at my google buzz. Expat blogs in China have certainly increased, but I wouldn’t categorically say there are too many. Blogs come in different flavors. Some are about poodles, some are about life in college, or someones personal life in general. I’ve always appreciated reading blogs, like this one, that are informative, interesting and/or informative.

“General life” type blogs which may seem superfluous when compared to hundreds of others are still, at the end of the day, a person writing from their own perspective about something. That can’t be all bad.

And Richard, I will always read your posts, even if they are about yellow polka dotted bikini sales in Albany.

May 21, 2010 @ 3:57 am | Comment

Thanks Admiral. How times have changed since we met at one of those “Peking Duck Dinners” of years past.

May 21, 2010 @ 4:46 am | Comment

Hi Richard,

Agree with Jeremy and Stuart too. It’s still a relatively small blogosphere that we have here in China. Though it’s a tight group too. Information is always good. With blogs (commentaries and every else), you just need to learn how to separate the “bad” and the “good” info.

I like HHR. There’s also a small group there really keeping on sharing good info about China. And it keeps the standards high too. If you have a select, “elite” China bloggers only, well, everything else will just be one-sided.

There are a lot of smart and oppinionated China bloggers out there. We need them not just to “satisfy” our China cravings but also basically to help each other out in keeping people informed on what China really is.

Agree with Adam on making the posts more differential. Something that will really keep people reading and learning more.

Cheers!

PS. I hope you keep on blogging about China, Richard! Your blog is one of the few I originally followed (before everyone else came).

May 21, 2010 @ 9:09 pm | Comment

[...] China blogs, includ­ing his own. Iron­i­cally, I didn’t notice it until Richard Burger expressed under­stand­ing with any­one who was no longer fol­low­ing his Peking Duck blog, one of the old­est [...]

May 24, 2010 @ 5:08 pm | Pingback

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