Death of the Chinese Blogs

Go right now and listen to this excellent podcast over at Popup Chinese. Excerpt from the blog post about this:

The China blog is officially dead, moribund, cadaverous, extinct, buried, bereft of life, defunct and totally-and-utterly-inert. It could even be said to be resting in peace, save for the fact that Will Moss drove a silver stake through its heart before recording this podcast. “We single-handedly made the China blog obsolete,” he joked in our studio after further sawing off its head. But he has a point. Because who reads blogs these days?

Does anyone even remember the China blogs of days past? Back then there were greats like Peking Duck, ImageThief, Sinosplice and Danwei, and you could even indulge in a little China-bashing at Talk Talk China. Then came Sinocism and EastSouthWestNorth, and then the mainstream media blogs from magazines like Time and journalists like Malcolm Moore, Peter Foster and Tom Lasseter. And then the explosion of blogs like the Shanghaiist, China Geeks, China Hearsay, ChinaSmack, ChinaHush and CNReviews, not to mention the more eclectic and academic writings of China Youren, Jottings from the Granite Studio, In the Footsteps of Joseph Rock and The China Beat?

Well… we’re sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but all of these blogs are dead. Or that’s the opinion of the curmugeons in our studio this week: Kaiser Kuo, Will Moss and Jeremy Goldkorn, veteran bloggers in China who’ve seen the ups and downs of social media and are prepared to tell it like it is. So join us this week on Sinica for a dissection of the Chinese blog scene. And then get the hell off our lawn. What is it with kids these days anyway?

Obviously this is something that’s been on my mind as I try to keep my own blog going. Twitter has obliterated what I used to use the blog for, namely sharing links and offering some commentary. And the China blogosphere is so fragmented it’s much harder to be heard above the din.The fact that I’m caught up in my own issues (I’m planning to launch my own small business soon; I’ll keep you posted) hasn’t helped make this blog more productive. But even if I were as productive as in 2003, the site would be in decline. China blogs are too many. and blogging in general is becoming increasingly antique.

I do miss the “golden age,” from 2003-2005, when I could open a thread before bedtime and wake up to 300 comments. But that required full-time posting and, at its peak, the help of three or four other bloggers all putting up copy throughout the day. At least I’m not alone. Danwei, Imagethief, Fool’s Mountain – nearly all the blogs have seen some decline, according to the podcast, even the journalists’ blogs.

This is a great podcast. Jeremy, Kaiser and Will talking about the rise and fall of the English-language China blogs – what more can you ask for? (Oh, and Jeremy was being very, very kind when he said, “The Peking Duck is still going strong.”)

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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: 26 Comments

Hooray! Time to stop working on these bothersome blogs.

Will the panel also be mentioning the death of equally unnecessary newspapers?

July 24, 2010 @ 4:14 am | Comment

:) Loved the subject agreed with much of what was said, Jeremy and Will very good.
I will say no more.;) and stay out of trouble. xo

July 24, 2010 @ 4:33 am | Comment

Kaiser, Will and Jeremy – the new Death Panel. I like that.

July 24, 2010 @ 6:48 am | Comment

Mine seems to be holding steady at the moment. Treat it as a lull and move on.

July 24, 2010 @ 8:06 am | Comment

@Michael – I didn’t think your blog was a China blog, or have you finally been convinced of the error of your pro-independence ways by the charms of shuaige-in-chief Ma Yingjiu?

@Richard – I can’t believe no-one mentioned Sinocidal, truly the apex of the SinoBlogBoom, the decline of which, in my opinion, heralded the decline in general of the Sino-blogosphere, in retrospect there was something of the extravagance of the late dot com boom about the thing.

But theriously folkth, the real reason for the decline is much more to do with the blocking that has been progressively tightened since 2006, with the passing of the Olympics, the development of Chinese-language alternatives, and with a turning away from English-language outlets by Chinese people since 2008.

ChinSMACK, however, goes from strength to strength – a fresh supply of trolls and the advantage of not (yet) being blocked.

July 24, 2010 @ 8:58 am | Comment

ChinaSMACK is a great site, and they have a staff, I believe (and an excellent one).

Michael, I don’t think it’s a lull, it’s a whole new pattern that’s been taking shape over the past two years, mainly driven by Twitter – microblogging makes many aspects of traditional, pre-Web 2.0 blogging obsolete. What we used to discuss in comments we now discuss on Twitter and Facebook. I used to put out four or five posts a day, now I may not put up a single post for more than a week, mainly because I’m sharing links on social media networks. And this is also reducing traffic for many blogs. For a one-man show it’s hard to compete with blogs that have in-house writers abd translators (the one exception being Roland who, love him or hate him, manages to be both a prolific writer, translator and link machine combined). I don’t think I could ever get back to the levels of just a year or two ago unless I had a team to keep pumping out posts. (Any volunteers?)

July 24, 2010 @ 9:16 am | Comment

Ask math ; -)

July 24, 2010 @ 4:35 pm | Comment

Did you know that the Peking Duck is blocked in China?

July 24, 2010 @ 10:19 pm | Comment

Geronimo, how could I not know that? I was still living in Beijing when my site got harmonized.

July 25, 2010 @ 12:20 am | Comment

FOARP, I didn’t say it was a China blog. But the same structural factors apply in Taiwan as in China, except for size. That may actually be the problem…..

July 25, 2010 @ 8:24 am | Comment

Key difference: Gazillions of Westerners have flooded into China over the past few years, and every one of them (and their mothers) has opened a blog. We don’t have that in Taiwan.

July 25, 2010 @ 8:31 am | Comment

@foarp – Thanks for the mention :)

I listened to the whole podcast and jotted down several blogs that I had not heard of, or had not checked out recently. I do believe that twitter has made an impact. It used to be, on sinocidal anyways, that the number of comments were not related to the quality of the post (though we did try).
Today those same commentators have twitter, facebook and other avenues to express their thoughts and feelings.

Listening to the podcast I found it was more a discussion of questions today’s China’s blogosphere (and the past) rather than a pronouncement.

WAs my first time listening to their podcast, I’m going to go grab the others now.

July 25, 2010 @ 10:19 am | Comment

@Richard – To be honest, even the expat China Twitter scene is somewhat dead at the moment, I just find it to be a series of links to articles which I have either seen already, would find out about in due course, or don’t have the time to read. The fact that it’s somewhat dominated by a few people who seem to think that every single detail of their daily lives is of world-breaking importance is also a bit of a downer, even if those people also deliver important data occasionally. The Chinese-language twitter scene is more active, but a bit single-issue and often predictable.

@Lao Lao – Hate to say this dude, but the best thing about the ‘Cidal was the comments, it’s not like you guys didn’t put in a decent effort or anything, but the stars kind of aligned, with just the right mix of crazies, trolls, and regulars to keep things going. The nearest thing to the ‘cidal at the moment is ChinaSMACK, although that is a bit trollish for my tastes.

July 25, 2010 @ 11:19 pm | Comment

@FOARP – You hit the nail on the head.

July 26, 2010 @ 5:51 am | Comment

No discussion about Chinese blogs, living or dead, is complete without a mention of Talk Talk China. I thought they sometimes went too far, but they certainly made me laugh out loud in a a way no other blog has done before or since.

July 26, 2010 @ 6:41 am | Comment

Richard, your post provokes thought on blogging in general, beyond Chinese expatriate blogging. I agree that blogging has evolved. Twitter encapsulates the link-sharing and quick-and-dirty analysis you write about, and Facebook handles some commentary. However, the blog is still a key hub. Neither Twitter nor Facebook does archiving very well. Without an archive, the long tail that Chris Anderson writes about would completely evaporate. I don’t believe Twitter has become as mainstream as blogs were, say, even three years ago, and won’t be until Twitter becomes easier to use. A 400-word post on Facebook twice a week would leave people pretty bored. And Facebook is a tool for friends — colleagues and friends aren’t exactly the same thing. One solution is adding an archived Twitter feed to a blog.

Twitter, Facebook and other social networking tools make strong contributions, but I don’t yet see a tool that adequately replaces a blog’s strengths in analysis, discussion generation, and archive.

July 26, 2010 @ 8:22 am | Comment

Bob, I don’t disagree with anything you say. Blogs can provide the deeper analysis and can also accommodate essay-like posts (the kind I used to write all the time). However, twitter seems to have shortened people’s attention spans, and longer, more detailed posts don’t seem to grab and hold visitors the way they used to. I know that is true for myself – I always feel the pressure from Twitter to jump from link to link, worried I might miss something. This has not only shortened the time I used to spend on blogs, but has cut down on the time I spend on my own blog, doing much of my interacting through twitter. As you say, it’s limited and often cumbersome, but I can’t deny this growing trend away from blogs and toward SNS/microblogging.

I look at the comment sections at a lot of blogs and I can’t help but notice the decline, except at the mega-blogs like Huffington Post and, in China, ChinaSMACK. Three sites I used to hang out at all the time, Danwei, Fool’s Mountain and CN Reviwews have all seen a marked drop in comments (or so it seems to me). And then, of course, there’s my own blog. (Enuf said.)

Blogs seem to me as threatened by Web 2.0 as newspapers. And like the newspapers that will survive, maybe blogs will have to offer more to retain their luster – more depth and more insight. Of course, that will make blogging harder, too. But no matter what, the days of using your blog as a link service – the original function of blogs – are over, and many blogs will need to reinvent themselves.

Everyone should check out the update I added to this post – Jeremiah has some great things to say on the topic.

July 26, 2010 @ 11:12 am | Comment

One other aspect which no one has mentioned here is the vital role which blogs play in mainstream undergraduate education in English-speaking lands. Not only do blogs play an important role in bringing students into closer contact with happenings in China, those same blogs can be rapidly plagiarized. Big advantage, here, people! (And remember, the fact that you produce words that glow on a screen, to many students, renders you more of an authority — or at least more of an accessible authority — on China than, say, Jonathan Spence. Doesn’t that feel good?) And who needs Twitter when you’re looking for whole paragraphs to dump into a Word document/term paper on, say, the Cultural Revolution and Lin Biao, or the non-publication of Li Peng’s Tiananmen diary? We’ve each got to be proud of the knowledge we share! If only we could get statistics for the amount of prose or basic syntactic patterns which each of us has fed into the gigantic maw of our respective university systems, perhaps we would be more prone to banging out paragraph after paragraph of earth-shattering analysis and translations of the latest trough-leavings at the Huanqiu Shibao and various other mainland dailies.

逆流:
http://justrecently.wordpress.com/2010/07/25/china-blogs-not-dead/

July 27, 2010 @ 1:14 am | Comment

I hope no one is cutting and pasting my posts into their term papers. Two of my posts, including the interview with a 1989 demonstrator, are being used somewhere in some school system’s lesson plans (I had to sign the paperwork to approve it), but for Chinese history and politics there are far worthier sources, like Granite Studio and China Beat.

In your post, Mr. Recently, you imply the Chinese bloggers’ main criterion for considering a blog to be in decline is traffic. I think it’s more than that – number of comments, quality of the discussion, getting linked back to, and yes, traffic. I’m still doing okay in these categories, but it definitely is not what it once was, and the other blogs I mentioned seem to be in a similar boat. Not dead yet, but sometimes it seems they’re approaching life support (though of course I can only speak for myself).

July 27, 2010 @ 2:08 am | Comment

Someone, or some group, should do a list of all the great blogs that have “passed.” Maybe a eulogy type thing or something.

I do miss Talk Talk China and Sinocidal as nothing has really replaced them, particularly with respect to the comments. There are some other great blogs that have come and gone too, including some of the real pioneers.

July 27, 2010 @ 12:47 pm | Comment

Dan, some of these are mentioned in the Sinica podcast. Remember Brainysmurf? Ah, the good old days.

July 27, 2010 @ 1:08 pm | Comment

Hello. As one of the old writers for Sinocidal back when China blogs were everywhere I have been resusitated from my cryogenic chamber and asked by my sinister overlords at The Walt Disney Company to spout forth my two shillings worth.

Ah, the good old days of the China blog. I remember it well. High School Musical had just reached the big screen and was striking a blow for surface over content, Avian flu killed a swan in Fife, and a new TV channel called Al Jazeera was teaching us all to love again. China blogs were everywhere: in trees, up mountains… I even lost my wife to a handsome young China blog that moved into our apartment block that year. You can’t go back.

So what happened? Some say that is was all part of a gigantic plot by Nestle to flood the internet with adverts for Satanic milk products. Others say that all of the China bloggers have been sent to Happy Camps in Gansu province for an eternity of hopscotch and basket weaving. I humbly offer a different opinion.

Imagine the internet is like a huge version of an old lady’s mantelpiece. Initially, after the death of her elderly husband to thrombosis, she fills it with photographs of loved ones. Then, as the years go on, she adds to the photographs of distant grandchildren with small kitschy figurines of cats, or perhaps winged cherubs. Senility sets in, and now she’s cramming in small memorials to the late Princess of Wales and limited edition Elvis Dambusters Clock of Tutankhamuns(TM). Finally, she has exhausted the whole spectrum of spinsterly rubbish, there are no more seashell murals of Wales left to buy, and there is no more room on the mantlepiece to place them. She dies, content that her collection is complete, and bequeaths them all to a sanctuary for sick donkeys.

I’d better make my point soon as I’m contractually obliged to be dead by the end of this comment. The internet is a bit like that mantlepiece. There are only so many topics about China that can be written, and only so many viewpoints that offer originality. And the Internet, being the great big digital attic that we were all promised it would be, keeps them all for posterity. Any new China arrivals search and read the old articles, and think to themselves: “Perhaps the world doesn’t actually need my article on Chinese farmers taking a shit on the sidewalk”. And the world moves on.

Write to your local MP/senator/fat man with dyed black hair and an Audi A4 saloon and demand the immediate deletion of the entire internet’s memory, so that China blogs may once again rise up and make their voice heard.

That is all. I read you everyday.

July 27, 2010 @ 8:22 pm | Comment

@Richard – to be honest, the same decline you talk about in terms of blogs has also affected Twitter. It’s been ages seen I’ve seen anything interesting on any of the twitter feeds I follow, I guess there’s only so much you can say in 140 characters or less.

July 27, 2010 @ 10:02 pm | Comment

You must be missing my tweets, FOARP!

I agree, the whole China English-language SNS scene seems to be in a coma. Let’s hope it’s temporary.

Meursault, thanks for the laugh.

July 27, 2010 @ 10:45 pm | Comment

So, if I understand Meursault correctly, China blogs in 2006 were the equivalent of punk bands circa 1976, and we are now currently in our New Romantics period, which is funny because I don’t think I would look any good in heavy foundation and black eye-liner, we fade to grey . . .

July 28, 2010 @ 8:05 am | Comment

Content is king. The form, be it blog, newspaper, tv, twitter, facebook, can change. Note that by posting to Facebook all content is owned by them and not you. I’m unsure about twitter.

I find twitter fractures the message and leads to shallow discussion. There will always be people that want short sound bites of info. There will always be people who want to go back to original, double blind research papers and peruse the statistical methodology. To each his own. If you are looking to draw people into discussion, there is also the lowly forum. There are very healthy subject matter expertise communities that further knowledge worldwide. Censorship by The Great Firewall of China puts all forms of communication in question, be it electronic or printed.

Blogging is simple and personal, decentralizing content down to a single individual. The world’s search engines understand it and index it well. To get your message out, a blog is a formidable tool that you can own and run. There is also the historical aspect of internet search that blogs do so well. By blogging we build world knowledge that is used by others that we do not know, worldwide. I doubt the blog will die. It will change, but everything does.

August 13, 2010 @ 12:39 am | Comment

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