Ten Years of the Peking Duck

I realize that nothing is as dull as narcissistic bloggers going on about their own blogs. I’ll only do it once every ten years, I promise.

While I was away in the Caribbean a few weeks ago this blog reached a milestone that I was reminded of a couple days ago when I saw this post about the 10-year anniversary of Sinosplice, one of my long-time favorite blogs. I had missed my own anniversary, which I’ll try to correct now.

I launched this blog on March 21, 2002, just a few weeks earlier than John Pasden’s. To the best of my knowledge the only other English-language China-centric blog that’s lasted as long as mine is this one.

I wrote my earliest posts almost as a diary, and I had no intention or hopes that anyone else would ever read it. I’m not really sure how it happened, that other people started visiting, but soon I found myself with some very busy comment threads. (Thousands of comments from the first year were deleted when I switched from blogspot to WordPress, unfortunately, so the earliest ones are gone.)

As of now there are 92,552 comments, 5,015 posts and about 3.34 million visitors, though I didn’t have my site meter installed until after my first year blogging. If you look at the archives you’ll see the upward trajectory of postings, from 16 a year the first year to 1,123 the next. Sadly, after 2006 this number went straight down again as I got tied up in my work with the Beijing Olympics; I never really got back the old fire of the earlier years, when all I had to do was open up a thread and get 300 comments within 12 hours. Back then I also had a team of five or six co-bloggers, and for a couple of years this was a very, very busy blog.

Some of the material here is extraordinary, not because I’m a good blogger, but because the comments were so explosive, so unpredictable. This thread, for example, may be the strangest in this blog’s history, and maybe the strangest for any blog. It is so bizarre that words truly fail. Another odd thread was about OJ Simpson and the murder of Nicole Brown, which drew all sorts of fanatics out of the woodwork. For a while that thread was a circus. Another thread dear to my heart dealt with the suicide of an old friend of mine. I had presumed, wrongly, that all his friends knew of his death. Most of them learned of it through my post, and the comments they left to say their farewells are incredibly moving.

My favorite posts remain this one and this one. I felt so inspired, they kind of wrote themselves.

I started TPD after I read a post by Andrew Sullivan about how blogging was the way of the future. I had never heard the word “blog” before and decided if what Sullivan said was true I might as well get on the bandwagon. At that time the China blogosphere was dominated by a blog called The Gweilo Diaries, a biting right-wing blog that was far more critical of the CCP than I would ever be. Its writer Conrad helped get TPD off the ground by linking to me frequently. Blogging was so new then and there were so few of us. We were a tight community, until blogs proliferated and lost their novelty. We would hold “Peking Duck dinners,” which for a couple of years were a big deal. So many cool people I met at those affairs. I think about 40 showed up at the last one back in 2007.

The very first words I wrote on this blog was the legend in the upper left-hand quarter: “A peculiar hybrid of personal journal, dilettantish punditry, pseudo-philosophy and much more, from an Accidental Expat who has made his way from Hong Kong to Beijing for reasons that are still not entirely clear to him…”

I wanted everyone to know I was a dabbler, not an expert, and that nothing I wrote was necessarily true. People have accused me of presenting myself as a “China expert,” but I’ve never done that. I saw stuff, either in the news or with my own eyes, and wrote about it. Period. This is partly why I am posting so little now. I stop and wonder, “What do I have to add to this story about China?.” And I often conclude, Not much. Especially now that there are so many wonderful blogs that are devoting far more time and energy writing about China, like this one and this one and this one and this one. And so many others. And living so far from the action in Beijing, I find it increasingly pointless to post as though I’m still there.

In 2003 I was in the right place at the right time, just as blogs were starting, and after Gweilo Diaries disappeared this blog became the dumping ground for all types of commenters, CCP loyalists, John Birchers, progressives and right-wingers. Not to mention my trolls, Ferin, Math, HongXing and others, who added a lot of “color.” All of these commenters with wildly different viewpoints meant threads that were like nitroglycerine.

TPD, at least until recently, became a gathering place, even if I never meant it to be. I still get comments from readers who were here nearly a decade ago. I know at least two couples who dated after meeting on this blog, and one couple that got married.

Nothing can last eternally. I doubt there will be another ten years. But so far, despite my recently going dark, it’s been a life-defining experience.

______________

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: 28 Comments

Richard,

Thanks for the kind words. Before writing my own post, I actually checked your blog and correctly surmised that you had missed your own “blog birthday.” Wasn’t sure if maybe it was actually because you just didn’t want to apear that narcissistic. Now I see it was the former. :)

As you know, I’m not so into the politics of China (and politics in general), but I’ve always followed your blog off and on, and over the years Peking Duck actually served an important role of helping me confirm what I didn’t want to do with my blog. As you said, it can be a circus when you delve into politics, and I’m more than happy to leave that to braver souls like you. You’ve done well.

Congratulations!

April 18, 2012 @ 11:40 am | Comment

Sorry to be a spoilsport, but wouldn’t ten years be March 21, 2013?

That being said, your blog was a tremendous influence on my own growing up. I first met your blog as a naive freshman in high school in 2004, and now I write with that same sense of naivete. Your blog taught me to keep that–taught me that there are always some ideas worth discussing, and some ideals worth fighting for. Your blog also inspired me to think more critically about China, and paradoxically enough it also made me view myself as more Chinese and less American.

April 18, 2012 @ 12:02 pm | Comment

John, I’ve been reading and loving your blog from day one. We blog in very different spheres. Sinosplice is anything but provocative and controversial (which doesn’t mean it’s not delightful). Like linguistics to you, politics in in my blood. I never meant for this blog to evolve into a circus, but you have to admit it can be very entertaining.

t_co, maybe I’m bad at math. The blog started on March 21st 2002. Wasn’t March 21st the ten-year anniversary? :-) That said, thanks a lot for the very kind words. I’m glad to know I influenced somebody. And I didn’t realize you were one of my earliest readers. Doesn’t it make you feel old?

April 18, 2012 @ 12:10 pm | Comment

@ Richard

Hah, guess we found a typo–March 21st 2003 in the post above. =)

April 18, 2012 @ 12:29 pm | Comment

Someone thinks this story is fantastic…

This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….

April 18, 2012 @ 12:35 pm | Trackback

Sh*t! Thanks for pointing that typo out, t_co. Corrected!

We’re now nearly ten years and one month old.

April 18, 2012 @ 12:36 pm | Comment

Congratulations Richard. I’ve been reading both yours and John’s blogs since coming to China and enjoy both immensely (and designed both! lol). Though tougher to find the time these days, there were many a time I found myself 100 comments into a thread here at TPD. Your insight and that of your readers has provided me with a much rounder perspective of China than I ever would have reached on my own.

t_co’s comment relates to what I assume must be a typo in the third paragraph of the post that says it started March 21, 2003.

April 18, 2012 @ 12:41 pm | Comment

Wow! Ten years. Looking through the comments in articles throws up a few old names. It is funny how blogs and forums have people come and go. Best of luck with the next ten years Richard!

April 18, 2012 @ 12:56 pm | Comment

HAPPY BLOG BIRTHDAY, PEKING DUCK!!!

Wow. I started coming here in…I guess it would have to have been 2004, because, inspired by you, I started my own blog in Jan. 2005.

What an amazing run! And not the least of the amazing bits are the real-life friendships born from this little corner of the interwebz. You and I are friends because of this blog. Shanghai Slim and I are friends because of this blog, and Brendan, and Jeremiah and Ben, and…

Thanks for all of your hard work, your passion and your friendship! You’ve enriched my life immeasurably.

Lisa

April 18, 2012 @ 2:35 pm | Comment

I owe a job and several good friends to the Duck. Happy birthday!

April 18, 2012 @ 2:56 pm | Comment

Congrats on the 10 years. I knew it was due some time around now but wasn’t sure when.

Hand on heart – the first time I visited this blog in early 2006 (following a link from Sinocidal) I wasn’t so crazy about it. The comments were undergoing a periodic troll-fest, and there were a lot of posts on US politics. Then I grew to appreciate the conversational style and the diversity of the comment threads and it became a must-read.

RE: Longevity – I’d always counted you as the longest-running expat China-blogger except for Hemlock (a real throw-back to the dawn of the internet age – still anonymous, still occasionally blogging from and mainly about Hong Kong at the Big Lychee blog) but I guess Bokane edges you out.

Regarding the future – I just don’t think facebook or twitter will ever replace blogs as forums for debate. Facebook is by necessity too closed to allow random comments from strangers and hence excludes unfamiliar opinions. Twitter is great for sharing links and one-liners, but as a platform for debate, it blows – the character limit simply cripples it.

So keep at it, this blog is still very relevant – the kerfuffle over your post on astroturfing over at GT shows this as much as anything.

April 18, 2012 @ 3:24 pm | Comment

Hey Richard,

Congratulations and well done. You and I probably don’t agree on a whole lot politically, but I’ve always liked reading your provocatiuve (if deeply, deeply misguided) views on the politics of the day :)

Cheers to you.

April 18, 2012 @ 3:54 pm | Comment

Mazeltov and great job!!

April 18, 2012 @ 4:31 pm | Comment

[...] anniversaries in the China blogosphere. Congrats go out to John of Sinosplice and Richard of Peking Duck for still being [...]

April 18, 2012 @ 7:01 pm | Pingback

Richard,

Congratulations again (again, as I have already congratulated you on Facebook).

What a strange and somehow poignant experience rereading the Fantabulist thread ….. and remembering that I am part of that tortuous and bizarre history.

April 18, 2012 @ 8:57 pm | Comment

I’m reading your blog for about two years now, but haven’t commented yet. For about a year I’m lurking from the other side of Taiwan strait. Congratulations and my respect for the long road traveled. You certainly left a big mark on East Asian blogosphere and beyond. Blogging takes a lot of time and it becomes part of who you are. I’ve started in March 2008 and feel like I’m blogging forever.

April 19, 2012 @ 12:40 am | Comment

Congrats on hitting the 10 year barrier.

April 19, 2012 @ 4:17 pm | Comment

Keep the good work up, Richard.

April 19, 2012 @ 5:23 pm | Comment

Congrats! For someone who could never get beyond post #1 on any attempt at blogging, 10 years is an uncanny feat! Thank you for your efforts!

April 19, 2012 @ 8:45 pm | Comment

long time. congrats. miss you all.

M.

April 20, 2012 @ 5:22 am | Comment

Congratulations Richard.
A top survivor of a dying breed.

April 20, 2012 @ 7:40 am | Comment

I’m not sold on blogging being a dying art – I think a lot of people ignore the affect of blocking on killing the China blog. The decline of the expat blog coincided with the introduction of comprehensive blocking in 2006-7, blocking makes it difficult for random people to join the community because they’ll never run across it when e.g., searching on Google. Many – maybe the majority – of expats don’t have VPNs, and even a VPN won’t get you around all the blocking.

Go and take a look at other parts of the blogosphere – the Law School Scam blogs for example – and you’ll see blogs which appeared in the last year or so, talked about controversial subjects which no-one else was engaging with, and collected large followings very quickly. Taiwan expat blogs are still going strong despite haviong a much smaller pool of expats.

April 20, 2012 @ 9:05 pm | Comment

Congratulations on the 10th Anniversary, Richard! You started TPD only a few months before I arrived in China where I would spend almost seven years. I didn’t start reading TPD until around 2004, but it’s still the China blog I come to first for current insights. Incidentally, ten years ago in late fall also marks the beginning of that surreal time in China marked by SARS; I still have the cotton mask I wore! Our Chinese hosts went to such great lengths to prevent their foreign guests from contracting SARS!

April 21, 2012 @ 7:47 am | Comment

Introduce a new CCTV documentary program: The Heat, produced by CCTV America.

More sophisticated looking than regular CCTV programs:

Lobbying in America:
http://english.cntv.cn/program/theheat/20120422/110075.shtml

Travyon Martin:
http://english.cntv.cn/program/theheat/20120408/108924.shtml

NYPD Security Surveillance program:
http://english.cntv.cn/program/theheat/20120318/108705.shtml

What do you think, some patriotic Americans will start some anti-CCTV site.

April 23, 2012 @ 2:27 am | Comment

@HX, I dare say some patriotic Chinese will do it first. Oh, hang on…http://boxun.com/

April 23, 2012 @ 7:57 am | Comment

I’m guessing “patriotic Americans” won’t care enough about CCTV to bother. On the other hand, I imagine it will be music to the ears of HH types…so I suppose it’s serving a purpose.

April 23, 2012 @ 12:43 pm | Comment

Happy tenth dude. I’ve been visiting off and on for most of that time as Finalanswer24 and then Kyoku. Kinda miss ol Ivan. Never been a dull moment or a boring post. Gotta admit its been almost as much fun disagreeing with you and some of your posters as agreeing with them. I do tend to be a bit contrarian.

May you be around for a great many years – whether you keep blogging or not. There are far too many people in this world that agree with me and its nice to have a few who dissent. BWAAAAAHAAAAAAHAAAAAHAAAAAAAHAAA

April 25, 2012 @ 7:22 am | Comment

Congrats on reaching the ten year mark…a real achievement that has produced some great writing. I’m a little worried by the post though–maybe a little morose in tone in some areas? Why not go for ten more years? Keep it up, we all appreciate it..

May 7, 2012 @ 1:43 am | Comment

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