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.
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.