I got an email from a reader today that I want to reprint here in full (except for the sender’s name of course).

I’m writing to express my thanks in making pekingduck available to all. I’ve been following your blog for about a year and I’ve enjoyed your posts and the comments from readers. The varied thoughts and opinions give me pause and usually have me gasping, China, what a country! What I enjoy the most is your passion for ideas – this is more than evident in how you express yourself. Your blog has become a daily read for me; with each entry I learn more about this country I’ve decided to call home for a few years. And for that I express my thanks.

Some of your constant readers share this passion for freedom of expression and sharing of varied and diverse ideas, and most of these contributors are insightful and informed people. I enjoy reading their posts, especially when their ideas contradict your own.

However, lately I’ve been noticing that a good deal of the comments are beginning to border on the inane and adolescent, and this in my opinion tends to cancel out your own hard work. Sure enough, there’s nothing wrong with some silliness – I’d be the first to encourage it – but given the content of some of the “adolescent” posts in contrast to what prompted the comments, I’ve been left disappointed as a reader.

This is only one reader’s opinion. Pekingduck is yours to have and hold – it’s your baby – and I’m sure you wouldn’t want it to decline in quality and substance. I look forward to your next post . . .

I didn’t post that to congratulate myself for getting such complimentary emails, but to raise the issue of comment quality.

The very last thing I want to do is to discourage anyone from commenting. It’s the comments that have allowed my blog to morph from a personal journal/soapbox to a community. Because of the niche appeal of this site, it’ll never have huge site traffic, but it does get a lot of comments and people tend to stay at the site a long time. Those two factors — “stickiness” and level of participation — are more important to me than the number of hits, which can be manipulated easily simply by putting up some strategically titled girlie pictures for the Googlebots to find. The big numbers look good, but if people stop by for 5 seconds, their visit doesn’t mean much.

So comments are, to me, the heart and soul of Peking Duck. When we get a really great thread going, with informed and intelligent participation, there’s really nothing like it.

It’s important that I’m clear: I love the chatting and the sharing and the ongoing conversations about multiple topics as we’ve been enjoying in the open threads. What I’m enjoying less is the cheap shots and insults we saw in the new mega-thread two posts down. Some commenters are incredibly creative and hilarious. Please, don’t go away. But also, please don’t insult Chinese people and turn them away from my site. We can be critical with compassion and funny with empathy. This site is for them more than anyone, even if they disagree with me violently on certain issues. Their contribution is absolutely essential, and if I lose them this blog will be a failure.

Earlier, before the comment level was so high, I was able to interject my own comments and try to steer the conversation, telling people to soften their language or to get off their high horse. But when I wake up like this morning to more than 200 cumulative comments, I can’t even read them all let alone try to police them.

So please, don’t lose your energy, your enthusiasm or your humor. Just realize that what’s hilarious to us isn’t always that funny to someone from a very different culture, and that they’re an important part of the dialogue as well. Thanks a lot for letting me express that.

The Discussion: 50 Comments

Thanks Richard. I just posted something about the “humor” at the bottom of that loonnnng thread. I really agree with your email correspondent. Your site is attracting readers from around the world; I’d hate to see them leave because of a few inane comments.

June 26, 2005 @ 12:45 pm | Comment

KLS? Echo?

June 26, 2005 @ 1:12 pm | Comment


June 26, 2005 @ 1:18 pm | Comment

I missed the entire post unfortunately. So who are you talking about Richard? American Man? You don’t want people misunderstanding in case it does not apply to them. To be fair, a lot of people like martyn, ben and laowai did the opposite of what you are saying and tried to restore order and remain on topic. In fact they acted like nightshift managers!

June 26, 2005 @ 1:49 pm | Comment

Echo, definitely.

June 26, 2005 @ 1:50 pm | Comment

As a chinese, I am not offended by the comments. Chinese does need take a very critical view of themselves.

When you read the most extreme comments without blood pressure running high, it means that you have thought about this problem and you have digested.

This is a great site, even though I am usually on the other end of political spectrum.

June 26, 2005 @ 1:52 pm | Comment

the person I know who’s learned the most and had the most open conversations with people here is a roaring alcoholic with the most aggressive, inappropriate sense of humor I’ve ever encountered.

why, you might ask? who do you think a person who can’t talk openly (for a laundry list of reasons) about things would rather talk to, someone who takes the whole thing way too seriously considering there’s essentially nothing any of us can do to change it, or the one who flippantly makes light of the whole damned business?

american man made some bloody amusing quips. gordon, meanwhile, insulted some guy’s name and didn’t even have the courtesy to be witty about it.

yes, some people, regardless of nationality or culture, won’t get everything. but there are people on site like martyn, other lisa, dave and shanghai slim who generally step in and do a little ‘translating’.

then this nifty thing called learning happens. oh, I get it, some americans have a stupid arse sense of humor and propriety. okay, I can overlook that, what’s he really saying. if anyone’s good at subtext it’s the chinese people I’ve talked to. people will be pausing to consider and figuring stuff out all over the place. next stop, utopia.

start asking people to mind their manners and it’ll start sounding like an embassy party in here.

but my views on censorship (self or otherwise) are pretty set in stone, so take it for what it’s worth (about a baht after conversion)

June 26, 2005 @ 2:13 pm | Comment

Thanks steve, I appreciate it.

Mike, I’m not pointing out anyone in particular. Everyone’s welcome, and everyone should say what’s on their mind and have a good time, while remembering to respect others. I have had mutliple commenters tell me they wanted me to make a statement like this, and they’re right. There are no rules, just common sense. Let’s try to avoid scaring people away.

June 26, 2005 @ 2:17 pm | Comment

And echo, people don’t need to mind their manners. I can be plenty rude myself when I think it’s called for, and I hate political correctness — there’s very little in life that can’t be laughed at. I just know some readers ahave been turned off over the past few days and I want to do my best to accommodate everyone.

June 26, 2005 @ 2:22 pm | Comment

There are no rules, just common sense. Let’s try to avoid scaring people away. […]
people don’t need to mind their manner

see, this makes very little sense to me. no offense intended, I’m just not exactly sure how one can be polite while not minding ones manners

if there were no rules you wouldn’t have posted the letter, yea? or am I missing the double passive/aggressive reader/response joke

June 26, 2005 @ 2:33 pm | Comment

btw, anonymous guy, which am I, the one who wrote the letter or the one it’s about. so hard to tell these days…

the problem with accomodating everyone is that you have to accomodate everyone. next thing you know you’ll be posting piercing strategies and donkey maintenance tips. just do your thing, build it and they’ll come (course then they’ll drink too much beer, break a few windows and steal your cat, but that video you shot could be worth something one day)

June 26, 2005 @ 2:44 pm | Comment

Echo, what you doing up at 4-5 in the morning? Late night?

June 26, 2005 @ 3:04 pm | Comment

A lot of things don’t translate that well in written form. It’s hard to get peoples’ intent at times. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking people to think a little before they type and consider how others might regard what they are saying. Some of the quips in that mega-post came across as offensive to me; I wasn’t getting humor from them. As far as I’m concerned, if you wouldn’t say it to somebody’s face, you should think twice about saying it on line. And if you would say it to someone’s face…I imagine some pretty interesting bar brawls would occur…

Just kidding.

June 26, 2005 @ 4:08 pm | Comment

echo, I’m not going to censor or apply rules. All I will do is request that readers read the email I pasted in the post above and think about it. That’s all. I think most readers know what I mean; you saw it in FSN9’s comments yesterday and Lisa’s too, where they both said they were concerned people could be upset at some of the comments (Chinese people, specifically). If you want me to make a specific request for the sake of clarity, I guess it would be thins: Let’s try to keep the frat-boy humor out of the serious discussion threads and save it for the open threads where anything goes. That’s not an order, just a suggestion, and I use the word “try” because threads sometimes have a way of drifitng off and are hard to control. Thanks.

June 26, 2005 @ 4:13 pm | Comment

I am with Echo on this, she is trying to preserve all that is good and healthy about the Internet and you and your supporters are trying to dilute it and morph it into something that just so happens to suit you what you are comfortable with.

It is the Internet, it is the cut and thrust and the exchange of views among all different peoples that makes it so good. Don’t you think that, as you blog about about China—one of the most oppressive countries on this planet in terms of free speech (am I offending somebody out there with that line?) you should be extra careful about preaching about self-censorship, offending others, being sensitive to other cultures and whatever else your personal views on the subject are?

It is your blog, sure, and you can call the shots but isn’t this reading of the riot act just a tad unhealthy, just a step in the wrong direction?

I can understand what you are saying but it all sounds a bit ‘off’ a bit ‘not right’ somehow. You’re sounding a bit like the New York Times or the Guardian’s letters page.

Is there such a big difference between saying “Some of the quips in that mega-post came across as offensive to me; I wasn’t getting humor from them.” and saying “Thou shalt not crack a joke that some people might possibly find offensive” and “Thou shalt not make me feel disappointed when I read this site because I have some sort of problem with some of the comments.”

It is funny that some of the same people that either support your dictat or that you mention as previously having whinged about some particular aspect of the comments on the site recently also indulge in the same thing that you are now complaining about. There’s no difference at all, only that they think they are funny/witty or whatever.

This is the point. It is all about opinions. and, most importantly, it’s all about expression. Unfortunately, this freedom is being dismantled on Peking Duck—a China blog.

What irony.

June 26, 2005 @ 4:42 pm | Comment

Like I said – would you say it in person, to a roomful of people you don’t know well or at all? Is a little common courtesy – or more to the point, common sense – equivalent to censorship? I just don’t see how the two equate.

I also think what Richard is saying about posts that disrupt serious topics versus what goes on in the open threads is a good rough guideline.

I’m not saying, “no jokes, please, or I’ll get my knickers in a twist.”

June 26, 2005 @ 4:49 pm | Comment

Commenter, please read what I just said carefully. No rules, no censorship. No dismantling of anything. I said, conitnue commenting as usual but think first about whether someone might get hurt. Is that a radical idea? I thought it was a fairly standard rule of human interaction. I simply requested readers read the email I was sent, and the comments of two other regular commenters, Lisa and FSN, and just think about it. That’s all.

By the way, this blog is absoutely NOT the Internet. No one can come here and sell porn or ask for money. No one can come here and hurl obscenities at anyone else. I pay for this site and maintain it, and it’s what I want it to be. And what I want it ot be is exactly what is is right now — a place for intelligent exchange of ideas among people all over the world about issues important to me, like China and free speech and freedom and politics.
However, this isn’t a public utility funded by taxpayer dollars. There are no guarantees of anything; when I see people abuse the forum I provide, I will say something — as will my readers, just like they did a few weeks ago with JR. (You wouldn’t be JR by any chance now, would you? Hmmm, IP address tells me something interesting…)

June 26, 2005 @ 5:00 pm | Comment

I think … I think we’re okay.

AM probably pissed some people off. KLS pissed ron off. Leo pissed me off, with the prostitute thing. But basically we’re a self-moderating bunch.

That is to say, as a body of individuals we tend to be okay, I’d say. Maybe if a new-comer comes here they’d think we were whack, but once they dig in I think they’d be surprised and happy. I know Bingfeng disagrees with just about everything I say, but I’d like to think he somewhat respects me – (Bingfeng, you got my back on this one?) and I think that’s how it generally goes. KLS was good to call AM on his flatulent remarks. I mostly just ignored them. I don’t know. I guess it’s up to you richard – I think as a body politic we moderate ourselves, but this is all open for newcomers to see, and they might not like it.

I will admit that it is mostly westerners commenting. this is somewhat troubling, but then again, you know what? it’s posts by a western guy, in the west, expressing very western opinions. who’s surprised?

June 26, 2005 @ 5:18 pm | Comment

Laowai, I completely agree, we’re okay. I’m not changing a thing.

“Old Faithfuls” like FSN9 know that these huge comment threads are a relatively new thing. I still have to get used to them myself. I think it’s troubling to some who knew this site as a relatively quiet place where more than 10 or so comments to a thread was extraordinary; they came here for a focused discussion on very specific topics. And I don’t want to lose those readers, and I especially don’t want to lose Chinese readers. There are many more commenters than wthere were a year ago, but the number of Chinese commenters hasn’t risen proportionately, and I want them to feel comfortable here, without being coddled or patronized.

Regular Commenter, hope you don’t mind that I’m exercizing my freee speech rights to say what I want this site to be.

Sorry if I’m rambling, but I’m trying to make dinner and deal with this blog at the same time….

June 26, 2005 @ 5:32 pm | Comment

“I said, conitnue commenting as usual but think first about whether someone might get hurt.”

that’s a rule. and there are rules. I know because I broke them. well within your rights, richard, as it’s your blog space. but you ought to let people know is all.

some people here offend me when they flat out refuse to listen. pet peeve of mine. some people judge instantly, or blindly listen to what the ‘group’ has decided about certain people. western knee jerk reactions to anything that even remotely smells pro ccp (which I think probably drives away a lot more chinese people than trolling comments, because it’s phrased by otherwise intellilgent people in an intelligent manner). I for one find that lot much more offensive than am’s humor.

but why should my opinion be more important than theirs, as I would imagine they see nothing wrong with what they write.

June 26, 2005 @ 9:29 pm | Comment

“Is a little common courtesy – or more to the point, common sense – equivalent to censorship”

I think it is.
by saying to yourself “this person might get hurt if I say this” before you speak you are :

a) removing from that person the choice, ie he can listen or he can walk away mumbling about what a moron you are. removing a assumes that said person is not capable of deciding for himself. it is, essentially, treating him like a child.

b) assuming common sense is universal. what is common sense to you might not be common sense to someone else. it’s common sense to me not to go over to a friend’s house when I have a nasty cold cause I’ll get them sick too. but that’s not common sense here. does that mean I’d be within my rights to ask a whole lot of chinese people to stay home? that would be expecting them to fit my mold, saying that my version of ‘right’ is more important than theirs.

June 26, 2005 @ 9:40 pm | Comment

Dear echo,

Actually, you know, I have been living here in China for four years now, in Huai’an (Jiangsu), Shanghai, and now in Shenzhen. I have, over the years, met many many Westerners here – and yet, I have not met one single Westerner who has hated China. Most are critical, but balanced – their overall impressions have always been favourable. It surprises me even that I have yet to meet one whose overall impression is negative – suprising, given the comments of many of those who contribute here to this website.

I have even met Americans and Canadians and Australians here in Shenzhen, and in Shanghai, who tell me that they actually feel “freer” here than they do back in their own countries! Some have even bought homes here, and intend to stay.

Echo, you said that the extremism on this site drives away more Chinese readers than it attracts. No doubt. But what I want to assure you of, is that it also drives away more Westerners than it attracts.

Peking Duck attracts many interesting people, and sometimes even results in some useful discussions, but the problem is that nearly every article on China that is baked here is negative – it distorts people’s understanding of China. Most Westerners here that I know refuse to even look at Peking Duck – they are disgusted by it, they regard it as essentially a hate site.

I contribute towards it because I enjoy challenging the extremists – the ranters – the Conrads, if you like!

If somebody were to start up their own website dedicated to criticising, say, for example, the USA, and posted only negative articles for discussion, then what you would end up with, likewise, would be a very distorted view of America – an unfair one.

I have a Chinese fiancee, who translates for me much of what is published in Chinese newspapers and on Chinese television, and so I know that the Chinese themselves are daily very critical of themselves, and of the CCP and its policies. But CCTV-9 (produced for foreign English-speaking visitors) provides viewers with only the good news! All China news on CCTV-9 is presented with a positive spin – it’s represents the other end of the extreme!

CCTV-1 by contrast, reports and analyses the negatives, probably more so than it reports on the positives even! But most Westerners wouldn’t know that, not unless they are fluent in Mandarin, or have somebody to sit down with to translate.

Peking Duck provides a great forum for discussion and debate, but it would attract a lot more people if it were to present a better balance of articles about China. For starterse not everything about the CCP is bad- its legacy is a mixed one. It’s important to criticise China, and CCP policies, just as it is important to criticise all societies. How else does one identify problems and failures, and to then act on them, to work towards improvement?

But it is equally important to identify and to acknowledge the other side of the picture. Perhaps Richard might like to start posting a few good news stories as well – just for a little balance?

Best regards,
Mark Anthony Jones

June 26, 2005 @ 9:59 pm | Comment

Looming flu, headache, nausea … oh man oh man … but yeah, I kind of agree. The tone did sink more than a little in the mega-thread.

June 26, 2005 @ 10:54 pm | Comment

Timely thoughts Richard. I was going to talk about American Moron, but decided to keep my piece as someone else said he was being “humorous” on the long thread.
Just reading the words made his humor hard to grasp. Maybe it was poor writing, but I didn’t catch it, so I wonder how many others did catch it.
It would be wiser to watch what you say about other people if it is slamming them, especially if it is only a matter of opinion.

June 26, 2005 @ 11:07 pm | Comment

pete, name one thing that isn’t a matter of opinion.

June 26, 2005 @ 11:11 pm | Comment

Pete, You have offended MANY American’s with your “American Moron” quip.

June 26, 2005 @ 11:28 pm | Comment

AM … I find you funny … but wish you’d aim a little higher. Oh, one other thing. It’s a grammatical point that’s been really bugging me about your posts: “your” = belonging to you. “you’re” = you are. You don’t seem to notice the difference.
Call me a pedant, if you will. ๐Ÿ˜‰

June 27, 2005 @ 1:52 am | Comment

It’s that American “Education”.

June 27, 2005 @ 3:39 am | Comment

your question is too simple to answer. i’ll let you figure it out. i suppose that 1.3 billion chinese on the mainland is an opinion, but is “there are at least 1.3 billion chinese” an opinion or a statement of fact.

i don’t see many american man on this blog who fit the humorous description i tried to come up with. but isn’t it sort of like your attempted humor directed at the chinese?

in any case, isn’t all in good fun?

June 27, 2005 @ 3:49 am | Comment

P.S. Never knew what Pedant meant until today.Thanks Filthy and,aiming higher is not a bad idea!

June 27, 2005 @ 3:59 am | Comment

it depends entirely on who’s counting. so I’m gonna put that one in opinions.

I’ll take the world is flat for 500. yup, scientists across the plane agree, it’s flat. bzzzt. science figured the globe out in the end. or did they, what is ‘fact’ today might be fiction tomorow.

it only sounds simple. care to play again? : )

June 27, 2005 @ 9:55 am | Comment

“You are a sad little person. You are from a sad land. It all just makes ME sad. I have “lived” in China for 4 years. Your country is a cesspool!”

what the world needs now
is love, sweet love

June 27, 2005 @ 12:30 pm | Comment

There are always going to be idiot trolls, I’m afraid.

June 27, 2005 @ 12:33 pm | Comment

the quote is a comment on Peking Duck by somebody who signed off as American man” … there must be two of them here!

June 27, 2005 @ 12:51 pm | Comment

One’s enough!

June 27, 2005 @ 1:23 pm | Comment

maybe it’s the same guy?

June 27, 2005 @ 1:51 pm | Comment

Probably; he was getting a little silly and he knows it, so let’s forgtet about it. As you know, I got a bit upset about some of those comments.

June 27, 2005 @ 1:58 pm | Comment

Mark, do you realise that you come off as a bit of a patronising guy in your post above? the extremists? the ranters? do you realise that you’re the one with the longest posts, and that you’re the one who is convinced we need to see the error of our ways? Your attitude sounds more like Bush’s holy war than anything else! Lighten up. You aren’t RIGHT. No one here is RIGHT. I’m glad you are there to tell me that you think what i’m saying is bullshiznit, but please, leave the righteousness at the door with Mr GW.

Just sayin’.

June 27, 2005 @ 4:04 pm | Comment

A question asked on this thread was about comment deletion policy. I said I rarely delete comments and usually give a warning first. I also said the person had to demonstrate that they’re needling me, trying to get a rise.

That’s from the latest open thread, Letters to the Editor. So whoever is trying to needle me by posting comments obviously intended to get me mad, please grow up. This is exactly what I meant in the quote above. If you contribute a viewpoint or an argument I’d like to hear it. If you just want to make trouble, there are many other places to go.

June 27, 2005 @ 5:30 pm | Comment

Oh, and Laowai thanks A LOT for your very upfront comment to our resident Marxist MAJ. I can assure you, you’re speaking for a lot of us!!

Mark is a brilliant guy and I want him to keep posting. If only he’d cut the comments down to about 1/20th of their current length and drop the supercilious attitude….

June 27, 2005 @ 5:33 pm | Comment

In police work they call it “Evidence”

June 27, 2005 @ 6:07 pm | Comment

KGB,You are sooooo easy. You’re my toy! I’m getting a little bored with it. Yesterday I decided that the “Carnival of Hate” was over. But you are soooooo easy to hate.

June 27, 2005 @ 6:13 pm | Comment

Oh no, not again!!

June 27, 2005 @ 6:51 pm | Comment

Yeah,Let’s move on!!!!!!!!!!

June 27, 2005 @ 6:55 pm | Comment

I’m goin’ legit.BTW,That WAS a VERY STUPID remark of mine.Just a bad day.I actually have a love/hate thingy going on with China.I am sure I’m not alone in that.I hear so much shit from the Chinese.Sometimes I gotta let it out. Not an excuse.It’s MY fault.It’s good to reflect on one’s stupidity..Oh, I just ” Lost my face.”I hate when that happens!

June 27, 2005 @ 7:08 pm | Comment

You do crack me up, even if you cross a lot of lines.

June 27, 2005 @ 7:12 pm | Comment

That’s the OLD American man.The new improved one is very serious and even MORE boring.

June 27, 2005 @ 7:48 pm | Comment

Richard provides this forum as a free service to anyone who wants to water here. I think the least we can do in return is to try to meet some very minimal, basic standards in our postings. I’m not talking about self-censorship, just the simplest civility.

The line between disagreement and offense is generally respected here, with a minuimum of effort we can all insure it stays that way.

Then Richard won’t be forced into dealing with this kind of trivia, and can focus on the things that make this free service so worth visiting. ๐Ÿ™‚

June 28, 2005 @ 5:02 am | Comment

I don’t think you’ll be happy anywhere.

June 28, 2005 @ 8:12 am | Comment

I have two stones in my hand. Which one is fact and which is opinion, if that is what you believe or are they one and not the other. I am thinking in the here and now, not over the time/space continuum of a millennium or a “billennium.” Do you have an answer for me?

June 28, 2005 @ 10:34 pm | Comment

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