Thomas Friedman on Podcasts in China

The unlinkable Thomas Friedman writes about podcasting in China.

Chinese Finding Their Voice – New York TimesOctober 21, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Chinese Finding Their Voice


And you thought the Cultural Revolution was over. Sorry, it’s just beginning, only China’s new Cultural Revolution will be driven this time from the bottom up – by podcasters with Apple’s little white iPods or competing players, not from the top down by Maoists with Little Red Books.

Yes, I know, I am a little ahead of myself. Very few Chinese have ever even seen an iPod, so the podcasting that does exist here is

largely done through PC’s. (Podcasting is the technology that enables individuals to produce their own poetry and songs, videos and photos, and upload them onto a podcasting Web site, then offer this content to anyone who wants to sample it or subscribe to it.) Once the prices come down for iPods, both for those that play audio and for Apple’s newest version, which also plays video, there will be a huge market here for Chinese-language podcasting.

I got a little glimpse of the future visiting a small apartment in suburban Shanghai, home to China’s leading podcasting Web site,

“We already have 13,000 channels on our site and about 5,000 of them are updated regularly,” said Gary Wang, 32, the Fuzhou-born and U.S.- and French-educated Chinese engineer who founded Toodou. Any Chinese can create his or her own channel of video or audio content on Toodou (which means “potato”), and other individuals sign up to get that channel’s new uploads. Eventually Toodou will charge a monthly subscription fee.

“I want to create hundreds of thousands of different channels, maintained by just average people, where other people can access them and download the material,” Mr. Wang added. And he will, because of how easy it is to upload and podcast homemade video and audio content. There are almost no barriers to entry. (His site does self-censor porn and anything that’s obviously against Chinese law – but anything else goes.)

Toodou’s most popular podcast today shows two 20-year-old Chinese women who lip-sync a popular Cantonese rock tune. “They got bored,” Mr. Wang explained, so they bought their own Webcam, which you can find here for as little as $6, used Microsoft Movie Maker, which is free with Windows XP, made their own little three-minute MTV-like podcast and uploaded it onto It’s been viewed 75,000 times in three months.

“It took them one hour to make and 15 minutes to edit,” Mr. Wang said. The women, called the Beans, now have their own Internet fan club.

Another favorite is a podcast by two Chinese architecture students in Houston Rockets jerseys (the team of the Chinese N.B.A. star Yao Ming) who lip-sync a Backstreet Boys tune. A slide show on life in Shenzhen has been viewed 16,000 times, with lots of accompanying commentary from viewers. The second-most-popular podcast right now shows an underground rock band at a Shanghai bar.

Toodou’s goal, Mr. Wang said, “will be to connect [Chinese] people to their tastes and to their potential collaborators. We will have a huge content database, and we will share the revenue with content providers.”

For now, a lot of it is junk, but that will change. The podcasting tools are so easy to acquire that it will force competition, experimentation and better quality. Mr. Wang first heard of podcasting only 13 months ago. Today he has the most popular podcasting site in China, with 100,000 registered users, 8 employees, 40 volunteers and a U.S. venture-capital backer.

News of his site was spread free by Chinese bloggers. His office costs $500 a month, and some of the employees sleep there. Almost all of the software that runs is from free open-source material on the Web: an Apache Web server; FreeBSD, a free Unix operating system; MySQL, a free database system; and PHP, free programming lingo. Mr. Wang wrote the basic algorithms that run himself.

Unlike earlier techno-media revolutions, which began in the West and moved East, the podcasting revolution is going to explode everywhere at once, thanks to the Web and free technology tools. That’s why the next phase of globalization is not going to be more Americanization, but more “glocalization” – more and more local content made global.

“We have different songs and we want to express different things, but the desire is the same,” Mr. Wang said. “We all want to be seen and heard and be able to create stuff we like and share it. … People from all over the world will draw knowledge and inspiration from the same technology platform, but different cultures will flourish on it. It is the same soil, but different trees will grow.”

The Discussion: 10 Comments

I’ve been holding out on the iPod, but I think the new video version is going to suck me in…30 gigs, same price as the old 20 gig model…and you can get it in black.

Okay, I’m a sucker for gadgets…

October 21, 2005 @ 10:31 pm | Comment

people don’t have ipods here, they have much smaller mp3 players that they throw around their necks….does tom friedman take the freaking subway? he would have seen perhaps a few shuffles, but no full on ipods, and he definitely would have seen a zillion little mp3 players dangling. more apple worship i suppose. no mention either of buying the damn microphones that are expensive if you want your podcast to sound like anything.. but i guess for all the idiots back home these minor details don’t matter.

October 22, 2005 @ 1:11 am | Comment

Um, yup, podcasting doesn’t actually require an ipod. I listen to podcasts with a plain old mp3 player program.

And *everybody* has one of those portable MP3 players.

October 22, 2005 @ 3:35 am | Comment

Thanks Emile.

I would like to reiterate her statement. iPods have nothing to do with podcasting other than the fact that you can listen to podcasts on them.

You can record podcasts on an iPod, but it requires a fair amount of work that your average citizen isn’t going to take the time to figure out.

October 22, 2005 @ 9:25 am | Comment

Gordon, where’ve you been? Emile is, by the way, a guy — and he’s French! I’m surprised to see you interacting.

(Just kidding.)

October 22, 2005 @ 9:31 am | Comment

heh! Sorry about that Emile.

But hey, what’s in a name?

October 22, 2005 @ 11:05 am | Comment

Thomas Friedman has seen the future, for sure:

Another favorite is a podcast by two Chinese architecture students in Houston Rockets jerseys (the team of the Chinese N.B.A. star Yao Ming) who lip-sync a Backstreet Boys tune.

Get used to it, people. There’s alot more of the same coming.

October 23, 2005 @ 9:51 am | Comment

Sorry, the iPod is an icon (iCon?). Synonymous with the portable music player as the Walkman once was. Faster than any product in human history, the iPod has transcended mere producthood into becoming a global phenomenon–a symbol of technology being used to make one’s life better.

It doesn’t matter how much more data a Creative Nomad holds for how much less money. It is not an iPod and it never will be.

iLove iPod and iHope it will carry the banner of China’s digital emancipation.

October 23, 2005 @ 3:19 pm | Comment

Could someone help me get a link to the three women — who call themsekves the beans — doing a rendition of a canto song, to which friedman refers in his article? The toodou website is not terribly user-friendly and I was unable to track it down.


October 24, 2005 @ 8:07 pm | Comment

the link to those two girls’ clip.

October 28, 2005 @ 1:19 am | Comment

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