Peeping weekly at the best (and worst) that was, is, and will be on the China blogosphere.
If you were a late arrival to the Sino-English web world and entered via the wrong portals, you probably encountered a toxic mix of serious players, gunslingers with a veneer of academia, trolls, half-wits, cannon fodder and individuals burdened with monomania. And it’s pretty well a male universe with the testosterone meter ticking away and a vanity press to boot.
My first inkling of the possibilities of net scribble came thru a chance meeting with Ben Ross and his site. Despite his first teaching gig in Fujiang, arguably the most corrupt city in Fujian province, it reads like an optimistic and non-judgmental discovery complete with great pics of people and street life. And few blogsters can claim that their mother provided their first comment. Being a fan of the cheap local barber, a bit like young Master Che, his account of a month working in a hairdressing shop resonates.
Rachel Betairie used to have a site called Bendilowai before she went on to provide some great real-time reporting on the Wukan experiment. Simply cannot relocate the link, but it operated in a similar vein. Rachel wrote and photographed average families out in the boondocks, and you came away with the feeling that she became a temporary member. A sort of big sister with the language, a camera and a liking for a good old chin wag in the kitchen. No lense scrutiny of her subjects. All very unmediated and a reminder that race and cultural differences can be little consequence in the larger scheme of globalized travel.
Brian Glucroft’s photography site Isidorsfugue – the name alone arouses curiosity – also has a place in the Department of Goodness. Brian obviously has a job, something to do with technology and creativity, which involves constant travel. While he keeps his persona details well hidden, except for the fact that he is a glutton when it comes to Chinese food, he is definitely the visual recorder of street life in China today, with an occasional foray into traditional and modern Chinese architecture.
Yet to encounter a photo in which his subjects appear ill-at-ease. Commentary is presented in a neutral manner aside from the occasional complaint about his VPN. While his site doesn’t drown in comments, judging by his twitter account (the usual go-to suspects on Sino land), it must get pretty heavy traffic, and deservedly so. Worth a weekly visit, and even a comment if he captures locations which you recognise. Hint to Brian. Lighten up when you respond to a comment.
Let’s not beat around the bush. When it comes to really bloody awful sites, chinaSMACK edges out the competition and its clone China Hush. Three/four years ago threads would actually go somewhere in the intelligence department, and even the trollery and one-upsMANship was not without wit and humor. Then, the preceding sampling of remarks by the Chinese chatterati were not worth the effort expended at the keyboards. Today, the situation is reversed: threads are now populated by Western half-wits, fuck-wits and those with a long lunch break and time on their hands. It almost makes one want to sign up for a eugenics program aimed at the virtual world.
Really rat shit, murky layout. Predictable stories and an “as seen on” media list which includes every outlet in the known universe except my local community newsletter. (Western reporters must be really lazy bastards nowdays.) And the monetisation of this franchise knows no boundaries. Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Russia are now having this formula inflicted on their less intelligent net communities. I can’t wait till it extends its reach to Tajikistan and Afghanistan. While Fauna is no slouch when it comes to identifying market opportunities, I suspect one of the Three Amigos from ChinaDivide is playing a key role in the chinaSMACK boardroom.
While Charlie Custer’s site and The Peking Duck used to go head-to-head when it came to chatterati warfare, Custer is now simply going through the motions, sick of his own opinions, that of his followers, and with better things to do with his time. One thing about Custer is his political consistency, despite this ass-hole piece by a site called The Fourth Estate, by what appears to be a Canadian bilingualist. Custer’s film has been in the offing for about four years, and has now totally saturated Google search with that fact. The Global Times provides a good overview.
Heading for the third part of the title, and if you are wearing full body armour and enjoy a bit of trench warfare, The Peking Duck is the site for you. Richard’s MO. Post a serious piece of China, namely something on the Great Leap Forward, Mao or disputed islands in the Pacific Ocean, and watch the fur fly. Loawai cold war warriors duke it out with a posse of Chinese posters, most of whom live in the US. Some posts constitute a chapter of a book, and no i or t is left undotted or crossed in this take-no-prisoners, let’s-eat-the-wounded back-and-forth. Since I’ve rather blotted my copybook there lately, will return to this subject at a later date.
Turning to musical matters. I know. I Know. General Tao has two Harvard law degrees and a social life most of us would envy. However, his musical selections are fucking awful. Do we really need youtubes of the Grateful Dead and the Doobie Brothers in 2012? Hairy ’70s behemoths who should have been taken down to the bottom paddock ages ago and put out of their misery. The Tao is not the only perp.
Patrick Chovanec, Tsinghua lecturer and owner of a site which explains the mysteries of the Chinese economy, also has issues in this department. Note: pride of place on his blogroll goes to China Hush, so we should not be surprised. A few months ago, I turned on the ABC and accidentally caught a current affairs program dealing with China’s economy. Before they got down to the nitty gritty – rebalancing, bank debt, SOEs, etc. – they began with this heavy-hitter kicking backing and enjoying a bit of quality me-time in some near-campus bar. There he was, dressed like a Rotarian nursing a small beer, and doing a pretty heavy head nod to some bloody ghastly local rock band. It didn’t inspire confidence in his words of wisdom.