Saturday, March 10, 2012

China in Weibo/Episode 1: The Iconoclast of Lei Feng (Watch Video)

A famous reporter in China once told me: China is a country where truth is in short supply. Well, until weibo came along.

Weibo is the Chinese name for mircoblog. The most popular microblog service in China right now is the one provided by, or Sina Weibo. Weibo is a concept borrowed from Twitter, which is not accessible in China. Adopting Twitter’s standard, posts on weibo cannot exceed 140 Chinese characters, which actually account for more words than do English letters of the same amount. With 140 Chinese characters, roughly 70 words, a weibo post can express a lot.

The China unveiled on weibo is very different from the one presented in any traditional media outlet in the country. Weibo carries facts and opinions one can never see in traditional media, because weibo, which is open to everybody who can get online, is not so tightly controlled by China’s propaganda authorities. Despite rumors that the authorities may shut it down completely someday, so far, weibo is alive and well.

Weibo thus has become the platform for whistleblowers to reveal official corruption, for people to criticize the government or simply express opinions that might otherwise be silenced. As such, weibo also has become a window through which one can see China from a very different perspective.

Starting this week, I will choose on a rather regular basis interesting stories, debates and phenomena that I spot on Sina Weibo and present the information through multimedia.

This first episode is about Lei Feng, a national icon died 50 years ago, and how people use weibo to articulate different meanings of this icon than those presented in state media.

The New York Times published an article on March 5 on the same topic.

Related articles:
More on Lei Feng (Xinhua resource; in Chinese)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

China Pictory: Layers of Transformation

(View a slide show here)

Being back in my hometown could be a stress, because I have to deal with the fact that the place I grew up has become such a strange city that I can’t even find my way home without taking a cab.

Where has the place in my memory gone? So I looked everywhere, and found traces of the old city amongst layers of the city’s skyline, much like reading the growth of a tree through the layers of tree rings.

But unlike tree rings, which preserve even the very first year of growth, the older layers in my hometown are bound to be demolished sooner or later.

The city, like thousands of cities around China, is transforming into something the decision makers considered as “modern.” When red bricks, gray clay tiles and metal-bar covered windows are completely replaced by shiny glass walls and sleek high-rise apartment buildings, the city will take a whole new look, and the one as I remember will be gone for good.

I may be sad, but I know it is simply unstoppable. No one can ever stop modernization once you open the door to it. Old streets, traditional buildings or ancient sites could only survive as government designated preservation, just enough to allow people like me to maybe have a taste of the past.

Sure I will enjoy a new, modern city with all its glamour and convenience. But I will always remember, dearly, the quiet, narrow, stone-paved streets that I strolled down with my parents, once upon a time, on a warm Sunday morning.

Friday, February 03, 2012

China Pictory: The Return of Real Chopsticks

Read the related article here.

 (photos by Josie Liu unless otherwise indicated)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

China Pictory: Look Familiar? Or Not.

Traveling in China, I was often surprised how similar China looks to America. Such an impression was mostly generated by American brand names and logos I saw all over the places. For people in China, globalization is definitely happening. Whether it is a good or bad thing depends on who you ask. Some Chinese people are bothered that China looks more and more like America, some are happy about it, and some don’t care.
But China is big, and very diversified. American brands are everywhere, and so are indigenous ones, especially in smaller, innerland cities like Xichuan, Henan, which is featured in the slideshow.
So what is really happening is the coexistence of global as well as Chinese commercial forces and cultural practices. It is what British scholar Stuart Hall described as going global and going local at the same time. What do all these mean to Chinese people? Again, it depends on who you ask. But I would say that for most, it means more choices, be it food, style, entertainment, values, or just about everything in life.