Monday, February 12, 2007

Blogger breakfast report: Starbucksgate, Chinese blog censorship, porno sms + dumplings

Delightful is the word that best describes our first blogger breakfast. For those of you who haven’t figured it out it is actually dinner EST and breakfast Shanghai time. We met in the lounge of Tang hall, an international graduate dormitory at MIT. Liwen had ordered dumplings, scallion pancakes and some crazy rice dish from a restaurant that specialized in the food of her native province. By 8pm we had eight MIT bloggers and five Shanghai-Beijing based bloggers online, all networked into an MSN IM session. Most of the participants were computer scientists, Media Lab or media studies, or journalists. I’ve never had a group conversation in this manner that was live but not direct (not face-to-face). Much of it was very funny. Some how we cracked each other up across space and languages. There was one level of joke telling going on in the room then another with the online banter. says: (8:21:33 PM)
this color belongs to me says: (8:21:42 PM)
so bright one says: (8:21:51 PM)
is it too girly? says: (8:21:58 PM)

Starbucksgate incident was raised as an example of where the China blogsphere has arrived and where it is going. Rui Chengang, a TV news anchor, wrote a blog post (January 11, 2007) criticizing the presence of a Starbucks in the Forbidden City.

From Wall Street journal, Friday Jan 19, 2007:

“Rui writes, It is ‘too inappropriate for the world’s impression of the Forbidden City. This isn’t globalization, this is the erosion of Chinese culture.’ Mr. Ruui said he liked Starbucks ¬¬just not inside a national landmark.
In the space of a week, Mr. Rui’s post has been viewed more than half a million times, according to the blog’s counter, and his demand to shut the café has turned into a national cause.”

Everyone , of course, had heard about it. Some joked they did not drink coffee, which meant the protest was not relevant to them ,-). Some of the jokes touched upon issues of nationalism and an American consumer imperialism.

“Is there anyone who want to build Chinese restaurant in Jing Guo Shen She (Japanese war memorial).”

“Like say, we Chinese can open the Quan Jude (featured the Chinese roasted duck all over the world) inside the museum that keeps the Independence of Declaration.”

Web 2.0 was the second big topic of discussion: what is it and has it already developed in China where there are an abundance of bbs/social network sites (of the 120 million China-based Internet users,
43 percent are using online message boards such as QQ) and we as video sharing sites and collective net-organized actions (See group shopping or “Tungou”). Yet concepts such as “participatory” or “user-generated” do not have the same resonance, despite the fact that video-sharing sites have been in strong rotation for over a year. Perhaps this is a difference of attitude not magnitude.

Roger, one of the MIT Computer Science students who is researching search technology, talked about how the same tools will have different ends depending on the cultural context.

Media platform was final topic.

How well does IM work for group discussion? Could we do VOIP? The decision was “no,” primarily because much of the conversation is in English (for my benefit) and many of the participants who graciously agreed to work in a second language have greater ease with writing than voice. Group seems keen to do it with a virtual world platform. This of course is right up my alley ;-)

The post today from Hong Kong-based blogger
Rebecca MacKinnon on allegations of censorship by (the top Chinese blog site) made public a subject that has been discussed behind closed doors or off the record.

She writes:

Thus the protest is helping to call attention to the way in which China's blog hosting companies like Sina and Sohu (as well as all the others) are all censoring their users' content. What's more these companies are doing it without any advance warning or negotiation with the blogger about his or her content, without any recourse to appeal, without any explanation, without any notice of what laws are being violated by the content or what laws are being complied with by erasing it, etc.

Having spoken with social media entrepreneurs, activists, and users in China, I know this will certainly make for lively conversation at the next “blogger breakfast.” The issue seems black-and-white to an American audience, but as several Chinese industry and researchers pointed out to me, “Everyone country censors something.”

There was some discussion of “porno sms,” text messages designed for titillation that are wide spread in China. I have asked the group to post examples for next time.

Many thanks to all participants.


Anonymous said...


February 16, 2007 3:14 PM  

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