At my personal blog RConversation.com, I link to a Red Herring article in which journalist Kaiser Kuo concludes that claims of censorship by Chinese blogger “Sister Hibiscus” are actually false. I would love to know what Chinese bloggers think about this whole issue, and whether anybody has any concrete evidence to the contrary. Since my blog is blocked in China, I'm reproducing the whole post below.
My friend Kaiser Kuo, former Tang Dynasty rockstar and currently Red Herring‘s correspondent in Beijing, has just written an article: China Net Star Cries Censorship. The story describes the rise and likely fall of China's recent blogging sensation Sister Hibiscus (sometimes also known as "Sister Lotus" in the western media though her Chinese nom-de-blog "Furong Jiejie" actually translates to "hibiscus," not "lotus"). Now the important thing to understand about Sister H., who is plain and not very talented, is that her stardom was basically the result of bloggers and chatroom denizens making fun of her – a situation which in her egotism and lack of sophistication she herself failed to understand. The plot only thickens from there.
Like most people who follow such things (including many snickering bloggers around the world) I had been under the impression – thanks to this Reuters article widely reprinted, re-posted, and broadcast in video and audo versions around the world – that the Chinese authorities had cracked down on her, and that her blog host bokee.com had complied with their request to, er, de-emphasize her on their site. While Reuters quoted Sister Hibiscus herself as claiming to have been cracked-down upon, Kaiser could find no further evidence that this was the case. The people at Bokee.com strongly denied having been asked by the authorities to stop featuring her blog on their front page, and pointed out that Sister Hibiscus’ blog remains one of the most well-trafficked in the Bokee blog constellation. But the "in thing" had moved on (to "Super Girls", a phenom I'll discuss in a later post).
So anyway, Kaiser called the Reuters correspondent to see where he got his information. Apparently, the reporter had nothing more than Sister Hibiscus’ claims, plus the quote from a Daily Telegraph article about her in which she told the Telegraph reporter "They
blocked me. The Propaganda Department told the television stations and big newspapers to stop covering me." Usually, when somebody claims to have been cracked down upon, a responsible journalist will make the effort to get at least off-the-record confirmation from official Chinese contacts (even if indirectly via friends of Chinese officials or people who work in Chinese media organizations who tend to know about crackdowns) that such a crackdown has in fact occurred. When I worked as a journalist in China, I myself ran across situations in which artists and writers claimed to have been censored when the reality was they just weren't very talented – but were trying to salvage their careers by claiming political victimhood and getting buzz with Western journalists. The tactic works surprisingly often, I'm afraid.
Apparently, no effort to confirm Sister H's claims was made by the Reuters journalist. Kaiser's efforts along those lines have turned up total blanks. It appears, indeed, that China's bloggers and chatroom denizens – as fickle as bloggers and chat-roomers anywhere – have lost interest. Welcome to 15 mintes of fame. It ends. The cyber-herd moves on. Sister Hibiscus appears to be trying to revive her edge by turning herself into a censorship victim, whether it's true or not. (That said, if anybody out there has evidence that authorities have indeed made deliberate efforts to diminish her fame, please hit the comments section and let everybody know.)
As Kaiser points out in his article, Western reporters can get away with this kind of sloppy reporting because there is so much real censorship happening every day in China. So reports of censorship are always believable – to foreigners as well as to many Chinese. This situation is reinforced by the fact that the Chinese government routinely lies and obfuscates about what it censors, why and how. So denials – even when true – are not believed. Similarly, companies involved with censorship and filtering are generally evasive and un-transparent about what they're up to and what the Chinese government has asked them to do. Bokee, like all Chinese blog-hosting companies, filters and censors the blogs they host. Users know this through their posting experiences, not because Bokee has been publicly upfront with them about what they're doing. So I wonder, when Sister H. cries censorship, and the Reuters article gets cut and pasted around the Chinese blogosphere and chatrooms, do Bokee's users believe their denials or not?
It's an interesting question. I'd love to know what Chinese bloggers out there think.