Although Bullog.cn, one of the most influential independent blog hosting platform in China, has been shut down under the pretext of internet cleaning of smut, a number of prominent bloggers declared that they would continue to speak. A few days ago, Sohu, a commercial blog hosting company, hosted a blogger dinner, in which a number of prominent bloggers took off from the official topic “how blogging has changed our lives” to discuss the role of bloggers / public intellectuals in social and political transformation. Blackeyequeen has posted the transcript of a round table by a number of prominent bloggers in China. It is a very significant conversation and record on political bloggers’ aspiration for changes and China blog culture. Below is a selective translation of the transcript.
We must Blog
Blogging is great, I have opened more than 20 blogs, and more than a dozen of them are still active. In 2008, my blogs concern about social and legal issue. Although I was disappointed by the Yang Jia case, my writings leave traces of the incident. I have written more than 140 blog post for Yang Jia. I also concern about Wenchuan earthquake, whether or not it is predictable and the teachers who had killed in the disaster and I wrote to the education ministry on this. If blogs didn't exist, I have to talk to journalists to express my idea. But a blog changes the process, now the journalists approach me. That's why I wish netizens with resources can open more blogs and express your own opinion.
I started blogging in Oct 2006. Blogging changed my life. I used to write poems and now I write article as well. Sometimes I write up to 10 articles in a week. A blog blurs the boundary between cultural and social incident. For example, when the newspapers asked me to write a year-end round up on culture, I asked them whether Zhou Shenglong's fake tiger incident is a cultural or social incident. Our knowledge has been transformed in the blog era. I came across some ideas from an American who said blogging has opened the era of 2.0 public intellectual. The division of academic discipline only have 300 years of history in the West. Chinese haven't experienced the Greenwich Village era in the U.S, when intellectuals only spoke to the public. Blogs are like a virtual Greenwich Village, but the spirit is filled with Bohemian style.
In the past, commentary is a category of news, maybe in a decade, blogs can become classic. The internet era has brought enormous change to the intellectuals, the intellectuals are no longer speaking to each others. Ai Weiwei is a good example.
It is reasonable to say that blogging has changed China. On the other hand, blogging is something with Chinese characteristic. I speak from the perspective of a foreigner who come from Japan and have been to Australia and the U.S, no where else resemble what's happening here. In China, ideas don't have an order, in Japanese term, media, blogger and readers are clashing with each others. It is a crucial factor to bring change to China.
In China, there are more real name bloggers than in Japan. This is related to Japanese national belief. While in China, people want to elevate themselves via the blog platform, in terms of fame and thought. This is very new to me. Although the development of the internet in Japan is much more advance than China, but we don't participate in social incident via blogging.
The value of blogging is freedom, regardless of right or wrong. The meaning of a blog is similar to “Chairman Mao on Jinggangshan”. Most of us are not aware of its value. T.V and newspapers are one-sided indoctrination, while blogging gives us space to exchange. For bloggers who don't have much opportunity to exchange, blogging gives them a chance.
Blogging also brings something secular, for me, it is fame and fortune, many people know what you are doing and recognize your effort. It is very precious to find like-minded people.
Quite often I am surprised by what i read in others’ blogs. However, not so many bloggers have visibility, for those who have the discursive power, can they speak for others? This is the very reason why I respect Ai Weiwei so much.
As for intellectual blogger, the heart of public intellectual is covered with dust. I used to be a reporter in a financial magazine, and I know about the traditional media. When they interview a person, they make the judgment based on whether this person is famous or not. Those people with brilliant idea have been buried. Those third rated people, as they know how to zhe-teng (toss), they gain fame and the traditional media will interview them. This is a vicious circle. That's why in 2008, I published the Huai-yao interview, my criteria for the interview is based on whether or not the person has genuine contribution to the country and society.
Sohu blog is respectable, it contains humanitarian content. It concerns about human, people's life and fate. That's why I work with Sohu in the “Huai-yao Interview” project. I am honored to work with the talented editors.
The shut down of Bullog.cn gives us some reflections. How can we write with sophistication in order to deliver our message and feeling? Ye Kuang-zheng should be very experienced in this.
Resist against brain damage commentary
Originally, I was a commentary writer in news media. Now I teach in Renmin University on news commentary. My blog is to facilitate my exchange with students. Questions raised by students and friends help me to improve my teaching. However, even when I was paid for my writing, I didn't have the impulse like Ye Kuang-shen to write 10 articles in a week, not to mention that I don't gain any profit in the Sohu blog.
A few weeks ago, some students asked me to comment on the article on “brain-damage” written by Ye Kuang-she, I have expressed my opinion. My feeling is that among the Sohu bloggers, apart from the occupational writers, many people with different disciplines are writing social critique.
I often tell editors to push less simple current affair commentaries to the front page. Ma Shaohua also pointed out that with the penetration of information technology to different social strata, the function of commentary writers is in question. When there is a medical incident, we have doctors writing commentary, while the current affair commentators are without such professional background, what is then the value of commentary?
Role of intellectual
I am “Chinese traitor in Sohu” Wang Xiaoyang. My self introduction in my blog is “Traitor, certified by patriotic thief”. Now, the idiots, patriotic thieves have turned “traitor” into a semi-prasing term. As long as so many idiots and patriotic thieves exist, I will continue to act as traitor, helping the idiots and patriotic thieves to turn the word to a praise.
My reason to blog is to express frustration and indecent thought. I have explained, in my daily work I speak in ghost language, fart in official tongue, while in my blog I will speak human language. I really mean it. Up till now, I still speak in ghost language and fart in official tongue. I flatter to make a living. But in my blog, I speak the truth.
Just now, everyone is discussing about the function of commentary. In my opinion, the duty of intellectual is to criticize. When the lords say go east, we have to point out the danger of going east. When the lords say go west, we have to point out the problem of going west; When the lords say go south, we still talk about the negative side of the south. We criticize for the sake of criticism.
Today, I am honored to meet so many respectable bloggers. For example Ma Shaohua. I just betrayed him, he told me that he might have to leave early and I betrayed him immediately by telling the organizer to grab him to speak first. I respect Shaohua very much, and my respect come along side with my criticism. In my opinion, the objective of commentary is to intervene and change society, while Shaohua is a bit obsessed with the ivory tower and focuses too much on the technique of commentary. I hope Ma can encourage his student to act on the direction of changing the society.
Concerning the debate between Ma Shaohua and Ye Kuangshen on brain-damage, I appreciate the Ma's saying that “I welcome your attack”. It reflects his character and his will to fight back. Everyone should respect others’ right to speak, should welcome attack. This a kind of open-mindedness.
As for Ai Weiwei, he is a contemporary artist, and I have very deep prejudice against contemporary art, probably because i have seen too many “obscured” style. Most of the artists are at Liang Shan to wait for reckon from the government, Cai Guoqiang and Zhang Yimu have merrily been reckoned and abandoned their hypocritical dresses.
Many of us, including myself, get to understand Ai Weiwei, not because of contemporary art, but due to his blog post about Yang Jia. Ai's opinion is very strong and his writing style is brilliant. It is hard not to look up on him. I want to stress that most of the people here, like myself, are from the grassroots. Ai Weiwei is not. His family background could have given him relation for gaining status and monetary interest. But he chooses to detach from the system, join the grassroots and speak his conscience. This is really touching.
I also respect lawyer Liu Xiaoyuang very much. His writing is not as good as Ai Weiwei, but he has very good insight and he is very hardworking, the 140 posts to speak on behalf of Yang Jia reflects a lofty state of mind. He also earns my utmost respect.
I still want to stress that criticism is the duty of intellectual. There are many different types of bloggers, entertainment, finance, sport, current affair, etc. In China, the most valuable bloggers are the political blogger, I don't need to explain the reason.
Politics is like air, no one can be escaped from that. Under the current situation, intellectuals who don't care about politics are shameless. Thank you.
Modern art is part of modern culture. The character of modern culture is liberalization, individualization and self-reflectiveness. That's why we cannot negate modern culture totally. On the subject of criticism, it is good to have the discussion. What have been mentioned just now is an overall phenomena, it is not just a reaction to Chinese artists and the lack of self-reflectiveness and political positioning among cultural elites.
In China, people who are dealing with knowledge should seek the truth. How do we look at our own identity and how does such idea affects our existence and character? However, many people with knowledge, because of the existing education, only regards knowledge as a tool to compete with others for personal wealth and fame, this is really shameful.
If intellectuals withhold their opinion in major ethical issue, it would be a tragedy for the nation and its people. With the help of the internet and blog, I think people would slowly get used to such kind of expression. We have been deprived of the right of expression for a long time.
The debate between professional and commentators reminds me of the debate happened a hundred years ago over “problem” or “ideology”. We can't escape from current social issue and politics, we are all part of it, that's why we are eager to discuss the abstracted political concept. Maybe we are not very professional in our discussion, however, we cannot escape from our life and all the happenings. And we can't be professional in all aspects.
All the professionals in China are affected by politics. We see that the poisonous milk problem of Sanlu cannot be solved by professional doctors, the earthquake problem also cannot be solved by architects. Today, the death toll of children and their names in the earthquake are still national secret, cannot be disclosed. If we cannot even disclose the name of the dead, what is the issue at stake? It is not related to professional issue. If we cannot discuss what's behind “Soy pulp construction”, we cannot move forward. Although our paths have been blocked, we still need to go on, before we walk our way out, we will continue to explore all the possible tracks.
In the past two to three years, those commentators with professional background are really active. To most people, everything in the society will affect each of their life. Our common sense tells us, every member of the society will be affected by economic and legal incident, and everyone will react according to their common sense, experience and emotion. In the West, they have the idea of opinion leaders. This probably because of their professional background or probably based on the reaction of general public. If your commentary can reflect the feeling of ordinary people, that commentary would be valuable.
I want to talk about the brain-damage genre. I have been writing commentary at Beijing Youth Daily for 7-8 years, probably I am the most determined person sticking to this genre. It is very difficult to get commentary published on the front page headline. Commentary is very much framed by language, expression and space for free speech. Commentary on printed media cannot criticize “party”, all discussion would be automatically changed to the term “government”. If the term government becomes too sensitive, then we would change that into “administrative right”. After a long period of repressive environment, the person would probably become brain damaged.