Michael Anti: Blogging the gap between China and Japan

At the end of a three-month stay in Japan as a visiting fellow at the University of Tokyo, Michael Anti, the Chinese journalist, researcher, media activist and blogger, talked to GV Japan about his current mission: facilitating understanding between Japan and China.

Michael Anti

Real China, according to Anti, is the one that shows through the Chinese blogs, bulletin boards and independent Internet media whose authors are often professional journalists, and it has nothing to do with the one propagandized by the government through the “standard” media.
But the Japanese media has yet to understand the lesson.
Stuck in their old (almost obsolete) system, they don't trust the Internet media, and of course they would never rely on bloggers to get their news. And there's the rub! You cannot think to report on what really happens in China unless you turn your attention away from propaganda to people's voices.
And vice versa. The Chinese people will understand Japan only when they stop reading biased bulletin boards like 2channel and visit Japan.

With wit and humor, Michael Anti explained to us why the Chinese and Japanese bloggers are the diplomats of the future.

What was the purpose of your trip, and what did you accomplish?

My trip was designed to advocate the Japanese government in the mainstream media and people to build up the connection with Chinese civil society. For a long time, I think the Japanese society has been disconnected from the Chinese civil society, especially after the Internet became very influential in China. Since in Japan there are no connections between the Internet society, the government, and the mainstream media, when Japanese mainstream media uses the same mindset to look into the Chinese civil society, they will ignore any change in the Internet based civil society. So, my trip wanted to change this a little bit.

As a result, I talked to many people in the media, many politicians, and all the “big” bloggers and Japanese people. I think I changed some of their ideas. Now, we will do some more activities in the next year; for example, inviting Chinese bloggers to visit Japan. And there will be other initiatives like this to give more chances to both sides to understand each other better.

Is there anything that disappointed you, coming here?

The only disappointing thing was that I have left my wife for two months. And two cats. I’m really missing them. I don’t think Japan can give me them!

Was there something that surprised you?

First of all, I can’t speak Japanese… Even in Beijing, my job is writing a column about international topics. Except Japan, because I don’t speak Japanese. My knowledge about Japan comes from the textbooks or the mainstream media in China. Even in English.
But the problem is, that the textbooks in China and everything about Japan were discontinued in 1945. So I know everything about Japan before 1945. This time, I really witnessed a Japan that’s post 1945. And this Japan is a democracy, which makes me really happy. It’s a very nice place, a peaceful place. This trip changed a lot of my biases about Japan. Because you know, all the ideas about Japan are a mixture of rumors and the textbooks about wartime Japan. So, it surprised me. Japan is a normal democracy. Also, Japan has conservatives, like the rightists. But this kind of rightists are not like the picture which I got about Japan in China, which is about wartime military guys. It’s the same as the tea party in the United States! We’re not scared of them. So, this is a normal society. A normal democracy, which even includes normal conservatives. And of course, normal stupidity.

How about China instead?

The Chinese government wants to control and censor the Internet but the important thing is that Internet in China has already changed the Chinese media and society so deeply. So now, a major story doesn’t come from the government side but from the civil society side. That means that the civil society in China speaks louder.
The problem is that the Chinese traditional media are very successful in connecting with the Internet and the mainstream media are very connected. So that’s the thing that the Japanese media should know because now most of the best journalist and editors are bloggers.
I think in China there is a very strong censorship to prevent some risk. But here it’s different. You have the kisha club

What do you think Chinese should know about Japan, that they can’t know because, as you said, the Japanese mainstream media?

The disconnection between the two countries. So, there are two sides. The first side is, the textbook doesn’t teach much and we have propaganda from the government so the Japanese media doesn’t get enough coverage about real, contemporary Japan. But also the disconnection comes from the Japanese side. The Japanese are not too good about talking about themselves in other languages. Their foreign language skills are very bad, few people speak English, right? So, I think both sides have their part [in the communication gap].

Now that you’re going back to China, if you had a conference right now, what would be the first message you give to your audience?

Please go to Japan!
That’s the first step. Sometimes, the media can only give you a certain perspective. For example, referred to one moment of the society. Sometimes, you may have 100 news reports, but even if they are direct and correct, a real trip is more important. Please go to Japan! Japan is the country that [the Chinese people] don’t know, that they don’t understand. I mean the real Japan, not the one written in the textbooks and Chinese media. So that’s the message. Please go to Japan!

What would be your advice to Japanese media to improve the connection to Japanese civil society?

The Internet will be the future king. It’s very important because there is a big disconnection between civil society and traditional media in Japan. That’s weird. In major countries, this is not the case. I think it’s because now, the traditional media are too happy to live in a heaven. Protected by the law, the government, and the kisha club.

Do you think things will change?

I think things are going to change because young people stopped reading newspaper. So please be nice to your own Internet society, that’s my advice. Because after you understand the relationship between your civil society and the Internet society, you will understand what we did in China.
China has already become an Internet-era-China. Japan is still now in a pre-Internet era. It’s like if we’re talking to the ancient people. There is this disconnect in eras and times.

Will you miss Japan?

Yes, I'll miss its ramen!

Michael Anti tweets in Chinese at @mranti.

This interview was conducted by Scilla Alecci, Tomomi Sasaki, and Chris Salzberg. Scilla and Tomomi co-wrote the post.


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