(photo courtesy Aether Woo) Portnoy Cheng speaks - we listen...
This is a picture from our panel titled "From China to the World, From the World to China." I introduced the panel by talking about the serious imbalance of global information flows. Multinational media organizations are largely based in the West and for this reason, you have a heavy flow of information going from the West to the rest of the world, countered by a relative trickle going back from the rest of the world to the West. Until recently, if you felt that the global media was misrepresenting your country and your people (or ignoring your country completely), there wasn‘t much to be done unless you had the power to influence a lot of Western journalists and get them to interview you. Now people all around the world are taking matters into their own hands and blogging their own perspectives, in some cases with the express purpose of informing the outside world about their country in ways that the mainstream media fails to do. Global Voices is trying to aggregate many of these blogs. I invited our panelists to talk about the ways in which different projects are trying to improve communication between the Chinese blogosphere and the rest of the world.
Unfortunately I couldnt take detailed notes because I was on stage doing the panel. But here's the basic gist:
Isaac Mao talked about how the international media covers China in a limited way that many Chinese people feel is biased and unfair. Blogs, he believes, are an important way for people to take matters into their own hands and represent themselves. He eloquently explained why it's important for Chinese bloggers to think more globally, and consider their power as media creators to make a difference in the way that the rest of the world understands them.
Frank Dai talked about how the biggest obstacle to communication isnt so much language, it's the difference in perspective. He started blogging in English last year and communicating with people around the world, and he found that they tended to be interested in some of the things he had to say, but not others, which left them still with a skewed picture.
Portnoy, founder of the Global Voices Chinese translation project, talked about why he started translating GV's roundups that summarize and link to blog posts around the world. He said that while Taiwan has a high amount of free speech, speech in Taiwan actually has very low credibility. Taiwan's media reports very little about the outside world. So he decided last year to start translating posts from GV, then it expanded into a group translation project involving bloggers in Taiwan, mainland China and Hong Kong. He welcomes more people to help.
Chow Sze Cheng then introduced the new project, Interlocals.net, a new multilingual blogging platform run out of Hong Kong, with contributors all around the region. He says a major challenge is trying to find ways to make the lives and experiences of individuals in one country relevant to people in other countries - and worth their attention. They are working on different ways to connect conversations about common experiences, like urban renewal and the the social conflicts such policies generate in lots of different countries, to give one example.
Global Voices' John Kennedy then spoke about how he finds Chinese blogs to translate. It's not an easy job given how many blogs there are in China today. So aside from his Bloglines aggregator, He relies heavily on people sending him interesting links. He also leans heavily on the new，rebel-spirited Chinese blog aggregator www.bullog.cn... which makes a deliberate point of highlighting voices that don't appear on the commercial blog sites like Sina.com, which mainly invite celebrities to blog and then feature those blogs, rather than amplifying interesting new voices from the grassroots.
There wasn't too much time for discussion, but a couple of people raised interesting questions about the ability of any of these projects to be much more objective or balanced about China than the international media currently is. Might they just replace old biases with new kinds of bias? I responded that there is no way that any of these projects will make everybody happy. What has changed is that there is no scacity in terms of media creation. We shouldn't be the only people trying to facilitate communication between the Chinese blogosphere and the rest of the world. The more people are out there trying to create communication bridges between China and the rest of the world, the harder it will be for anybody's bias or perspective to dominate. What has been done so far is really only just a very small start, and much much more needs to be done.