Too Many English-Language China Blogs!?! Time For A Culling?

Too many English-language China blogs!

Note: I originally wrote this post last Friday. In retrospect, I seemed to have jinxed us.

One of our readers, Adam Daniel Mezei, who has been exceedingly generous with his praise of china/divide in the past, recent wrote a post on his blog bemoaning the glut of English-language China blogs, including his own. Ironically, I didn’t notice it until Richard Burger expressed understanding with anyone who was no longer following his Peking Duck blog, one of the oldest English-language China blogs that has over the past year fallen into inactivity due to him no longer being in China.

I have a huge “China” folder of RSS subscriptions in my Google Reader so I can definitely empathize with their sentiments about there being too many China blogs. Of course, it’s really just an example of the “information overload” the internet can be blamed for foisting upon modern society. It simply made sending and receiving information so easy. Nevermind our own proclivities to consume, horde, and feel insecure and uninformed otherwise.

“…scant more than than making noise and rattling people’s cages.”

Adam went on to offer two lists of criteria. One listed the things a “China blog” should have. The other listed the things it shouldn’t have, and suggested that those guilty of the second list should consider offing themselves (er, their blogs). He doesn’t name names of course but, for example, he claims he’d would off his own blog if he “thought for one second that [he was] doing scant more than than making noise and rattling people’s cages.” Surely he must know that others feel the same way about what they’re doing, right? Or if he’s referring to those who don’t, surely he must know they likely don’t care, right?

Either way, his post pissed of some people, which is understandable and could be seen from a distance. Who is he to tell anyone what a China blog should or shouldn’t have, should or shouldn’t be, right?

Well, in addition to having a grotesquely large list of subscriptions to all manner of “English-language China blogs”, I’ve been watching this little “market” for a long time, long before I ever started blogging myself. It’s certainly a niche market and while the size of the potential audience is growing with China’s increasing relevance and import in the world, it’s still a pretty small, limited audience dominated by expats and foreign visitors who necessarily seek out information about their surroundings in the language they’re most comfortable with. No surprise there, it’s just the way it is. How big is this available audience of people who are consistently keen to consume news and commentary about China and have the internet chops to find your China blog? Hard to say. Maybe you can ask the big boys like chinaSMACK, Shanghaiist, and Danwei what their traffic is.1

But, as a response to Adam, here are three thoughts on English-language China blogs in general:

First of all, there are really two kinds of blogs out there: personal and topical. The personal blog is ultimately about one person’s self-expression or self-actualization, and while anyone is welcome to witness it, its raison d’etre is not really dependent upon the audience it can garner. The topical blog, however, is. There is usually an explicit goal of building readership and reach with a defined target audience. for the express purpose of disseminating news or commentary to that audience, and influencing the people in it. If your blog is personal, you shouldn’t give a damn what others think or how redundant you are. If your blog is topical though, everyone benefits from you being a competitor and not just a participant.

Second, I don’t really care if people create their own “China blog”. It doesn’t really matter to me if they fail to produce any compelling content because I just won’t follow them. If they’re just sharing what they want and it doesn’t interest me, its not for me to care. If they’re trying to get me interested and fail, it’s not my problem. They’ll get my attention when they do. By all means, carry on.

However, third, I do care that there are a lot of writers, commentators, or “bloggers” with topical messages and perspectives that could — or should — get more attention but aren’t, simply due to purely logistical reasons2. They have something to share that a larger audience would find worthwhile to consume , but they simply don’t know how to get it in front of more people. If they don’t want to or don’t care to, fine, not my place to force them to do what they don’t want to. But if they do, then what?

Most of the time, their output is so irregular that I personally wish they’d dismantle their little independent fiefdom and join up with others to form one larger coagulated glob of awesome that updates more regularly. Of course, where this  glob of awesome begins and ends, and who decides, is the problem. With that comes issues of freedom, responsibility, and control. All understandable hesitations on the road towards coagulated awesome.

But there are arguably greater benefits for everyone involved. The available audience gets a single regularly-updated source for awesome material covering their topical interest, one banner to rally around their support, thereby ascribing more credibility, authority, and influence to that source overall, which benefits everyone contributing to that source.  It’s one of those “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” things. If nothing else, I’d rather recommend chinaSMACK over Veggie Discourse if someone wanted to read more translated Chinese internet material. Both have Chinese-to-English translations of Chinese internet material but honestly, which would be the better recommendation to neophyte?

Blogging, like commenting, is inherently narcissistic.

Blogging, like commenting, is inherently narcissistic. It hinges upon believing what you have to share is worth someone hearing it. Running a successful blog, however, is a lot more than just having something to share. Even with the plethora of blogging tools available, it’s a lot of technical know-how, design know-how, and marketing know-how to get people on your site and coming back to hear, discuss, and share what you write, opine, or pontificate. You’ll get what you put into it, both the rewards and the failure. You have to be both a creator and a manager so consider your aptitude and interest in filling both roles. There’s no big loss in time or money for you to start a blog that fails to attract an audience, but there may be a loss for everyone your stuff was cosmically meant to be exposed to.

If your goal is to get what you have to share in front of as many people as possible because you’re confident it is worth their attention, consider finding an established blog that already covers the topic/niche you want to write about, already has the right audience, and contribute it there. Get your name and work out there, build a reputation. When you think you’re ready to go at it alone, or start something of your own and fight everyone else for eyeballs, you’ll at least have people who care to follow where you’re going, people who aren’t just your friends and family, but people who know exactly what you have to offer them. Sure, you’re helping someone else in the process too, instead of building up fame and glory for your own website, but they’re also helping you.

Shop around, there’s an active, reputable topical China blog for just about anything. Have a translation piece you want to publish? If it’s about pop culture, try chinaSMACK or ChinaHush. If it’s more serious stuff, try Danwei, China Digital Times, or ChinaGeeks. Each of these blogs have become established for such content. Most of them command audiences and mainstream media attention that would take you a lot of time and a lot of blogging to build up. No translation, just an article about something related to China? China Real Time Report and The China Tracker not going to accept you without some credentials because they’re big bad established media brands? Not even the Huffington Post?((That’s strange.)) There’s Shanghaiist, Danwei again, and if your piece is particularly divisive and discussion-worthy, we shamelessly recommend submitting it to us here at china/divide.

If you want to share your life and call it a “China blog”, go ahead. If you don’t mind the narcissistic implications of believing you can put thoughts, emotions, and opinions about China in such a way that will help others better understand their own thoughts, emotions, and opinions, then seriously consider what options you have for getting your message out. If you care. The worst that can happen is you learning why no one will listen to you. But the best that can happen?

Bonus: See if you can identify every English-language China blog/website in the above collage. Apologies for the many people left out (as many were). There was only so much time I was wiling to commit to making it.


  1. Did I miss any other highly-trafficked English China blogs? Oh well, the rule of three is always good. []
  2. The opposite holds true as well. []


37 Comments

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  1. Maybe you can ask the big boys like chinaSMACK, Shanghaiist, and Danwei what their traffic is.

    I was curious so I looked it up. chinasmack currently leads with 75k unique visitors last march. not bad.

    • Kenneth

      Compete under-reports site statistics for all three sites because none of them have installed Compete analytics.

  2. Kai, looks you hit upon a few things already in discussion in the background. Question is, would you like participate in a group project? E-mail Adam or myself for details.

  3. I believe that by just focusing on the blogs, you are making the same mistake newspapers and other traditional media are making. You focus on a platform and then discuss why it is no longer working like it did, and possibly how you can get it back working.
    Reality is that platforms, whether they are newspapers, broadcasting stations, portals or weblogs, see an eroding capacity of keeping people’s attention. The rising number might be one argument for the weblogs, but much of the debate or conversations are looking for different tools: twitter, facebook, you name it.
    So, the question is no longer how to keep your platform working. You have to see how you can get the conversation going and for that you do need new ways of thinking.

  4. Just a small n.b. before I launch into my comments: Kai, personally, *this* right here is the reason I return to china/divide often…if I could write half as snappily as you, Charles, and Stan (and your coterie of stellar guest bloggers) do on a regular basis, I could then say I’m part of the legit Chinglosphere…for now, well…I’m just posing.

    Like I’ve said at my own blog, I still feel we’re on the cusp of something big (not huge, just big) here with the E-bang.

    What I definitely want to see is a Guide For the Perplexed. A kind of “Michelin Guide” for which E-bang blogs to signify tastiness, which boast top standards or world-class “cuisine,” versus some greasy spoon dive which consistently fails the city’s spot checks and doesn’t even deserve rank to appear in the guide, let alone the leaderboard.

    Some might say this already exists, albeit informally…if some crackerjack China-enthusiast comes into the picture today looking for a good job in the PRC, they click around and click on those Chinglosphere blogs which get the best Google juice. Those which don’t get good juice remain in continued obscurity.

    What we can’t deny, though, is the swirling redundancy. I think all concerned here in this debate realize there’s a growing need to organize this chaos.

    How?

    Well I gots ideas. I’ve suggested some of these before at my place, but I’ll bullet the best ones again here:

    ** an “OpenID” for the Chinglosphere. Get A-List blogs to participate in the program. Offer this “OpenID” access at your A-List site, but you’ve got to meet certain pre-approved criteria first. Then you know, because you can see the logo. Make sure it’s non-shanzhai-able.

    ** a system of “driver’s license”-type demerit points for drivel, racist screeds, and/or filler-type content: if you hit a certain number of demerits, you get demoted.

    ** a Board of Directors: the “Jedi Masters” of the Chinglosphere who will give their imprimatur to up-and-coming Chinglosphere blogs vying to join the ranks of the A-List, that rarefied air of vigorous Chinese blogging punditry.

    There are more, to be sure. But this is a good place to start.

  5. lolz

    As a reader I strongly agree with the need for good but irregular bloggers to come together and form bigger blogs. I don’t have all that much time to ferret all of the good nuggets out there and I suspect most readers feel the same way.

    There are already multiple successful models to follow up. You can always have the whole HuffPo/Red State model where you mass contributors/experts who share some sort of common grounds but are vastly different in thinking about the specifics.

    I am more interested in seeing something like Digg/Reddit where anyone can submit any China related content and the public will get to judge whether this piece of content is worthwhile enough to be prominent on the first page.

    • Terry

      lolz, doesn’t Hao Hao Report try to do something like that as a consolidator of sorts? I must admit I don’t view it as often as I should. I actually like Sinocism’s reading lists format to discover interesting stuff as well as Danwei’s must read China News links.

  6. Terry

    Excellent post Kai.

    I for one have long contemplated doing a blog most likely devoted to Recruitment in China and surrounding issues of organizational culture, regional prejudices in China and problems with the education system. I do fear that some of the things I would say or want to say may not be all that popular with potential clients or candidates even as I have observed a lot of ridiculousness over the past 15 years of recruitment in China and have some juicy stories.

    There is also another side of me who wants to wax lyrical about other subjects that interest me from Daoist influences in classic liberal thought, to philosophical anarchy, to observations and insights into changes in Chinese society based on 37 years of study and observation, to Austrian economic analysis on the nature of property and other bubbles in China.
    I do realize thought that things will get way too unfocused to hold reader’s attention.

    David Wolf also made a compelling argument in a comment on Facebook as to why write a blog, and that is that it is a great way to get your thoughts organized and to hone your writing skills.

    I applaud all those who spend the time and energy to write blogs and love stumbling on blogs that I hadn’t seen before. I enjoy the variety of voices but do have to cull my RSS Reader from time to time, and I like your suggestion of searching out an established name to start blogging under.

    The bottom line is that I fear I won’t have the energy and time to maintain a regular blog.

    p.s. does anyone know of any blog focusing on recruitment in China other than Larry Wang’s column in China International Business Magazine?

  7. Blogs in the collage (by row):
    China Law Blog, DigiCha, ? , CNReviews, ?
    Peking Duck, Evan Osnos, CDT, Sinocism, ?
    ESWN, Haohao report, WSJ, Imagethief, FoundinChina
    LostLaowai, ?, ?, ChinaHush, Shanghaiist
    c/d, Danwei, chinaSMACK, DigiCha again, WSJ again
    ?, ?, Granite Studio, ?, Me
    ?, Fool’s Mountain, James Fallows, GVO, ?

    Can anyone fill in the ?s for me?

  8. Damjan

    If a China blog was regularly updated by great writers, would you pay to read it?

  9. King Tubby

    Kai. Some pretty good points there. Bloggers are a pretty narcissistic lot….couldn’t agree more, and I include myself. Ego grows with anonymity.

    As for Damjam’s suggestion about paying. Can’t see it growing legs. People would simply start shopping around for another congenial free site.

    The technical skills and time required are major impediments for aspiring web lords.

    If one went with Adams merit/demerit system, I would also include -s for routinely rotten spelling and really torturous prose. A paper dictionary at hand never goes astray.

    Excessive civility is a big downer. Kills the fun of differences.

  10. As a blogger for the last 3-4 years on several platforms, and apart of the wider “blogger” community, I find this entire thing a bit too much.

    In part I think it pisses me off because the premise that there should be an A list reminds me of how important it was to have my locker next to the head cheerleader when I was in the 8th grade..

    .. in part it pisses me off because it is so unproductive to see these kinds of comments when ,as a blogger, I know how hard it can be to make time for writing and how little appreciation there is for the effort.

    So, here is what I propose

    First, the problem is not that there are too many blogs, it is that you are following too many of them because you (the reader) have no focus. That in the age of everything having a counter, the 14000 people you are following on twitter and the 250 China blogs you have feeding in is nothing more than your own garbage…. So, cut it down.

    Second.. show some restraint and focus. Saying there are too many China blogs is a statement without context, definition, or intent. Think there are too many sites that have become language bridges? ok, maybe I’ll agree. think there are too many snarky business blogs.. ok, perhaps you have a point.. but to say there are too many China blogs, and I would say that you suffer from problem #1

    Third… the best blogs for me are the ones that are inconsistent. The best (unpaid) writers have JOBS, and sometimes that WORK requires them to push back from the blog and focus on things that pay bills. But more importantly, it keeps things fresh. Were I not working, and just reading the NYT, then I would not have broken half the stories I have.. and my readers would not have received the same benefit.

    Anyway, I could go on with a few more, but I am not sure by doing so it would serve any real purpose. The problem is not that there are too many blogs, or even too many that suck, it is that you follow too many.. and too many that suck..

    So, drop me from your RSS feed and unfollow me on twitter if you like, but don’t expect me to drop off the map or join someone else’s platform

    They are my blgos, I’ll write if I want to, and I’ll write what I want to.

    • t.c.

      “The best (unpaid) writ­ers have JOBS, …” — How do you define “best” writers? “Best” to you could be the worse to others. Besides, most of them very likely don’t have real jobs. They are constantly vilifying Chinese government to get 10 cents, and calling others having different opinions “stoopid”.

      – Fenqing (憤青)

      • TC.

        That was my point. The “best” unpaid writers to me are people who are not sitting behind their computers without something to do, but are working on projects, out in the field, in the shit, whatever… generally are in a position to where they are absorbing data and brain candy from places other than an electronic source.

        The provide content. Not filter it.

        Others may disagree. Others may like someone who reads 50 blog posts and articles, and then picks on (or more) to comment on and recommend to their community.

        Neither should be begrudged. Both serve a function.

        • Richard, who do you think is begrudging the blogger who has a day job? I certainly don’t begrudge them. I merely suggest that if they’re keen to get greater exposure and reach, it may make sense for them to go through more established blogs that do a number of things to maintain larger audiences.

          If they value control of their own blog or blogging alone over immediate reach, then the choice is obvious: keep doing whatever makes you happy. I don’t think asking someone to consider what their goals in blogging are and offering alternatives should be interpreted as begrudging them anything.

          • Kai.

            I don’t think I said you were begrudging anyone. I said that there are different platforms, and none of them should be begrudged. It was a comment made really in response to the comments of others, and the original posts elsewhere more than your own comments (which I largely agree with).

            With regard to agreeing to self aggregation, that is something I guess every blogger can sign up to (I tried that on 1 occasion), but personally I never saw any benefit. The site that I was listed on got all the traffic from the writing, made money from that, and once they had the traffic the “need” equation changed.

            What you have put together here – were the blog set up with 3-4 people who decided to share the burden as a way to make sure what they were writing was fresh – is different, and I generally think that is a fine idea. That is working together to build something together.

            Again, my main beef with this is that this is a problem of the user, not the creator. There are going to be bloggers that go for mass linky love, and those that go for niche.. and it is the responsibility of the reader to decide who to follow.

            R

          • Richard,

            Word, thanks for the clarification.

    • Couldn’t agree more. I remember sitting in a small community theatre/cafe once, there wasn’t a soul there apart from me but it was a great spot and I still remember my quiet afternoons there. A few years ago now it was closed down, didn’t make enough money. I have a small blog that I enjoy doing, its generally a hobby I turn to towards the end of my week when I have more time- I go on the basis that I like doing it and if one person gets something from it then happy days. ps. I am not sure I need anybody to tell me what’s an a-list blog, I think I might just be able to work out my own tastes for myself. Quite amusing really.

    • At the risk of sounding like a Friedmanite, I agree with Richard, the onus is definitely on the user — I like the freemarket of ideas that has formed with blogs over the last few years — consolidation and self/community-pruning would only serve to hurt that IMO.

      I think everyone and anyone should post whatever the hell they want. Good, bad, naive, repetitive, the same thing long-timers read 4 years ago, the same thing the Times said last week. Whatever. The minute we start structuring things into the way we feel would best serve the community, or adding a hierarchy to control it, we reinstate the constructs that nearly killed traditional media before they adopted many of the freedoms that have made blogging and new media such a force.

      I do agree that tools for finding things in this mass of information is good though. Hence why I spend so much time working on #12 in your collage Kai (cheers for that, btw).

  11. hm

    waiting on a post about foxconn …

  12. Dan Gilroy

    Does anyone know of any blogs that show the latest advertising in China?

    Thanks in advance.

  13. I find it all too fascinating that hardly anyone seems/seemed to notice just how much this call for fewer voices is like the whole quarrel between China and the West: do you want peace and quiet, a.k.a. harmony, or do you want freedom (which can mean a jungle to slough through).

    I guess my blog, as a language lecturer in China, cultural anthropologist and ecologist, could be a bit more focused. That would probably make it easier to find and consider interesting. When, however, is a person focused, and when a Renaissance uomo universale? Adam has given us a few suggestions for A-list blogs, but seriously, I dunno.
    I enjoy chinalawblog for the legal side of things, speakingofchina for the personal memoir. Admittedly, a blog that is something of a collage of both would be wack (and now I sure wonder what my blog looks like to others…), but even an A-list including both would seem strange.
    It takes all kinds to make a world.

    Just might have to try to write up something good and submit it to china/divide or others, though…

Continuing the Discussion