Trying to understand Zuola’s old and new roles as citizen reporter or network engineer, we should consult another important contributor to CNBloggerCon, the Hongkong-based Sino-American Roland Soong. Unfortunately, Soong had to cancel his trip to the conference for private reasons, so he published his announced talk on his blog, the legendary EastSouthWestNorth.
Soong is one of the most important ‘bridge bloggers’, crossing the all-important language boundary between the Chinese Internet community and western readers with carefully selected translations of chinese language blog and forum entries. In his talk he reflects on his work and what has changed over the last five years. There are too many valuable and fascinating insights in Soong’s talk to summarize it fairly. I can only recommend to read it thoroughly. Instead I want to focus on one aspect I find particularly intriguing.
Soong is giving a process model of how the Internet has changed the way information on certain ‘bad events’ is handled in China, opening the possibility that even under strict media control this information is brought to the public and ‘official’ attention and may finally cause some change for the better.
The most interesting part here is the change Soong has observed during the last five years: It seems that in the beginning it was necessary that western media responded to the events, scandalized them, and by doing this increased the pressure on chinese institutions to respond properly.
This, according to Soong, is no longer the case. He mainly attributes this change to a loss of credibility and legitimacy of the western point of view. Chinese ordinary citizens as well as officials can successfully point to US human right violations, to the disastrous effects of a failed western financial systems, to a generally distorted media reporting on the chinese situation, if they want to discredit the western attempts to judge chinese goings-on.
That is quite certainly a valid argument. But there is more to the changes than that. In spite of some problematic developments in the chinese community that Soong meticulously notes, like the poisonous polarization into ‘leftists’ (chinese nationalists) and ‘rightists’ (pro-western liberals) or the influence of planted rumour on the public discussion, the development also shows a certain degree of maturity developing in the chinese public discourse.
Five years ago, I had the missionary complex that I was going to help change China by getting the western media interested in certain matters and hence create international pressure. Maybe good things will occur as a result.
Today, I no longer have any sense of mission. Instead, I am a passive observer who is recording how the Chinese people are forging their own destinies by their own actions.
He then quotes a beautiful stanza from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (Go to his talk and read it there!), to illustrate the point that the development of a public sphere in China may be no longer dependent on its reflex in foreign opinion. I only hope this doesn’t mean giving up the challenge of dialogue.