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31 July 2008

A hundred million blogs

China and the world wide web

By Adam Lewitt

China leads the world in numbers of web users, with the government claiming more than 253 million (ahead of the US, with 223 million), a lead that will increase, given that only 19 per cent of China’s population is online (compared to 70 per cent in the US). Much of this growth can be attributed to the popularity of blogs, of which, according to the government, there are some 107 million. (The most visited blog in the world is that of the Chinese actress Xu Jinglei, which has received more than 174 million visits over the past few years.) Most are in Chinese, but a thriving English-language blogosphere has developed.

Roland Soong is the undisputed doyen of bloggers. Based in Hong Kong, which, unlike the mainland, is relatively free of censorship, Soong spends four to eight hours a day translating other blogs, Chinese media and poetry. His weblog, EastSouthWestNorth (www.zonaeuropa.com/weblog.htm), is an indispensable resource for any journalist, activist or tourist wishing to get to grips with the fluid unpredictability of Chinese politics and culture. Soong is a digital megaphone for a nation’s bloggers, vastly expanding their audience by making it available to English speakers. See, for example, his post-earthquake output of eyewitness reports (www.zonaeuropa.com/20080602_1.htm). EastSouthWestNorth is a first port of call.

http://www.danwei.org also translates Chinese media. Run by a Beijing-based team, it offers a slightly less idiosyncratic selection of material than Soong, but will be useful for below-the-radar news stories during the Olympics.

http://jamesfallows.theatlantic.com maintains a must-read blog on Chinese affairs. Based in Beijing in the run-up to the Olympics, the veteran US journalist James Fallows is strong on science and technology. He systematically debunks the many stereotypes that westerners hold about China.

Rebecca MacKinnon offers a more academic insight into the country’s media output at http://rconversation.blogs.com/ rconversation. A former head of CNN’s Beijing bureau and currently assistant professor of journalism at Hong Kong University, with an academic speciality in web rights and new media, MacKinnon closely monitors the state of censorship in the blogosphere.

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