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Behind the Chinese blogging boom

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Kato Yoshikazu (加藤嘉一) is a journalist studying at Peking University's School of International Studies. He's been active in Sino-Japanese scholarly exchange activities and writes extensively on the exchange student experience, international relations, and a wide variety of other topics.

Among other online outlets, he writes a column for FT Chinese and keeps a blog of his own on iFeng.

In the following column from the current issue of Oriental Outlook, Kato discusses the rise of blogging in China:

Why is blogging so hot in China?

by Kato Yoshikazu / OO

With the Spring Festival nearing, I've been invited to parties thrown by the blog departments of a few Internet media companies. I'm pretty introverted and don't usually like that sort of thing, so I felt pretty uncomfortable at first. But having gone to few, I gradually realized through careful observation that the blog party is a particularly Chinese form of gathering.

First off, the attendees came from a wide variety of backgrounds: academics and lawyers, soldiers and artists, reporters and bureaucrats. Second, guests held quite lively viewpoints and opinions, making it unlike a typical Chinese meeting. Communication between different stations and exchange of different ways of thinking: I profited quite a bit from this.

This experience started me thinking: why is blogging so hot in China?

According to a set of statistics I consulted, the number of bloggers in China exceeded 100 million in 2007. Phenomenally-popular finance blogger Xu Xiaoming was the "hit king" of Chinese blogs in 2008 with 355 million hits. Other statistics predict that between 2012 and 2015, China will see blogs with hit counts of 1 billion.

Blogs actually have a history in China of only five years, more or less, so this pace of growth is astonishing. Two other points are surprising in addition to speed. First, diversity of blogger identity: both experts and non-experts are active in this medium of social exchange. Second, openness of blogger identity: celebrities as well as ordinary people are open about their identities and blog under their real names.

Although my homeland of Japan has around 10 million bloggers, in my observation, they are not as diverse in their social participation, and far fewer of them are open about their identity when they express their opinions.

Why are blogs so big in China? In my view, there are three main reasons:

First, the era of the Internet and the growth of netizens. China's online population reached 253 million in 2007 and is currently around 300 million. Such a foundation provides unprecedented space for the growth and development of blogs. The growth potential for new media on the Internet is obvious when compared to traditional media like television and newspapers.

Second, the respect major Internet media have for blogs as tools as evidenced by their active construction of blogging platforms.

Blog departments at major websites, as I understand it, are outfitted with a sizeable staff that is divided into teams according to subjects like politics, economics, society, entertainment, culture, and history. With one eye on societal trends and international conditions, they set up relevant feature topics to which they promote profound and penetrating blog posts. Posts promoted in this way, if they agree with netizens' tastes, will quickly climb to reach ten thousand, a hundred thousand, a million, or even ten million hits.

Behind China's blog boom is what I like to call a "three-in-one" promoter: the interests of media that hope to increase their influence and profit by blog promotion, bloggers who want to increase their exposure and enjoy their right to speak through the promotion of their blogs, and readers who want to broaden their knowledge and connections through promoted blogs are joined into one unit. I am highly dubious of a direct correspondence between "hit rate" and profundity.

Third, blogs satisfy the information needs of Chinese readers, who are new media consumers. Speaking of the demands of readers, European, American, and Japanese readers particularly enjoy reading the findings of independent journalism: political scandals or major corporate fraud, for example. However, my own investigations have shown that Chinese readers seem to be more excited about various perspectives on major social issues and problems. Perhaps you could call the former an attention to detail, while the latter is a propensity for the big picture.

Hence it's not difficult to understand how blogs fit comfortably into a Chinese environment. They exist against the backdrop of a swiftly-growing Internet that exerts a massive influence on society, and they have become incorporated into public opinion. They closely examine societal trends and reader demands, and they drive forward relevant debate as they seek out ways to grow.

China therefore has blogs with Chinese characteristics, a special phenomenon that is a product of a particular developmental stage and transitional environment. To a certain degree, they are one of the best ways of looking at contemporary Chinese society. Apart from the ideas of the "state" and the "people" that they represent, I am more interested in the "societal" dimension that is now gradually taking shape. If Chinese bloggers one day number 1 billion hits, it will have a far-reaching influence on China's future.

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There are currently 6 Comments for Behind the Chinese blogging boom.

Comments on Behind the Chinese blogging boom

Nice job on this, interesting, thanks for sharing. Does that number include both Chinese and English/other language blogs in China? I guess the former is more important and sheds more light on this trend, but was just curious. Thanks again.

According to the most recent statistics by CNNIC, there were 162 million Chinese bloggers as of the end of 2008. This is the most authoritative source of statistics but that doesn't mean it should be believed 100%.

I've posted a translation of the summary of this report, including some of the high-level stats on Chinese internet use.

Scott, I haven't seen anything yet to indicate that they are excluding blogs of other languages in the stats. However, I haven't done the whole report yet. I think I'll have time to translate the rest of the report during Spring Fest.

Hallo, thanks for your passage. and i am curious what kinds of the blog parties are? which is main blogger or website in china mainland? Many bloggers in china are written only in Chinese. it's Hard to communicate with people from different coutries, then it cause some different conflicts.

The author of this piece is talking about year-end parties thrown by blog service providers (I'd guess he's referring to major portals like Sina, Sohu, Netease, and maybe specialized blogging hosts like Blogbus) where the attendees are mostly bloggers themselves. But bloggers get together for meetups at other times, too.

@Scott Sykes -

I am afraid it is a matter of no significance whether English language blogs are counted or not. From my observations: we are a tiny minority in China and we command such a small readership compared to the Chinese language blogs that our numbers can be ignored without any impact in the final result.

How critical are these blogs of Chinese society? How critical are they allowed to be? What kind of censorship do they attract, or do the authorities generally ignore them?

Ray

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