Archive for ‘interviews’

Friday, June 12, 2015

The BoZhu Interviews: If you want to Believe the Best or the Worst about China, it’s easy enough –

Ji Xiang about getting started with China, stereotypes, and finding a balance between Chinese and Western ways of life.

Ji Xiang is a blogger from Europe who lives in China. In his first blog post, in 2008, he explained how he got his Chinese name. And he is probably one of very few foreign China bloggers who started blogging almost right on arrival in the country, and have kept to the habit ever since.

Q: Ji Xiang, you are Chinese by name, but you are actually from Europe, right?

That’s right. My mom’s British, and my dad’s Italian. I grew up in Italy, although I have also lived in Britain. It’s not too obvious unless you look at my blog very carefully though. Interestingly, some of my readers have assumed I was American in the past.

Q: Could that be because your stance comes across as more “pro-Western” than that of most sinologists or Westerners who speak Chinese? It seems to me that both Foarp and you stand out as rather critical of what might be called “cultural relativism”, or a preparedness to find human rights violations tolerable because of a country’s culture, a “situation on the ground”, etc.

Well, I’m not sure if that makes you seem more like an American or not. Foarp is after all British. But to be honest, I think a lot of Westerners who speak Chinese have the same sort of opinions as I do. I don’t think of myself as “pro-Western” really, I am quite aware of all the bad things Western countries have done around the world, and the shortcomings of the “West” (if there really is such a thing as the West. But that’s another debate). But that doesn’t necessarily mean being pro-Chinese.

When it comes to human rights violations, I don’t really buy cultural justifications. I mean, East Asian countries like Japan and South Korea have created systems where basic human rights are respected, so it obviously isn’t only Western countries which can reach that point. The argument that human rights have to be put aside when a country is still poor and developing is more complicated. I think certain basic rights, like the right not to disappear, be tortured or speak your mind without going to jail, should be respected, and I don’t think the right to have a full belly clashes with these other rights.

There might however be a good argument for not holding elections in countries where most of the people are illiterate, or divided along ethnic or tribal lines. Say in Yemen or Burkina Faso. Even in Arab countries, it is clear that elections often bring religious fundamentalists to power.

Q: You went to China as a teacher in 2005, and came back to the country as a student. How did you get interested in China? You’ve spent a number of years there now, haven’t you?

I actually taught in China in 2004, and that was just for a summer. I then went back to China because I got a scholarship to get a master’s degree there. I have spent over six years in China by now.

Q: Was 2008 a good time to start a blog? You might have started one in 2005, the heydays of the (English-language) “Chinese blogosphere”. Was there a key moment where you felt that you should share your experiences, which got your blog started?

Well in 2005 I didn’t live in China, and had only spent a few months there. I had no basis for writing a blog about it. I only discovered recently that that was supposed to be the heyday of the “Chinese blogosphere”. Pity I missed it. I started my blog when I started living in China full-time. In the beginning, it was mainly to share my experiences with my family and friends back home. Now it’s turned more into a blog of commentary about China.

Q: Do the statistics or feedback give you an idea about who your readers are?

A bit. Most of my hits are from the United States, but I think that might be to do with the fact that most of the VPNs people use in China redirect there. Curiously, I also seem to have a lot of readers from Germany, Ukraine and Russia (well, you are one of the ones from Germany). Other than that, my most read posts are the ones with titles which people can come across randomly on Google.

Q: Apart from the blogs your blogroll, are there others – about China or other countries and topics – that you read regularly?

To be honest, not really. I mostly look at those few blogs on China which are on my blogroll (which includes your one). And there is my uncle’s blog, he lives in Israel and blogs about his life there and Israeli topics.

Q: Did family history contribute to your interest in China?

Not really. I don’t have any relatives who have lived or live in China. Having said that, the first time I came to China was with my parents. They are active in the international Esperanto movement, and in 2004 the World Esperanto Congress was in Beijing, so they were going to China to attend it and I went with them. That’s when I first got interested in China. Being able to speak Esperanto helped plug me in to the community of Chinese Esperanto speakers, which has been a nice way to get to know some cool, unusual Chinese people.

Q: Most bloggers will sometimes be surprised by the responses a post of them triggers. Have there been reactions and comments that surprised you during the past seven years?

After visiting Vietnam, I wrote a post on why the Vietnamese dislike China. It got quite a few reactions from Vietnamese readers, most of them proving my original point. One of them actually claimed that Daoism, the I Ching and the idea of Ying/Yang originally came from Vietnam and not from China. Total nonsense as far as I know. Unfortunately unreasonable nationalism is widespread throughout Asia. At its basis lies a wall of mental rigidity and misinformation which is very hard to break through.  Then again, Europe was probably similar up until the Second World War. And Westerners have their own unreasonable prejudices, just look at the persistence of antisemitic tropes among some people, or how so many Europeans will complain that immigrants get more benefits from the state than locals even when it just isn’t true.

Q: It seems that you’ve got most of your Chinese education in the North. Is that so, and do you think it differs from learning Chinese language, ways of interaction, etc., in the South?

You are correct. Although I’ve traveled all over China, I live in Beijing. It’s a stereotype to say that the North is best for learning to speak Mandarin, but actually I think you can learn just as well in most big Southern cities, because nowadays most people speak it there too. I think the Southern Chinese do tend to be a bit more like we imagine the Chinese to be (quiet, indirect, reserved), but in the main I don’t think the cultural difference between Northern and Southern China is that huge. It might not even be as big as the one between Northern and Southern Italy! Whether you live in a small or a big city, and a rich or a poor part of China, probably makes more difference to your experience. But I’ve never lived in Southern China, so I stand to be corrected.

Q: How would you describe your daily life? Is it becoming still more “Chinese”, concerning your choice of food, newspapers, internet sources, or television?

In some ways I am, and in some ways I’m not. I would say that my lifestyle has stopped becoming more Chinese for a while. In fact, after an initial enthusiasm for “going native”, which many foreigners have at first, I think I have found a balance. In a city like Beijing you can find loads of foreign amenities, and it would be silly not to make use of them. On the other hand I wouldn’t want to live in a bubble like some expats do. It really comes down to who you hang out with, and I still hang out with lots of Chinese.

When it comes to food I am pretty Chinese: I like eating Chinese food when it’s properly made, and I even do my best to cook it at home. I have long stopped eating street food or patronizing cheap, hole-in-the-wall type places though, because of concerns about the hygiene and the quality. Many Chinese seem to have come to the same conclusion. Foreigners who pride themselves on being able to eat in such places without minding the consequences are either young foreign-exchange students, or they are pretty dimwitted.

When it comes to media, I still look at Chinese newspapers every now and again to see what they say, but for real news I mostly turn to foreign sources. Of course the language is one issue (it is obviously still much quicker for me to read in English or Italian), but also I think the European media is just superior in terms of giving you a decent picture of what goes on in the world, and, when it comes to sensitive issues, even in China! Same for entertainment: although I sometimes watch Chinese shows and films, in the main I still watch far more foreign ones. I make full use of Chinese internet sites like Baidu or Weibo though.

Q: Do you see changes on Weibo, in terms of real-name requirement, censorship, etc.?

When I got an account in 2011, it still wasn’t necessary to give your ID/passport number. As far as I know now it is, although I have heard you can still get away with giving a false one. In any case, I am sure that if they really want to they can find out who you are.

Q: Generally, when reading your blog, I got an impression overtime that you might think of China as a project, as a country or civilization headed into a rather benign future, compared with Western societies. And on the other hand, your criicism of China, or its political system, sounds pretty much like the general global criticism of it. Is this an accurate impression?

I’m not entirely sure where you got that impression from. I have unquestionably been getting more pessimistic about China, its system and its prospects over the last few years. I think to an extent the current system is geared in such a way that China always gives the impression to outsiders that it’s almost on the cusp of becoming a decent, progressive, modern and confident society, but then it never quite does. I think the political system is good at producing GDP growth, but pretty hopeless at solving the country’s huge social problems. Yes, China has more and more subways and high speed railways, and that’s useful and good for the people, but surely a country like China could do so much better than just that?

I hope China gets better with time, but I don’t think it’s a given that, if you wait 20 or 30 years, it’s all going to be much better. That’s how a lot of Chinese seem to think: just wait a few decades, and everything will solve itself. Unfortunately it’s not that simple.

I think my criticism is also a bit different from that of someone who’s never lived in China, because I am far more aware of aspects like the rise of Chinese nationalism, which many foreign commentators seem blissfully unaware of.

Q: That unawareness seems to be quite a phenomenon. This is what Bruce Anderson (himself not necessarily a human-rights champion) said about Edward Heath, in a BBC radio documentary. Former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt might be another case in point.

Is there something Russia (for example) could learn from China, in terms of soothing external propaganda, or winning influential people over abroad?

Well, Chinese officials certainly are very good at flattering foreign visitors, saying the right things to them, and appearing reasonable and friendly. I don’t have much experience with the Russians, but I doubt they are as good at it. It’s probably not something you can learn either, it’s deep-rooted in the culture.

You have to remember that most Westerners know little about China, and obviously want to be open-minded. The unawareness of the rise of Chinese nationalism probably also lies in the fact that China does tend to leave other countries alone, as long they don’t have any territorial disputes with China of course, and as long as they don’t express any views on what China defines as its “internal affairs”. Of course China’s neighbours are very aware of its nationalistic side, especially the ones which have territorial disputes with it. But people in other parts of the world don’t get to see this side of things. And its not obvious to the casual visitor either.

The European media also focuses too much on the Middle East and almost never talks about Asia’s potentially explosive problems, like the dispute in the South China Sea and the anti-Japanese feeling in China or Korea. The only thing they ever talk about is the issue of Tibet, which has certainly damaged China’s image.

Then again, the real issue is one of projection. Many left-wing Westerners are predisposed to think well of any power which challenges the United States anywhere, regardless of what it really is or does. If you want to believe the best about China (or the worst for that matter), and you don’t live there, it’s easy enough. Right wingers on the other hand may see China’s rise as a vindication of free market economics, or god knows what. Everyone sees what they want to see in China, and no one knows much about it. This has always been the case.

Q: Do you have arguments with Chinese nationalists?

Well, in a sense I do, because I have political arguments with people in China, and most Chinese are nationalists at some level, although the level varies. The level of open-mindedness towards opinions which clash with modern Chinese nationalism, as the schools and media have constructed it, also varies. I know many Mainlanders who are perfectly open minded even about issues like Taiwan, and don’t just toe the line. I think they are a minority however. And by the way, they aren’t necessarily the people with most international exposure. On the other hand if you are talking about dyed-in-the-wool fenqing, rational debate is all but impossible.

Q: You have blogged in English for nearly seven years, and quite recently, you have also started a blog in Italian. What’s next? A blog in Chinese?

My written Chinese is really not good enough to blog in it. I would actually be more likely to start a blog in Esperanto, a language I also speak.

Q: Ji Xiang, thanks a lot for this interview.

The interview was conducted by an exchange of e-mails.



All BoZhu Interviews


Friday, December 14, 2012

The BoZhu Interviews: Germany’s and Japan’s post-war image –

Tai De about war crimes, popular narratives, foreignness, and soft power


« Previous Interview: MKL, July 13, 2012


The following is a spontaneous, unplanned BoZhu interview with Tai De, a civil servant from Verden. It’s actually the second interview with him, after a more general one about his blog, about a year ago.

Tai De studied history. His pattern of thought is that of a historian – but he wants me to write a word of warning in advance: he is no particular “expert” on Japan or on the Far East.

Our interview – originally rather a discussion – came up this afternoon after I listened to the memories of William Shawcross, son of the British chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, on Radio Australia‘s shortwave service this afternoon.

Q: When listening to Anglo-American media, I’m getting the impression that we (Germans) get away with a much more positive image despite the Nazi crimes and WW2, than them (the Japanese). What’s your impression?

A: Quite so.

Q: Do you have an explanation for that?

A: I don’t think there’s that one explanation which can say it all.

Q: To start with something: do the Americans or British see Germans as part of the family? Sort of distant relatives? Like: “Yes, they committed heinous crimes, but …”

A: The outset after the war was the same after VE day and VA day, in terms of geostrategic interest – America needed West Germany, and America needed Japan. Britain didn’t mind an anti-Soviet bulwark in central or Europe either. I can’t generalize Anglo-American perceptions of either Germans or Japanese people. But as far as my favourite trash history novelist is concerned, …

Q: … Alexander Kent, …

A: … you can sense his attitude towards the Japanese – I think I can, anyway. I may be wrong, of course.

Q: German gentleman criminals, Japanese low-class criminals?

A: Oh, he definitely doesn’t get trapped in that kind of concept. But there’s that Japanese foreignness. And there’s that incredible Japanese brutality against allied prisoners of war – and the brutality of their warfare.

Q: German crimes were no smaller, were they?

A: No, they weren’t smaller. The German war was a war of extermination.  The industrialized annihilation of millions of people. But when it comes to our international image, a lot of that brutal German energy was directed against Germans, not Americans or British people.  The annihilation of Jews in particular, but other minorities, too. And communists, social democrats, also very blanketly.  As far as Alexander Kent is concerned, you also see a clear division of roles, in Germany’s case. The basically good – and very brave – Wehrmacht or navy officer on the one hand, and the coward, brutal, lower-class Gestapo policeman or SS man on the other. You don’t have that difference when it comes to the depiction of Japan. There’s no “Samurai”, no gentleman warrior. And if there was a “Samurai” depiction, it would have to be the kind of perpetrator who’d behead American or British POW from the platform of a truck, just by holding his sword out while passing rows of POWs on their death march.
Mind you, that’s not necessarily an accurate depiction of a Japanese soldier – but it’s become a picture of symbolic power. There were British and American pilots murdered by Germans, too, but not that systematically. And not that – how can I put this? – the war in Europe didn’t become that personal. Not between unoccupied countries and Germans, anyway.

Q: Were Allied prisoners of war traumatized? Did they face more brutality than what they would have expected from the Japanese?

A: Maybe not before the first atrocities – against non-Asians, I should add – became known. But initially, yes. I can’t tell how familiar they were with the way the Japanese forces treated Asians – but they probably didn’t expect that their service people would be treated similarly – that civilians with their forces would be forced into prostitution, for example.

Q: Japanese brutality spelled foreignness?

A: That’s one side of it, I think. And the other is the decades after the war. I mentioned the Samurai. But there was no such positive Japanese symbol, at least not in the Western narrative. Very different from the way Germany was depicted. And that’s a matter of symbolic gestures. Maybe Japan did make gestures, but not of the kind America, Australia, or Britain would easily understand. Emperor Hirohito looks quite good in some of their narratives, as a man who assumes “responsibility” for Japan’s crimes. But that was immediately after the end of the hostilities. The Japanese were under huge objective pressure then. But later on, after the pressure had eased, they never managed to do something highly symbolic – not in a Western sense, anyway.

Q: Like Willy Brandt dropping to his knees before the Warsaw Ghetto Monument?

A: Exactly. I’m not saying that Willy Brandt changed everything – but he had a huge effect on our national image abroad. For one, he hadn’t been involved – he had actually been underground in Norway during the war. But he was a German. “A symbol for a different Germany”, as they say.
He didn’t do because of his personal record. I don’t know what exactly made him kneel – all I know is that he made an allusion later, when reacting to criticism from the BILD-Zeitung, stuff like “one must only kneel before God”. He only reacted in private, and one of his ministers recalled it in 1992, after Brandt’s death. Brandt said that those journalists had no idea before whom he had kneeled.
But when it comes to Japan…  if there was resistance among the Japanese during the war – and I suppose there was – we may never know about these people.

Talking about Willy Brandt – there was his Neue Ostpolitik, too, for the obvious reason that Germany was divided. The Ostpolitik was a symbol of hope – not only for Germans, by the way, but for all of Europe – and it was really powerful. With really honest intentions – and skills – the social democrats and the liberals in Germany made the best of it. They turned our calamities into moral strength. You write a lot about soft power, don’t you? That was soft power. Brandt was about soft power. Olof Palme, too, in his own way, from Sweden. German partition was a price Germany had to pay – that division of our country. Territorial losses, too. In Asia, it was – and still is – Korea who has to live with partition. Not Japan. That could matter, too.



» Nanking Massacre, Wikipedia, acc. Dec 14, 2012
» Lev Kopelev: No Easy Solution, April 11, 2009
» All BoZhu Interviews


Friday, July 13, 2012

The BoZhu Interviews: So Different, but Sometimes so Alike –

MKL about Taiwanese society, China, domovina, and the European Union

Contrary to many other English-language blogs from Taiwan, MKL‘s isn’t markedly political. Politics does play a role, but usually takes second seat to daily life in Taiwan, and advice to foreign travellers or expats in the early stages of their lives in Taiwan about where to eat out, how to get from one place to another, places to go to on a holiday or on weekends, and about his after-hours obsession – night markets.

MKL started blogging in 2006 – and again in 2008. In February 2009, his monthly output of posts exceeded ten for the first time, and since, another post appeared at least every three or four days.

They were written from a number of places in Asia, and from his native land, Slovenia. For a year and a half now, Taiwan has been his home – it’s where he works, and where he is married.

His blog pages may take a while to load at times, as they usually come with a wide range of photos.

The interview:

Q:  You have been to dozens of countries, in Europe and in Asia. You settled down in Taiwan last year. In a post dedicated to your wife, Lily, you wrote:

Ever since I’ve come here, I tried so hard to make you proud of me. I found work, I complied with the norms of the environment and I’m tirelessly trying hard to survive in the fast-paced reality of Taipei. I feel like I’m caught in a typhoon ever since I’m here. It’s tough, but I will survive, because you’re here with me. You’re the reason I came here, you’re the reason I wanna stay.

How Taiwanese have you become since? And how are your Chinese language skills doing?

A: It might surprise you, but I’m becoming less and less “Taiwanese”, the more I understand Chinese language and the deeper I integrate and immerse myself in the culture. My Chinese level is basic, because my job and the commuting two ways takes about 12-13 hours a day during the week and it’s no piece of cake, it’s very stressful. I’m doing business with European companies and if you know how the traditionally-minded Taiwanese management ticks, you would imagine how big their expectations are. I can order food, drinks and have a simple conversation in Chinese, mostly about some daily matters. Aside from speaking, my hearing or understanding of Chinese improved greatly in the past year. I understand two times more than I can express in Chinese, usually it comes from the context. My whole living and working environment is Mandarin speaking, I have one American colleague who is here for a similar reason, the rest are all Taiwanese. Other foreign friends I have are mostly busy like me. I don’t frequent bars like Brass Monkey, I’m not into drinking and clubbing anymore. I am very Taiwanese in the sense, that I’m caught in this unhealthy system, where the older generation, who could have retired long time ago, run public companies like it’s their private business and where the culture of face and hierarchy often exceeds common sense and innovation. I can see a lot of young Taiwanese as bitter as me, but nobody can (or dares to) do something about it. They hop from company to company hoping to have a job that pays more and enslaves less. But the opposite is mostly the case. Ever since I started to work in Taiwan, I see the whole country in a completely different light.

Q: Your blog is about life in Slovenia, Taiwan, and about travels elsewhere. The difference between the countries where you lived and live – Slovenia and Taiwan – and the countries you visited, does this come down to the difference between family and friends?

A: I always felt a little bit bored in Slovenia. It’s a beautiful country with fairytale like scenery, but it’s small and a lot of things are going backwards in recent years. We used to be a success story in the 1990s, known as the most advanced post communist country in Europe, a role model candidate of all the countries to enter the EU in 2004. And the economic crisis, which started way before 2008 (most young well educated people could not get a good job as early as in the early 2000s), changed the political landscape a lot. People are very split now, much more than in Taiwan. They are divided into liberals (labeled as ex-commies) and conservatives (labeled as ex-nazi collaborators), arguing about who killed more people during WWII and similar nonsense, while young people can’t get jobs, where the social security is steadily disappearing and where a system similar to the one of guanxi enables certain groups to hold power and consume most of the resources. All the positive remains from the communist times such as a sense of community with common goals, solid social welfare, worker’s rights – all that is trampled upon in recent years, big business runs the show in Slovenia and they have good connections to certain parties and politicians. By all means, I’m not a communist and I would never like to have communism back, but not everything was bad during that time. Nevertheless, Slovenia is for me “heimat” (or domovina, as we call it) – and you are right, I do connect it with my family. I miss my mother and sisters every day, I miss the landscape, I miss being home, being one that belongs to somewhere, one that’s not seen as “waiguoren”. I have a very complex relationship with Taiwan, I’m not sure it’s a friend. It can be, but it’s also a friend you don’t fully trust, it’s someone you’re better careful about how much emotions you invest in.

Q: Is Lily blogging, too? And does she play a role in your blogging activities? Or would she rather discourage them?

A: She plays a major role in my way of blogging. If there was a saying that “behind every successful blogger there is a woman”, this would be 100% sure in my case. As you noted, I wasn’t much of a steady and productive blogger in the early stages. I basically put my blog on the map when I moved to Taiwan and started to write more about my experience. Lily introduced me to the Taiwanese way of blogging, which is very deep and informational, with tons of photos showing every detail. I thought: “Wow! This is impressive!” Lily’s style is similar: She would care about a certain quality of her posts and pictures, her articles have a certain order. It’s standardized, yes, but it’s a format, that guarantees a certain quality. I could say the same about your blog: You have structure, you have a theme, a style, a tone and a frame, where you implement all this. And that’s why your readers stick around, that’s why search engine’s will link to you. My philosophy is very similar, just that I have a different style and like to use a lot of pictures. I’m a very visual guy and I like to memorize my life in photos as well as show the reality around me that way. Some are excellent writers, but I can’t only rely on that, well, not in English. And Lily is my prime resource to explain certain cultural particularities in Taiwan and sometimes she wants to take a rest and watch TV, but I’m drafting my blog post and bugging her to explain some Chinese phrases. I always want to know the original meaning of the Chinese character, word or phrase, its cultural connotation and how a Taiwanese person feels about it, what is the context a certain term is commonly used. And my wife, as well as some friends, are my reference for that and I’m very thankful to have them around.

Q: You won Taiwanderful‘s popular online vote for the best overall blog and best travel blog. I was surprised when first reading about it – not because I’d find it an undeserving winner, but rather because it came to my mind that the blogs from and on Taiwan I was mostly reading were much more politics-centered than yours. So, from my personal perception, it seemed to become clear that there is a readership far beyond that. Is the readership of your blog rather diverse, in terms of “blue” (KMT & allies), and “green” (DPP & allies)?

A: My gut feeling tells me, that most of my readers and subscribers are just interested in life in Taiwan, not politics. I’m sure, they have strong opinions about that topic, but it’s not what they want to read on blogs all the time. There are very few Taiwan bloggers, who share so many images about the life in Taiwan like me, as well as about traveling to small towns, food stalls, even night markets. I like to be unique in this way and these things are interesting to blue, green, neutral, and most likely even red-minded readers. I like Taiwan the most, when it’s not related to the daily routine and politics, when i can take off my invisible mask. Despite all the challenges it bears for me, Taiwan is a great place to explore and that’s why I love to promote it as a travel destination.

Q: Are you always using the same camera when taking pictures? Which one(s)?

A: I’m mostly using my wife’s Pentax K-x White, a 2010 model. It has its limitations, but it served us very well so far. She recently bough Tamron AF18-200mm lens, which improved the quality a lot, especially when zooming. But too often a bulky camera has the effect, that you are quickly noticed and make people around you a little bit uncomfortable. So during my daily routine I’m using my iPhone 4 camera with photo processing software to have a retro effect. I like it a lot and it gives me the chance to take unexpected random shots, that turn out great. My wife also has a Canon S100, it’s a smaller pocket camera with great quality, we use it since recently, usually for short trips around Taipei. It’s also less obvious, very good for taking photos in restaurants and malls.

Scooter, New Taipei

There were 14.85 million registered scooters in Taiwan, by 2010 (click picture for source) – photo by MKL

Q: My impression is that most foreign bloggers on Taiwan tend to side with the pan-green camp, rather than the pan-blue one, and often, this political inclination seems to kick in from about the first day they spend in Taiwan. Is that an accurate observation, or are there simply too many blogs that care about politics, but have slipped my attention?

A: You are spot on about that, unless they are dating a Taiwanese girl, that has a blue background and strong opinions on inner politics and cross strait issues (I know some of these cases). But most are green or leaning green from what I perceive. I’m not green nor blue. I had a natural affinity for a certain color, which was related to my home country’s centuries long struggles for independence from Austria and Yugoslavia, but the more I understand how things work in Taiwan, the less I believe, that Taiwan will follow Slovenia’s way. Now I’m mostly apathetic to politics in Taiwan, just like most Taiwanese I know. And I believe there are too many expats blogging about politics and KMT, it’s really not so interesting to read “KMT is bad” in 100 different ways every day – mostly it’s not really “blogging” according to my understanding. If you’re only quoting and commenting on other sources, you’re just a commentator. Blogging for me is about original content, about creativity, surprise, diversity, life and passions.

Q: Has blogging changed your perceptions – on Taiwan, Slovenia, or other places? Possibly even your view of the world? Has life in Taiwan changed your views? Has your marriage changed your views? Has work?

A: Believe it or not, blogging relaxes me. It’s my hobby, it’s my pastime. I have thoughts and ideas, I observe this very foreign and different environment and share it with my readers. It’s basically just expressing myself with words and photos. I’m not a great photographer, but I have a certain style, I know what I want to capture and present. Blogging also helps me to train my brain, to concentrate – maybe it’s similar to those old Taiwanese men, who play mahjong near the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. By reading other blogs, especially on China and Korea, I learned a lot about these countries, I have to say these bloggers affect my perception of them as well. Most foreign Taiwan bloggers don’t impress me, because I can’t relate to them – I usually see Taiwan and its reality way different from them. Perhaps because I’m of a very different background (a small and young, relatively unknown and underestimated post communist country). I’m not too sure.

Q: Is blogging your preferred way of discussing matters of public interest, or do other ways of expressing yourself – social networking, youtube, Twitter, etc. – matter just as much to you, or more? About a year ago, you seemed to lose interest in “social media” – do you still find it boring? And if so, do you still tweet, facebook, etc., because it helps to promote your blog?

A: Ever since I wrote that post, I’m less and less on social media. I’m there for the sake of being there and in hope, that something interesting will happen – but it mostly doesn’t. My updates are usually just links to my new blog posts, Twitter and Facebook help me to get some new readers. If I don’t find social media enchanting, it doesn’t mean that other’s don’t, too. Recently I am very active on Instagram, taking pictures of my daily life in Taiwan. I simply love it. It’s social, but very simple. You post a photo and if it’s good, people “like” it. No pressure to be “friends” or “follow”. I don’t have time for these complexities – I’m very busy and most of my online activity is consumed by blogging or reading blogs, but I am very selective.

Q: How closely do you follow Taiwan- and non-Taiwan-related blogs respectively? Do you (as a reader) or they (as bloggers) focus on certain, recurring kinds of news and topics? Does China play a role in your reading and blogging habits, too?

A: I follow blogs in Google reader, they are divided in several categories. Usually I check all blogs in my Taiwan, China, Korea, Japan and Slovenia folders. These are the countries, that interest me the most. I also like to read some blogs about gadgets and technology and I like travel blogs a lot, too. I am a big fan of Peking Duck and China Smack, I always eagerly read their articles and comments. China also plays a role on my own blog, I’ve recently written several posts about Chinese vs. Taiwanese, because I find it fascinating, how the two people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait can be so different, but sometimes so alike. I intend to write more about this, but I always try to not focus on the political part, but on the cultural and ideological differences. In the industry I am in, I can see how Chinese companies are beating Taiwanese with lower price and comparable, if not better quality of their products and services. It’s an eye opener. I blame the corporate culture, that I have described in my first answer. Taiwan is on the losing end in this part of the world, it’s losing its competitive edge, innovation is driven in China, Korea and quality is traditionally associated with Japan. If that continues in the next years, I fear Taiwan will start to put “Made in China” labels on their products to raise their image. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, perhaps. But I’ve seen a lot in the recent two years – China’s pace is impressive. Taiwan is not doing bad, but a lot of things are stagnating or regressing here. China is definitely moving forward in great leaps and those foreigners, who live here and don’t want to acknowledge that, are either dreamers or simply ignorant.

Q: You said earlier (#8) that  the more you understand how things work in Taiwan, the less you believe that Taiwan will follow Slovenia’s way (i. e. in terms of internationally recognized independence).  Is this related to the way businesses work and bosses lead – or fail to lead? To their authoritarianism? Or do you see factors beyond business?

A: This is related to two things: First this year’s presidential elections, that were a major blow to the independence movement and secondly, China’s rise to a superpower, which is the most important factor here. Taiwan is surrounded by countries, that have greater economic and political power such as Japan, South Korea and PRC, while USA’s role of an ally and protector is diminishing by the year. How can Taiwan survive in such environment on its own, when the country itself is internally split and intentionally not recognized? Can this status quo continue like this forever? Despite Taiwan’s often cited soft power, I am not too optimistic about that. We had nearly 95% of electors, who were attending the independence referendum of Slovenia in 1990, voting in favor for independence. Compare that to Taiwan of today and with the circumstances I mentioned above. If it was a game of chess, China definitely has the upper hand at this point and Taiwan’s next big move can be lethal. People know that and therefore chose the safe way. Not only that, the business potential for Taiwanese making money in China is becoming a more and more important factor for softening the Cold War attitude and moving towards a closer cooperation (perhaps a kind of a union in a decade or two?). Interestingly, in my industry, almost no Taiwanese supplier has a market in China, even though they try very hard to get the business going by opening branches and investing money. However in reality, they are treated like foreign companies, no brotherly feelings there. I’m not sure what will happen in the end, I’m just an observer and I’m trying to not put too much emotions in this issue, because people might decide something, that I disagree with. Taiwan in itself, in its own bubble, is a very complex matter and when you add China to that, it becomes even more complicated. In the end I only hope that it can keep its unique charm, its advanced civil society, freedom of press, freedom of speech and free elections. To keep all that, it might not be necessary to follow Slovenia’s way.

Q: Have you seen big changes in your own blog or blogs, and in the Chinese, Taiwanese or foreign “China blogosphere” since you started blogging yourself? Or have you seen changes in the mainstream media?

A: I think a lot of green bloggers have become more obsessively green, which I find backwards and a lot of initial China bloggers have either become less critical or have stopped blogging. Maybe less critical is not the right word, I believe they just became older, became more nuanced and sober. The spirit of the young single expat, who thought he can change the world sobered up through the years. A lot of these bloggers either moved back to their home countries or they married a local girl and begun to exchange ideology for pragmatism and nuance. It’s a natural process.

Q: Have you ever stopped reading blogs because you felt they were becoming boring, or because they angered you?

A: Yes I did for both reasons. I don’t want to waste time on reading stuff written by people I don’t respect or find repulsive. There are a few Taiwan bloggers, who fit this category.

Q: Do you regularly watch television or listen to the radio? If so, what are your preferred channels, and why?

A: I watch TV, but movies mostly, however I don’t have a lot of time for it. When I was in Slovenia, I used to watch German TV a lot, from talk shows to entertainment. I was also a big fan of CNN and American news in general, especially during the 2008 election campaign: I watched Obama’s victory speech in Chicago at 2 am on CNN and I teared up. But this is the last memorable moment that I have with television. I shifted to Internet, especially here in Taiwan, where there’s not German nor Slovenian TV. And most American TV stations are showing movies nonstop, such as HBO. TV for me is just on, but I don’t really watch it. I spend more time on my Mac, iPhone and iPad, I’m slowly turning into a geek.

Q: What’s the worst online article or post you have ever read about Taiwan (that you remember)? And what’s the best one?

A: The worst must have been an article by some guy, who came to Taiwan and can’t get girls. He’s only trash talking about everything here, completely obsessed with the notion, that Taiwan is the worst place in the world. But I have the feeling, that the book “Cultural Shock-Taiwan: Cow Mentality, Rubber Slipper Fashion in BinLang Country”  must be topping my first example. As for the best posts, there were several and I’m not sure, if I could point out the best one.

Q: Have you become more aware of what it means – to you – to belong to your country? Or about civil liberties and democracy? There was a paragraph in your post-election gleanings in January this year – you wrote from a business trip that

In Germany, almost nobody cared about the election in Taiwan – there were no reports on TV – nothing. Instead, a sunk ship in Italy was nonstop in the news. Same goes for my home country and probably most Western countries. Nobody gives a rats ass about democracy anymore. We’re bitter and self-absorbed, because we saw how governments change, but everything remains the same. It’s not like we want to have dictatorships back, but the feeling of pure enthusiasm for political convictions are over – cynicism prevails these days.

How do you deal with these feelings yourself? Are they simply your feelings, that are going to be with you unless they change, or are you looking for something more sustainable that might replace the past, pure enthusiasm for political convictions? Has some other feeling replaced the old ones since? Or is some cynicism the almost inevitable concomitant of getting older?

A: I think I’ve become very cynical, but for different reasons than the Europeans I met during my business trip. My problem is I don’t know where I really belong. In Taiwan I’m always going to be “waiguoren” and stick out from the rest, but Slovenia for me is at this point very foreign, too. If I go back too early, I will feel, that I’ve failed at what I set myself to achieve. Europe in general has lost its drive and soul in recent years. Most Taiwanese, with whom I work with, see it as the place, where the economy is constantly deteriorating and the Euro continuously depreciating. The export business of most Taiwanese suppliers suffers a lot and that affects people’s perceptions here. When I see how low the Euro has fallen, I feel sad and somewhat insecure about the whole idea of the EU in general, even though I support the ideals of the Union and I’m proud to be EU citizen. You have to know, that the Euro is one of the few connections I have with my native continent. I could get 48 NTD for a Euro in 2010, when I first came to Taiwan. Today, I only get 36.5 NTD and it keeps falling. Is that a sign, that Europe’s best days are over? I’m not sure, but I’m rather pessimistic at this point. I don’t know, if I will lose my cynicism, perhaps, if I find a way to slow down my fast-paced life, but that’s a very challenging task, if you chose to live in Taipei.

Q: MKL, thanks a lot for this interview.


The interview was conducted by an exchange of e-mails.


All BoZhu Interviews


Thursday, January 26, 2012

“Advocacy Journalism is not the Problem” –

an Interview with former Deutsche Welle Editor Fengbo Wang on the Zhang Danhong Controversy, Dissidents in Germany, and the Persian Factor

Wang Fengbo came to Germany in 1991, studied politics in Mainz, and was editor of what is now the European Chinese Post, an overseas Chinese paper. In the interview following this introduction, Wang describes the publication as a dissident paper, a description which appears to be correct. In 1989, he had seen dead bodies piled up in a Beijing hospital, Wang told an EPD (Evangelischer Pressedienst) reporter last year. “Having seen that, there is no other way for you than to be a supporter of democracy”, he added.

From 2002 until December 2010, Wang Fengbo worked for Deutsche Welle‘s (the Voice of Germany’s) Chinese department. He and three more of his colleagues lost their jobs, or freelance contracts respectively, as their contracts weren’t renewed. In April last year, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung published an open letter by the four, to Germany’s Federal Parliament’s lower house (Bundestag), and to the Deutsche Welle broadcasting commission. According to their open letter, Deutsche Welle initially gave budget cuts as a reason for ending the contracts, but later – successively, in the process – added more reasons. Besides, the open letter states, the dismissed employees or contributors were replaced by “younger, unexperienced journalists”. The budget cuts, originally cited as reasons for the Deutsche Welle’s measures, had proven untrue, and the Open Letter sees the four as deferred victims of a “campaign” against Zhang Danhong, formerly the Chinese department’s deputy manager, who came under fire in 2008.

This interview may help to shed some light on the events since the “Zhang Danhong” affair, or it may help to start such a process. To date, information is sparse; however, a member of the employees committee confirmed last year that an open letter published by the four former Deutsche Welle employees had described the situation correctly, even if some of its phrasing had been “overboard”.


Q: How long did you work for Deutsche Welle’s Chinese department? Were you a freelancer, or a permanent employee?

A: I began to work for DW as a freelancer in 2001. Beginning from 2002, and until May 2007 I worked there as a so-called permanent freelancer-editor (Fest-Freier Redakteur) with a Freelancer-Contract (Honorarrahmenvertrag) by the Chinese Online Editor-Team of DW. In my function and responsibility there was no difference between me and colleagues with a permanent contract. By the definition made by the director of the whole Online Section at that time, I was the “core-manpower” of the team. From May 2007 to December 31, 2010,  I was an editor with a “permanent contract”. Unfortunatelly, this “permanent contract” was initially limited to December 31, 2010. My current lawsuit with DW centers around the dispute wether or not this time limitation is legal.

Q: What did an ordinary working day look like? What would it involve?

A: My career at DW was clearly divided into two phases, and it may sound somewhat like black humor, if I say the dividing line was the Olympic Games in Peking, in 2008. For most employees of the Chinese Deutsche-Welle department, this event was the beginning of a nightmare which is still ongoing today.

In the time before December 2008, I was an editor in the Chinese Online Edition-Team, and my daily work was just the same as the most editors in a free western press organisation. Within the daily routine practice, I usually took two main roles: the duty editor (Chef-vom-Dienst) and a normal editor or reporter. As a duty editor, my responsibility was to work out the daily working schedule (agenda setting), such as the topics of the day, about assigning different tasks, etc.. A duty-editor’s day usually ended with the planned topics being covered and coming up on our homepage. Overall, there were four or five colleagues who belonged to the “core-manpower” of the Chinese Online team and they took turns weekly, to act as a duty editors. During the weeks when I didn’t work as an editor on duty, I did inqiries on assigned topics or issues, did interviews, and wrote my stories based on former research and interviews. The final work was to publish the finished story on our homepage through the content-management-system. This Chinese Online team was small but comprehensive, with the topics-coverage ranging from current world affairs to specific political, economic, cultural and sports issues. Our journalistic output was  usually in Chinese language, and in case that our expertise in issues relating to China was needed by our colleagues of other language-teams, we also wrote in German or English.

From December 2008, with the so-called “Zhang Danhong-Affair” ending with the removal of the head of the Chinese Radio Programm of DW, Matthias von Hein, the Online-Team and the Radio programme began to work as a whole Chinese Programm. This merger of the daily routines came much earlier than originally scheduled, although the merger itself was already going on. Since 2007, Deutsche Welle had been trying to undergo a structrual reform aiming at turning the traditional radio-based broadcaster into an internet-based new media platform. The reform  started with German and English language-programms as pilots and the other programmes – around 30 different languages – were to follow with different time-schedules respectively. The fact that reform put online and radio programs in a competitive situation did matter a lot, as could be seen in the Chinese Programm of Deutsche Welle.

From late December 2008 to December 2009, the head of Asian radio programme, Ms. Golte, acted as the temporary head of the merged Chinese programme. From the first day after the merger, I was silently excluded from the routine responsibilities of a normal editor and was allowed only to layout the hompage for several months. Although later I was allowed to adapt mainly radio manuscripts from the Central Programm in the German language, I, together with all other colleagues from former online-team, continued to be marginalised. We were not allowed to do tasks such as topic-planning and final editing. Effectively, I and other former online-colleagues lost the identities of autonomous journalists, for we had no say in setting topics, and our articles, if any, were subject to the judgement of the final-editor, who, under the offical excuse of quality assurance, often killed a whole text, or passages or sentences that might be “politically not correct”. Of course the DW functionaries would never acknowledge that this practice existed.

In December 2009, Mrs. Woltersdorf took over the Chinese Program and she indeed brought about some changes. Around April or May 2009, we, the former online editors, were allowed to plan topics and to be final editors in rotational turn. Since then, a normal working day typically began with a meeting and each colleague was to present a brief  “media scanning”, telling what they had read from competitors like VOA, BBC, Radio France or Radio Free Asia. The weekly topic-planner has the final say regarding which topic should be covered and which topic will then be assigned to whom. For the Chinese programme still has a one-hour broadcast, for each topic-assignment they usually first work out a radio manuscript suitable a for a maximum duration of 5 minutes as a radio-piece, typically including the so-called original soundtracks usually cut from a short telephone-interview. Theorectically they should then rewrite the radio manuscript into an online text, but practically, the texts published in the webpages of the Chinese programme hardly differ from a radio manuscript. Until today, a large part of non-China related topics seen or heard from the Chinese program are still translated texts delivered by the central editorial department.

Q: You said that the radio and online services had been put into a competitive situation by their merger. That is to say, there was competition between the editors, as after the merger, fewer employees would be needed?

A: The reform idea was to shift DW from Radio to an Internet-based multimedia-platform. The fact that the majority of DW journalists are radio journalists caused speculations as to who will dominate the merged teams, radio over online or just the other way round? To ease the fears and rumours, the DW management gave an official assurance that the merger shall not mean job cuts. In case of the Chinese department around 2007, some colleagues from the radio department went to the general program director, with two thick document folders which had been secretely prepared for about half a year, accusing the online team of having offended copy rights. There might be some minor faults regarding the copy right, but the charge was exaggerated, for many of the articles allegedly  violating copy rights were written just by radio. If any mistake of such kind existed, they should have communicated with the online team immediately, but they kept recording such “mistakes” secretely for about half a year.

Q: Hristina Krasteva, in a paper about Deutsche Welle in 2007, described several “types” of concepts journalists at Deutsche Welle held. Page 96 and 98 describe her try to develop a typology. Does it include your own approach as a DW journalist, or how would you describe your own concept of your work there?

A: I believe the types of self-understanding described in this paper is more an ideal typology than a real-world description. I would say my approach was rather a mixture of these types. I think certain journalistic professional standards shall be valid for all these types. I would say, you can define your roll als being a democracy promoter, or as a mediator between cultures, or as the alternative voice, or only an information communicator, all that is fine. But you have to do it in a professional way, i.e. with journalistic prudence, objectivity, well balanced. You should be aware that as a journalist, you have a different role to play, for example, from a member of a human rights organisation. And generally, I should say, even if you are a staunch fan of advocacy journalism, you should know that you won’t achieve your goal if you try to treat your readers or listeners as if you were their moral sermonizer and political savior.

Deutsche Welle has always been having difficulties in defining its unique attributes since the end of the cold war. To this day, there is still great controversy among the journalists of Deutsche Welle, which target listeners or internet users they are working for. The types of journalistic self-identity in the Krasteva paper, e.g. democracy promoter, mediator between cultures, provider of alternative voices are more wishful theoretical concepts than a description of the reality. The German department of Deutsche Welle is still not able to give a satisfactory answer to the question, i.e. in the age of internet and globalisation, why a German expat should be interested in its  radio broadcasts or internet content, as ARD, ZDF or Spiegel are only a mouse-click away, all over the world. Things become far more complicated, if you try to promote democracy in Iran, Russia or China.

On the other hand, the said typology in the Krasteva-paper describes the very need of Deutsche Welle and its journalists to present themselves to the general public in a way that would justify  the around 300 million-euros budget financed by the state.

In a debate about the future of Deutsche Welle, the former federal culture minister Mr. Bernd Neumann, in 2006, would have seen Deutsche Welle as “the voice of Germany as a country with a great cultural history, and one of the greatest exporting nations”. There is a certain similarity as the Chinese authorities are talking about ” soft power”.  But Deutsche Welle, with all its political legacy it has as part of extended public diplomacy can hardly afford to be just a seller of “soft power”. It has to be political. That is why, at least in my opinion, the DW itself prefers to call itself “the voice of human rights”, for this would better legitimise its huge budget needs.

To tell the world that you are the voice of human rights is a simple thing to say, but how you voice human rights in an effective way is an another, subtle thing. Taking all these aspects into account, I myself prefer a pluralistic and balanced approach as for the question what a DW-journalist is supposed to be.

Q: My personal impression of the Chinese programs from early in the 2000s until 2008 – I was only an occasional listener, and my impressions wouldn’t replace some statistics, obviously – was that Deutsche Welle sold Germany as a brand: how many beautiful fountains Aachen had, Germany as a place for foreigners to study, Germany’s leading industries, etc. Is that a traceable perception in your view, or do you view it differently?

A: There has been a cultural approach as regards how DW should present Germany to the world. Nevertheless, politics, international or domestic, has always been dominant in its coverage. However, as far as the Chinese program is concerned, there has been dramatic change indeed, since the latter half of 2008. The dividing line was the so called “Campaign against Zhang Danhong”. The Open Letter by me and three other former colleagues has explained how and why this could happen.

To the end of 2008, as the Chinese program was becoming more and more narrowed and biased in its view about China, many listeners and online users wrote letters to the public email box of Chinese program, complaining about the “China-bashing” approach of Deutsche Welle. Unfortunately, these listeners or users were branded “50-cent-partisans” (Wu Mao Dang) and that email box for reader’s comments was simply shut down. The internal statistics show that the online-user visits of the Chinese program dropped drastically after the beginning of 2009, to the extent that the Chinese program would be almost not relevant to the international press coverage about and its influence in China. The Deutsche Welle’s management would argue that this was because of the Chinese program’s website being blocked by the Great Chinese Firewall. But that is only the tiny part of the truth. In those several years before 2008, the Chinese website of Deutsche Welle had always been blocked in China, but there had still been visits ranging from about 30,000 to 70,000, and at its peak around 10,0000 visits daily. Since 2009, the regular daily visits have been always around two or three thousand. For I left Deutsche Welle at the end of 2010, i don’t know the statistics since early 2011.

In about August 2010, I was asked by Mrs. Woltersdorf to give a short presentation to a group of Chinese visitors to DW. These visitors were young academic professionals taking part in a one-year research program in Germany financed by the “Kanzlerstipendium”, which is given only to a few selected outstanding young scholars. After the official presentation, they expressed openly that the Chinese program is becoming more and more biased and radical toward China and they do not believe that Deutsche Welle coverage about China is objective any more. They said, as young scholars, most of whom have studied in USA or Europe, they do believe in the universal validity of human rights and the need to improve the human-rights-situation in China. What they are dissatisfied with is the way Deutsche Welle does its work. They feel that Deutsche Welle were a platform only for the voices of political dissidents. Indeed, since September 2010, a very active and known Chinese dissident has become an offical editor of the Chinese program. If Deutsche Welle is losing credibility in this share of Chinese young professionals who are supposed to contribute best to the mutal understanding beween Germany and China, how could Deutsche Welle justify its hundreds of millions of public finance?

For me personally, advocacy journalism is not the problem. It is a great problem if you are practicing advocacy journalism but you tell your audience you are neutral and pluralistic. Beiing honest is the first virtue of journalism. In the case of the Chinese department, the very debate about standards of journalism has been impossible after the “Zhang Danhong affair”.

Q: It’s certainly speculation to guess how online statistics would develop if the Welle took the approach you recommend – but let me speculate anyway, for a moment. Let’s suppose the Welle takes this approach: advocating human rights, becoming very explicit about human rights violations in China at times, and maybe this, too, would offend many Chinese listeners. This would – if my guesswork is correct – still spell rather reduced traffic on the Welle’s Chinese website. But you can’t make traffic the only criterion, can you? Isn’t there a risk of losing your own way as a broadcaster, if you keep toning down your message until the audience is satisfied?

A: I really love this question! For this is the question we, the former online colleagues, have discussed a thousand times! We are usually already one step closer to an answer if we have raised the question. The problem of the Chinese department since the later months of 2008 has been that you risk your “political correctness” if you dare to ask which appoach serves the goal of DW better.

Furthermore I think we shall distinguish advocacy journalism from advocacy of human rights. To say that I am not a fan of advocacy journalism is not to say I am against advocating human rights. That is a big difference. This is rather a question of the path to goal, not the goal itself.

I don’t doubt that DW has a mission to advocate human rights, comparable to the so-called value-oriented foreign policy of the federal government of Germany. But does it necessarily mean that you must do this by not caring about your website traffic anymore?  If you have zero traffic, how could you then promote your great values?
I think that kind of argument is actually based on an unbewared, dangerous presumption, i.e., the general Chinese audience were against human rights and if you try to criticize China for violation of human rights then they shall run away or they shall feel offended.

I myself do maintain a healthy degree of skepticism about any statistical number, especially as the internet is censored in China. What I find ridiculous is the way to work purposefully to target zero traffic. This is something I call the “Persian-paradox”, in some joking way. I was told by a colleague about how the Persian language department of DW has responded to such kinds of questions. The DW management itself is actually much more into increases of website traffic than we the normal editors. Anyway at least no department has been criticized when web traffic increased. The Persian online department was the late-comer in comparison to other five online pilot-language departments, i.e. German, English, Chinese, Russian and Arabic. The Persian online team should have to face the question about the need for their existence if they should keep their site visit numbers at a very low level. During the protest wave around 2009 in Iran, they firstly achieved a relatively high record of visits, but this should have made them feel uneasy. And days later the Persian website of DW was blocked in Iran and they should have felt a great release by telling around in House of DW the good news:  “we are also blocked!”

I cannot tell if the story is true. But i do believe, be it just a fiction, it can best illustrate the dilemma or paradox of DW. I guess the logic behind this should be: If you are not blocked yet, you are not sufficiently politically correct. The compulsory logical conclusion out of this state of mind is a clear one: The DW [outlets] can [only be proved]*) morally good enough by zero traffic from their target-countries. The DW can be only morally good enough by zero traffic from their target-countries. Isn’t this a new form of cold-war mindset? Shall DW be satisfied with the role als a monologue-talker?

I am not saying I have a ready better solution to this conflict of goals. What I want is a corporate climate that encourages such discussions, but instead the opposite has been the case at DW. It is a too-easy , lazy and self-cheating way to be contended with talking the flowery phrases of human rights and then sit back saying: Look, we are blocked by the Chinese goverment and we are therefore very successful!

You don’t have to be blocked to promote human rights. And if you are blocked just because of your promoting human rights, you still have many many ways to reach your target audience, who themselves are not anti-human-rights at all.

Q: Press coverage of China became much more critical around 2008, including some pretty low points – I remember this title story illustration by German news magazine Der Spiegel, in August 2007. Did you feel some kind of cold wind blowing before that? If so, what did it involve? And did the Chinese department or the Deutsche Welle management receive protest letters from Chinese dissidents, or others? Did the signatories to the open letter to the German Bundestag – their open letter was dated September 9, 2008, some indications of the content in English here – contact Deutsche Welle, before writing to Parliament – or were you aware of such contacts with your department, or the management?

A: As a journalist I follow the German press coverage of China regularly, and I was not surprised to find that it became more critical. The mainstream German press has always been seeing China either as a brutal violator of human rights or a newly, fast rising economic giant. In my opinion, more than just a few German field correspondents in China have not been able to really understand what has been going on in China. There could be many reasons for that. But one thing is true: You cannot understand China as a whole if you do not look at the things carefully between the two extreme poles.

Given that the Deutsche Welle management is usually – at least as far as the Chinese programme is concerned -, not open and transparent in dealing with critics of any kind, I don’t know if they had received protest letters before and during the heated campaign against Mrs. Zhang Danhong. I guess they did. But I do know something about the open letter to the German Bundestag by the  several Chinese dissidents in Germany. As far as I know, they have not tried to contact the Deutsche Welle management. If I’m not mistaken, they have written two open letters, with the latter one directly to the German Bundestag. As the first open letter or something like that became public, I called one of the signatories immediately. For I had been the editor-in-chief of the Chinese dissident-newspaper in Germany (now named as European Chinese Post) for about 8 years, I know the majority of these signatories very well, personally. In this phone-call lasting several hours I tried in a very detailed way to explain how the Chinese program has been working and why the general charge against the staff of Chinese program for their alleged affinity to the CP-China is absolutely nonsense. Unfortunately, the next day, I heard they still sent the open letter to the Bundestag. To me, it was above all a great personal dissapointment.

This small group of dissidents is apparently enjoying labeling other people communist. As they themselves disagreed as to who should represent the group to attend a hearing about the Chinese program in the Bundestag, one signatory, on the internet, branded another signatory as the 6th column of CP-China, and the other slapped the other one’s face as they met each other during the Bookfair in Frankfurt in early 2010!

Q: An examination acquitted the Chinese department, dismissed the 2008 open letter’s allegations, and criticized Deutsche Welle’s director Erik Bettermann for acting prematurely by suspending Zhang Danhong.
You stated in your open letter that basically, Mrs. Zhang had only rated China’s human rights performance in a way Georg Blume of Die Zeit (a major German weekly) – this may refer to this article by Mr. Blume.
However, in an interview with Deutschlandfunk in August 2008, she also seemed to compare censorship of Free-Tibet or Falun Gong websites in China with censorship of extreme-right and child pornography in Germany. That was gross, wasn’t it? Did it influence the decision to suspend Mrs. Zhang from working at the microphone, or was that an allegation which came in later – i. e. faultseeking to justify the decision ex post?

A: Censorship in China is certainly quite a different dimension and nature from that of extreme-right or child pornography. I don’t think Mrs. Zhang Danhong wanted to legitimize Internet censorship in China. Through all the years as I worked together with her and by going through all those interviews which caused her trouble, I have never heard or read that she has given credit to censorship in China.

It is not fair to single out one sentence from the whole context in which Mrs. Zhang Danhong made those statements. Under that special circumstances, around Beijing Olympics 2008,  whereas mainstream western press coverage of China showered undifferentiated, generalized and simplistically condemning criticism over China, a journalist like Mrs. Zhang Danhong, with all her China background knowledge and expertise, would instinctively try to give her own much differentiated judgement and in a certain way she was “forced” into playing the role of defending China, although she had no such intention at all. Around 2008, the western press often seemed to forget the simple fact: “the small people” wanted to host the Olympics and they are not the Chinese government.

After all, the fact is that Mrs. Zhang Danhong was punished because of her speech and this happened in a democracy and in a free media institution who is telling the world everyday that freedom of speech is an integral part of human rights.

Q: To clarify, by saying that Mrs. Zhang was “forced” to play the role of a defendant of China or its government, you mean that the other guest or guests in the talk show were playing exactly the opposite role – a role of criticizing China?

A: Later on Mrs. Zhang Danhong has told some of our colleagues how she felt at those talk-shows and expressed that sort of feeling. I could remember her first TV-talk show by the Maybrit Illner, where she was confonted with a German actor who was very polemic in criticizing China. I have never been at such talk shows but I could imagine how difficult it might be to express oneself unmistakenly and perfectly in foreign language before millions of audience.

Q: The examination report, by Ulrich Wickert, hasn’t been published by Deutsche Welle. What’s known about it was published by the Süddeutsche Zeitung, in March 2009, and what is publicly known about is content (some info in English here) only became known because a journalist with the Süddeutsche went after it. Do you know details of the report which haven’t been published by the Süddeutsche Zeitung?

A: If you consider how profoundly the so called “Zhang Danhong Affair’s” impact on the Chinese public’s perception of Deutsche Welle – and to some extent Germany’s China-policy – has been, it is a dubious thing that the Wickert-report was treated as a highly confidential document by the management of Deutsche Welle. Despite the fact that every journalist of Deutsche Welle is very concerned about what Mr. Wickert said about Mrs. Zhang Danhong and her Chinese colleagues, nobody has ever had the opportunity to see the paper. Fortunately, I got this paper directly from Mr. Wickert’s office. Mr. Wickert has indeed “rehabilitated” the reputation of the Chinese department, damaged by several so-called Chinese dissidents by coming to the very clear conclusion, that it is sheer nonsense to criticize the Chinese journalists of Deutsche Welle by alleging that they had been too friendly to the Chinese government. Mr. Wickert testified that the several thousands of articles he has examined correspond to high professional standards. He also made a very clear statement, i.e., the DW management has treated Mrs. Zhang Danhong wrongfully. I suppose that is why this paper has been kept secret.

Q: According to your open letter of April this year, Bettermann, the managing director, rejected demands that the Chinese department’s work should be monitored by specialists chosen by recognized human rights organizations, but complied with the demands in practice. You refer to a sinologist, Jörg M. Rudolph, who monitored your work for half a year – secretly first, and openly later, but without a defined set of standards, or standards that would have been made known to the department, all of the time until at least April this year. The standard he goes by, as far as discernible, would be the extent as to how an article or contribution would be “CCP-friendly”, or not. According to your open letter, the Chinese department’s temporary manager at the time didn’t speak Chinese, and the permanent manager who replaced her in December 2009, Adrienne Woltersdorf,  is not capable of “communicating adequately”, spoken or in writing, with the department – was (or is) Mr. Rudolph monitoring the Chinese department on their behalf? Do you know if he is still working there? Can you give an account of how you became aware of the monitor‘s existence, and of how he and you interacted with each other?

A: Nobody knows if Mr. Rudolph is still monitoring the Chinese department today. Mr. Rudolph took this job at the end of 2009 and monitored the Chinese department continuously until at least April 2011. The management has never told us in a direct, open, honest and transparent manner, to which extent, for what purpose and for whom Mr. Rudolph is doing his monitoring work. It is not honest to tell that Mr. Rudolph is there just to help the department’s temporary manager to understand the Chinese language. As Mrs. Adrienne Woltersdorf, who took over the manager postion in December 2009, promised more transparency and professionality, she could not find any excuse to keep the monitor-reports secret. For a short period of about two months, the daily report from the monitor was emailed to every member of the Chinese department. These available reports revealed what the real role of this monitor was. He has very often classified certain articles or contributions as “CCP-friendly” and criticized the authors as too socialized by the communist system. For example: In one comment to my report about how the Chinese were becoming targets of “Neo-Nazi” attacks in the Mongolian Republic, Mr. Rudolph said people like me, who were socialized in China, should  generally not treat topics related to ethnic conflicts. At first I wrote this report in Chinese language, and as other departments showed great interest in this article, Mrs. Woltersdorf asked me to write one piece in German. Before the German one was finished, the above said judgement by Mr. Rudolph was in the hand of Mrs. Woltersdorf. She then kept my report to herself and didn’t pass  it on to the Central Program Department, who supplies topics of general interests to all language departments in German or English languages. Several days later, I sent my article directly to the editor of Central Program and that editor published this text immediately and called me personally in order to compliment me for a well-done report.

I first became aware of the existence of this monitor in early January 2009 as a picture edited by me was taken offline. That picture shows German chancellor Merkel und Chinese Primier Wen Jiabao walking at different paces at a state-visit welcome ceremony.  My caption was: When could Germany and China walk at a same pace? The picture disappeared without asking for my consent before, and it was an unusual practice. I traced that change back to the decision of Mrs. Golte, the temporary manager of the Chinese department. I thought it might be some colleague who reported to her, for at that time and thereafter it was quite a common practice that colleagues denunciated each other to the boss. (Chinese would say: Da Xiao Bao Gao  /打小报告) Mrs. Golte told me that a third person from outside has told her that this picture was politically not correct (!). I kept asking who was this “third-person” and got no further answer. About several months later, as Mrs. Golte said at a department meeting that she values transparency very much, I asked her if she could tell us who is this third person. She had no other choice than revealing the existence of this monitor.

There has not been any direct interactive exchange of ideas between the monitor and the monitored. One single personal meeting happened around later 2009 as Mr.Rudolph showed up in the Chinese department for about 15 Minutes.

Mrs. Woltersdorf is supposed to have a comprehensive knowledge of Chinese language and there should have been no official reason for the need of this monitor, but Mr. Ruldoph has apparently outlived Mrs. Wolterdorf. Mrs. Woltersdorf was forced (officially speaking a free decision, which can hardly be true) to leave the Chinese department in July 2011, but Mr. Ruldolph might be still working there.

Q: She has left Deutsche Welle? Definitely?

A: Mrs. Woltersdorf has definitely left DW. The new chief is the old one – Mr. Matthias von Hein, who took up his office since 1rst January, 2012. How and why this has happened was literally a thriller in real life. I could only say, it was a combination of comedy and tragedy.

Q: When you received your notice, which reasons did Deutsche Welle give for them? And how did the initial and the subsequent reasons differ from each other?

A: Mrs. Woltersdorf, head of Chinese Program since December 2009, told me in a conversation in July 2010 that she had two news to tell me, i.e. a good one and a bad one. I asked her to begin with the bad one. She told me my working contract as a permanent employee would not exceed the official limit to the end of 2010. The good news should be that I would still be a full member of the Chinese program as I would be given a freelance contract. “You should not feel sad, because you may earn even more money that way, continuing to work for Chinese program everyday and as a freelancer.” Mrs. Woltersdorf told me. She said she just had talked personally with Mr. Gramsch, the program-director of Deutsche Welle, and he had decided that, because of the budget-cuts, the Chinese program should cut one permanent postition. “It is a pity that you happen to be the first one whose contract is going to  end in this difficult time. ” Of course, I was not happy with this solution and began to seek to defend my rights by talking with the employee committee, and with the higher-level management of Deutsche Welle. I tried to talk personally with Mr. Gramsch, but this conversation,  which was supposed to be personal and confidential, ended up like a court trial against me, as my very adversary, Mrs. Golte, the head of Asian program, was also present at the talk. The Deutsche Welle management obviously has no intention to hear directly what was actually going on in the Chinese program.

From that time on, DW management has began a series of faultseeking to justify the decision ex post. Mrs. Woltersdorf even refused to sign a memory note of our conversation. In December 2010, as I still believed I could at least continue to work as a freelancer, Mrs. Woltersdorf told me that I was fired, taking effect at the end of 2010. The reason? Mrs. Wolterdorf said to me: “If you do not come to me again with a memory note to be signed, I will tell you the truth: you have made the whole noise in this house!” (“Sie haben den ganzen Krach im Haus gemacht!”)

Until the day I left Deutsche Welle, the management has given me no other official reason than budget-cuts. It might be true that Deutsche Welle as a whole should receive a smaller budget, but the budget for the Chinese program has remained steady so far, if not even increased. Later on in the process of the lawsuit, DW has been trying to invent some fake reasons which are in themselves contradictory. For example, at the local labour court, Deutsche Welle said that I was unable to speak at the microphone. As I presented the court a CD recorded with my broadcasting works, Deutsche Welle said this time in its written defending reply to the regional labor court (Landesarbeitsgericht) that I was unable to live moderate. I suppose the next thing DW would say is that I can’t  sing at the microphone. If i could prove that I could sing, they would again suggest that I still could not sing like Placido Domingo after all.

Q: Did the labor court follow Deutsche Welle‘s reasons, or did they cite different reasons for confirming the station’s decision?

A: For me it was an amazing experience to see how the judge at the local labor court simply neglected any argument based on facts. The judge said that even if the budget was not cut and if I were the best candidate for this job, Deutsche Welle still has the freedom to fire his employee at will. This freedom is the so called “freedom of radio” (Rundfunkfreiheit). But as a learned political scientist, I have my doubts if the freedom of radio station constitutionally overrides the individual basic rights. That is why I am now taking my case to a higher court, which is scheduled to sit on January 23, 2012**).

Q: Have you found work as a journalist again, since – full time or part-time? And if it is OK to ask, what are your feelings about the past three years?

A: Until today I am still trying to find a new job. People of  my age (47) don’t have too many opportunities in the labor market. I have sent hundreds of application letters but I haven’t got a  single invitation for an interview. It was quite a frustrating experience to deal with the employment agency (Agentur für Arbeit). You cannot expect respect and dignity from such social services. I don’t want to go into details because it was very hurting.

Those two years from 2009 to 2010 were an ordeal for me and for several former colleagues who didn’t want to abandon professional standards. Believe it or not, in the Chinese department, the past three years, has been in something like a state of fear. The working conference every morning has become a sort of ritual occasion where some colleagues show how they are anti-China and how they are politically correct. It was offending to experience how people lie and talk big just for fear of losing their jobs!

It sounds like a bad joke but it is real. In the two years after 2008 when I was still in the Chinese department, people turned their heads around several times to make sure that no other one might listen before he or she dared to tell their genuine opinion. The everyday lunch has become a kind of political affair as to the question who walks to the dining hall with whom. One colleague once went to lunch together with me and after lunch she told me that we should not go back together to our office, otherwise people would believe she was allied with a person like me who was in the boss’ bad books. Even when I had already been sacked by Deutsche Welle last year, one former colleague called me and at the end of conversation asked me not to tell other people that she had called me.

What has happened to the Chinese department of DW is first of all a human tragedy.

Q: How has the work of the Chinese department changed since 2008? And – if you have kept listening to the programs once in a while, or reading online – have you seen changes in the programs since you had to leave?

A: Just like what I have described above, since later 2008 the Chinese department has actually been  working not only against the Chinese authorities (doing so is legitimate, of course), but unfortunately also against the majority of its should-be recipients. Unless you equate the Chinese people to the Chinese government or CP-China, as a journalist sticking to a high professional code, you would see this trend as a tragedy of Deutsche Welle. Today, the most normal Chinese people who I personally know associate Deutsche Welle with China-bashing from the West. This is a reputation that Deutsche Welle should not have deserved.

Q: Mr. Wang, thank you very much for this interview.



  *) Correction/update, Jan. 28
**) The hearing has been postponed.


This interview was conducted in English, by an exchange of e-mails.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The BoZhu Interviews: “The Tibetan Blogosphere is Expanding, but the Risks Remain the Same” –

an Interview with Dechen Pemba

Dechen Pemba is a UK citizen and an ethnic Tibetan. She is an editor of High Peaks, Pure Earth, a blog which translates Tibetan blog posts (in Chinese and Tibetan) into English, and she also runs a personal blog of her own. A short bio of her can be found here.

In July 2008, she was deported from Beijing, only weeks ahead of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. She had come to Beijing because things had gotten to a point where to really get to know Tibet today, you have to know what China is like.

The interview:

Q: You are Tibetan, a British citizen, and you once lived in Germany. When someone asks you to introduce yourself, what do you usually say?

A: I usually say that I am a Tibetan born in the UK – that’s something that people have usually already figured out from my accent! If the conversation goes further then I’ll also say that I have lived in Berlin and Beijing and spend a lot of time in New York.

Q: You have been to China. You worked in Beijing as an English teacher, and in July 2008, you were told to leave the country. You were banned to re-enter China for five years. How long did you stay in China? And have you ever been to Tibet?

A: I moved to Beijing in September 2006 to learn Chinese at the Central University for Nationalities. I lived there until I was deported in July 2008. I had been to Tibet twice before but in this period when I lived in Beijing I travelled to Lhasa once in 2007 and to Amdo several times.

Q: How was this experience? Were you seen as just another foreign-language teacher, or did it matter that you are Tibetan?

A: I was mostly seen as another foreign language teacher, the school I was teaching in only employed US, Canadian and British nationals and they could all tell that I was British, my ethnic background didn’t really come up in my day to day work there.

Q: You run a personal blog – Dechen Pemba’s Blog, and you also run or co-run High Peaks, Pure Earth, a blog which does translations of Woeser’s blogpost, Invisible Tibet. Woeser is Tibetan and lives in Beijing, and her topics are current affairs in and around Tibet. When did you start blogging on High Peaks, Pure Earth? Was blogging there a possible reason for the Chinese authorities to ban you from China?

A: I first started blogging on my return to the UK from China in July 2008, it was more out of necessity at first as I needed a personal online space to post statements for the media, it was the easiest way to get my side of the story out.
High Peaks Pure Earth started in September 2008 as a translations blog, a place where Tibetan blogs would be translated into English. Occasionally there will be original pieces featured on High Peaks Pure Earth but the content is overwhelmingly made up of translations. The work of prominent Tibetan poet, writer and blogger, Woeser, is translated the most.

Q: Why do you run a personal blog, besides High Peaks? Was there a key moment where you felt that you should share your experiences in and your feelings about Tibet which got your blog started? Or is Dechen’s Blog more about your life after having left China? Who are the main readers of Dechen’s Blog?

A: As mentioned before, I consider High Peaks Pure Earth to be more of a translations project whereas Dechen’s Blog is really a place where I can post my own thoughts, publish my articles and write updates about what I’m personally doing. If I feel like writing about Tibetan mastiffs, Tibetan rap videos or Chinese rock magazines, then I can just use my personal blog as a forum for these!

Q: Do you have a policy on trolls? Can you think of a reason to ban a commenter from your threads?

A: There is no official policy. Until now, nobody has been banned and the comments tend to be reasonable.

Q: Which are the three worst online articles or posts you have ever read about Tibet (that you remember)? Please name at least one Chinese, and one Western source. Feel free to name a third source from anywhere, but maybe there is one from this category from a Tibetan source, too?

A: There are too many worst articles to choose from. If I got worked up about all of them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do so I’m just going to post one link from a Chinese source that I would classify as the most bizarre piece written against the Tibetan Youth Congress, JR, your readers can draw their own conclusions (!):
Sometimes you need some light relief I guess.

Q: But there are differences between the Youth Congress and the Dalai Lama, for example, aren’t there? Concering the middle-way approach advocated by the Dalai Lama, for example? Where do you see your own position, there?

A: Yes that’s right, the Tibetan Youth Congress stands for Tibet’s complete independence whereas the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exile administration advocate the middle-way approach. Actually, a few days after I was deported from China, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman announced to foreign media at a press conference in Beijing that I was a “core member” of the Tibetan Youth Congress. I don’t know where they were getting their information from as TYC is mainly based in India and I’ve never even been a member, so that was quite funny. I don’t feel that my own position is important for my work as I’m committed to putting the focus on Tibetans in Tibet, supporting and amplifying their voices.

Q: What’s the worst online article or post you have ever read about China (that you remember)?

A: Again, it’s hard to single out a piece right this second. I’m going to skip this question.

Q: Have you seen big changes in  the “China” or “Tibetan blogosphere” in general, since you started blogging yourself?

A: My feeling is that the Tibetan blogosphere is expanding and growing, particularly as more Tibetan join Weibo and mobile devices become more widely used. I think it would be fair to say that this is in keeping with the general trend in the Chinese blogosphere in the three or four years that I’ve been blogging. There are more and more Tibetan sites to monitor and Tibetans to follow on blogs and microblogs.
On a technological level, more and more apps are being developed in Tibetan and more and more netizens are enjoying the easier process these days to render Tibetan fonts and type in Tibetan. These are the biggest and most dramatic changes taking place. However, it must also be noted that the risks remain the same and Tibetan netizens have to remain cautious in what they blog and discuss online.

Q: When it comes to Tibetan online articles, I’m completely lost, because there seems to be no Tibetan translation function on “Google Translate”. Is there an alternative, if someone who doesn’t speak the language wants to get the gist, however roughly, of a Tibetan text online?

A: A Google Translate for Tibetan is a tool that I’d also like to see! For a general gist then this tool from the Tibetan and Himalayan Library is quite good but might be confusing for somebody who doesn’t have any knowledge of Tibetan:

Q: Do you speak Tibetan yourself?

A: Yes, I grew up with Tibetan in my family.

Q: Which is your favorite blog, besides Woeser’s Invisible Tibet?  What’s the most informative online source about China?

One of my favourite Tibetan blogs that I always enjoy reading is called “Mountain Phoenix Over Tibet”. It seems to be written by a Tibetan woman who is based in the USA and every post is thoughtful and well-written, also thought-provoking:
I also check in every Wednesday to read The Lhakar Diaries, a blogging project started by a group of young Tibetans outside of Tibet: What I like about it is that the project takes an initiative that started inside Tibet (Lhakar, meaning White Wednesday, a movement that started inside Tibet to assert Tibetan identity every Wednesday in small ways) and just runs away with the idea and makes it interesting and fun.
For China information I think China Digital Times does a great job aggregating news, if I’m too busy to read anything else, at least I feel like I know what’s going on if I glance over CDT:
To feel scholarly I will read the fantastic blog China Beat and for Chinese literature news I like to keep up with Paper Republic and Bruce Humes

Q: In your view, has Tibet changed since you started blogging? Has the Tibetan exile community? Has China? Or has the world changed? How so?

A: Gosh, big questions. I think Tibet, the exile community, China and the world have all changed over the last few years! It’s too much really to get into.
I will say though that the self-immolations in Tibet that started in February 2009, continued last year and have intensified over recent months, have been the most disturbing new development in the Tibetan resistance movement since I started blogging. The self-immolations are a desperate plea for the world’s attention and unlike before, it’s possible to receive information about these occurrences relatively quickly, thanks to new technologies. There is even visual documentation of some of the occurrences and whilst this is sad to say, the series of self-immolations have allowed Tibetans outside and inside to process and connect with each other, generating real action worldwide in real time.

Q: When you wrote a translation of Woeser’s post remembering Phuntsog, who died from self-immolation in March last year, a commenter wrote that he had zero respect for the self-immolation. I disagreed with his suggestion that Woeser “ought to be banned from writing even to her own people”, and asked the commenter to respect Phuntsog, no matter if he agreed or disagreed with what he had done. But self-immolation is wrong, isn’t it? Isn’t there a danger that an action which is wrong becomes something celebrated, just to shame those responsible for the plight of Tibet?

A: Yes, I remember that post and also that discussion. Due to their extreme nature, the self-immolations in Tibet have provoked strong reactions from people all over the world, amongst non-Tibetans as well as Tibetans. Read these two reactions from female Tibetan bloggers in USA:
By responding to your previous question in the way that I did, it wasn’t my intention to get into a discussion on whether self-immolation is right or wrong. Rather, when thinking about how things have changed over the last few years for Tibet and Tibetans, I felt I couldn’t possibly not refer to these 17 cases since 2009. These cases constitute a disturbing new development that we all have to try to come to terms with in our own minds, something I felt that Woeser, the other commenter, Mountain Phoenix and NYCyak were all doing out loud.

Q: Have your political views, or your view of the world, changed? If yes, how so?

A: No, I don’t think my views have changed.

Q: Does your interest in China go beyond the role it plays in Tibet, and in Tibetan affairs?

A: Yes I think so, although of course that would be my main interest in China. I studied various aspects of China during my Masters in Chinese Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, focusing on anthropology and literature as well as language. Living in Beijing and travelling in China also gave me a feel for the people and the place that I would never have developed otherwise.

Q: Is blogging your preferred way of discussing matters of public interest, or do other ways of expressing yourself – social networking, youtube, Twitter, etc. – matter just as much to you, or more? Which role does Global Voices play in your online activities?

A: Blogging is my preferred method of discussing Tibet and China, I mostly use social networking sites to share what’s on my blogs. I also publish articles on other blogs and sites such as The Comment Factory or as a guest writer, for example, most recently for WITNESS.
Global Voices has been a good platform through which to reach a wider audience interested in citizen journalism and underreported stories. It helps to put Tibet into a wider perspective in the context of everything else that is happening in the world. I really should write more for them, thanks for the reminder JR!

Q: Is there an unasked question to which you would like to reply anyway?

A: Nope! Thanks for this interview!

Q: And thank you for your answers!

The interview was conducted by an exchange of e-mails.



All BoZhu Interviews


Thursday, November 24, 2011

The BoZhu Interviews: “I’ve Become more Aware of How Easily People Adapt to new Circumstances” –

FOARP about Democracy, Arguments between Memory and Ego, and the End of Reform in China

FOARP (Fear of a Red Planet) is a blogger from Britain who lives and works in Poland. He has also lived in China and Japan, and his first long-distance flight took him to Taiwan, ten years ago. The following interview is all about the past ten years.
His blog’s homepage can be found here.

The interview –

Q:  Most foreign China blogs seem to get started at the beginning of an expat’s stay there, or at some time during their stay. Your first post says, “It’s Good to be Back”, in October 2007, after your return to Britain. Why the delay?

A: Until 2006 I had never even looked at a blog, much less comment on one. I guess like a lot of people I saw such things as a giant time waster (which they are) and as inconsequential (which they may or may not be). The change happened after I started working for Foxconn, where my job consisted of periods of intense activity interspersed with the occasional period of inactivity, in which I turned to reading/commenting on blogs as a way of fighting the boredom.

Q:  Not too long after your return to Europe, you became an expat again, a Briton in Poland. How did you get there? Had you been there before? Do you speak Polish? And does life in Poland have an effect on how you view the world?

A: Actually I left the UK back at the end of 2009, when I travelled to Japan and worked for a patent firm there. I came to Poland at the start of this year to work in-house for a Finnish MNC where I get to use my Chinese, my knowledge of intellectual property, and get to travel a lot. Coming to Poland for the job interview was my first time in the country. My Polish classes are funded by the company – at the moment I can speak some Polish, ale niezbyt dobrze.

I would say that both my experiences in Japan and my experiences in Poland have affected my view on the world. Working in Japan taught me a lot about people, some good, some bad. I made some very good friends, but also worked incredibly long hours, alongside people who basically sacrificed their personal lives on the altar of work. Poland is almost the polar opposite. Perhaps it is the communist inheritance with its emphasis on work-to-rule, but the Polish draw a very solid line between their personal lives and their work lives and clearly distinguish between them.

Living in both these places also put a different perspective on my experiences in China. Japan obviously has many cultural similarities with China (although I think the idea of a genuine ‘Confucian’ world is an incredibly dangerous oversimplification). However, Japan’s cultural inheritance has not cursed it to eternal dictatorship.  Poland’s story as a country which has emerged from dictatorship is also obviously relevant.

Q:  Relevant in which ways?

A: Poland managed to successfully ditch communism without harming economic growth, or even ever suffering a real recession, and without excessive bloodshed after the end of the martial law period. It hasn’t had the same exposition that East Germany experienced due to the activities of the Gauck commission though. Perhaps the ideal post-communist liberation would be economically Polish and politically East German, but then East Germany had the rest of Germany to assist it.

Of course, the experience of Taiwan is perhaps more to the point.

Q: When did you decide to go to China? Did you study the language, along with law, before going there?

A: I graduated with a degree in Physics and Astrophysics and no idea of how I was going to use it to find a job back in the summer of 2001. The one thing I was certain of, however, was that I wanted to see the world and to learn a language that would be useful. It was basically a toss-up between Russian and Chinese, and Chinese won.

Before I arrived in Taiwan in November 2001 I had studied Chinese for about 3 weeks but that was about the limit. Firstly in Taiwan, and then later at a university in Nanjing, I taught English and used the money from that to pay for my studies. It was only after studying Chinese for a few years that I felt confident enough to take on a job in the patenting department at Foxconn at the start of ’06, which was also my first introduction to patenting. After working there for about 18 months I decided that I wanted to try to get some qualifications related to patenting, and so returned to the UK where I studied my master’s in intellectual property as well as a diploma in law. The job market being as it was in ’09, I ended up going back overseas after graduating.

Q:  Did life in China have an effect on how you view the world?

A: Since I was 21 when I went to Taiwan, and 22 when I arrived in Nanjing, it’s kind of hard for me to distinguish between the changes that naturally occur after 21 and the effect that China had. Compared to most of the people I knew back home, though, I would say that I’ve become more cynical, and more aware of how easily people adapt to new circumstances and get used to them.

Some experiences which I had in China which had a big effect on me:

  • SARS – my interesting life in China was converted in a very short time into something approaching semi-apocalyptic within a few days of the government switching from cover-up to over-reaction.
  • My boss in Nanjing’s attempted murder of his secretary, his subsequent suicide, and the response of party authorities to it.
  • Learning the language – a great confidence-booster and something I will use the rest of my life.
  • The sight of the hundreds of new recruits who showed up from the countryside every day at the gate underneath my office windows at Foxconn.
  • The expat community – put simply, my fellow expats included some really clever, smart people, as well as some real scum-bags. The real shock was discovering that the two were not as mutually exclusive as I had previously thought.
  • A friend of mine crying when she described the poverty of her home town. It had never occurred to me before that that people could be that ashamed of a poor background.

Reading the above it sounds like I had a really bad time in China, actually I had a ball, it’s just that I also had to take the rough with the smooth – and in China there’s a lot of both.

Q:  I guess if there was something that would boost my confidence, it would be earning a degree in Physics and in Astrophysics… One of the purposes of your blog, as stated in October 2007, was to keep your Chinese polished. How closely do you follow Chinese and non-Chinese blogs on China respectively? Do you (as a reader) or they (as bloggers) focus on certain, recurring kinds of news and topics?

A: I try to keep up my Chinese by watching the occasional soap-opera and reading news articles, as well as the stuff I translate at work. Chinese bloggers who I follow have dwindled – Song Qiang and Wang Xiaofeng only post about once a month. On the English language side, blogs I’ll look at at least once a day include the Peking Duck, China Geeks, China Law Blog, Imagethief (when he posts) and, of course, Just Recently’s Beautiful Blog.

As a reader I’m not so interested in the business/legal side of things – outside of work, anyway. Politics and history are the things I like to read the most. A couple of new (to me, anyway) blogs I’ve been getting into recently: Sinostand, Seeing Red In China, and Roll, Roll, Run. Why not any with a more positive spin on the Chinese government?  Well, I simply don’t believe such a spin reflects the truth.

Q:  Have you seen big changes in your own blog or blogs, and in the Chinese, or foreign “China blogosphere” since you started blogging yourself?

A: The biggest change happened between 2006 and 2008, with the introduction of comprehensive blocking. Put simply, this destroyed the expat blogosphere in China, since the humorous complaining that had made up 90% of what was posted about life in China became impossible to access without a proxy, thus preventing people finding them by accident the way people did with websites like Talk Talk China. These blogs fed off comments, so without them they withered and died.The growth of the nationalist movement since 2008 and its effect on the Chinese internet has been well enough described elsewhere that I don’t need to go into it.

In my own blog, I’ve found out that the best use for it is as a sort of log book of what I thought about something in particular at a particular time. Nietzsche said something about how, when your memory and your ego argue, it is your memory that eventually gives way. I like to use my blog as a way of counteracting the temptation to unconsciously re-write what you really thought about something at the time. You see this a lot when you ask people if they supported the Iraq war – my friends accuse me of it.

Q:  In your view, has China changed since you started blogging? Has Britain? Has the world? How so?

A: The biggest change in China has been the ditching of reform – combined with the predicted slow-down this could spell big trouble. Or it might not.For the UK, the economic crisis has had a big effect, but I believe in the long term there will be some positive outcome from it. I’m hoping that the crisis in the Eurozone will teach people that they are much better off having their own economic destiny in their own hands, and not decided for them by Frankfurt, Brussels, or Athens. The death of the idea that continuous borrowing on the never-never is an acceptable way of running the country is also something I hope the current crisis will bring about.

For the world in general, I see two changes this year. The first is the re-emergence of democratisation as an engine of change. From 9/11 until this year it seemed that democracy was on the retreat in Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus, Central Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere. The Arab Spring will, I hope, change this. The second is the all-enveloping economic crisis has also had an effect, destroying confidence in many of our financial institutions.

Q:  Besides a return to, let’s say, the subsidiarity principle within the EU –is that what you mean? –, would you like to see a smaller role for organizations such as the IMF or the World Bank, too? If so, why?

A: I’m afraid it rather revolves around the current dispute between Mr. Cameron and Mrs. Merkel. Mrs. Merkel’s solution is more Europe, Mr. Cameron’s solution is less. The UK at least signed on to the European Economic Community after a referendum in which it was promised that the EEC would be a trade union first and foremost, you could argue that things have developed from there, but there was never really any mandate given for this change. My hope is that whichever way things go, some reference is made to the people of Europe and what they actually want, preferably through a referendum.

The IMF and the World Bank have something of a mixed record, but a lender capable of imposing conditions is certainly something that is necessary at the moment.

Q:  Have you ever stopped reading blogs because you felt they were becoming boring, or because they angered you?

A: Never because they angered me – I even still read Hidden Harmonies. Some blogs that used to be good have gone downhill however – Danwei being an example.

Q:  What’s the worst online article or post you have ever read about China (that you remember)? And what’s the worst online article about Britain that you remember?

A: China – well, there’s so many. It’s really a toss-up between Shaun Rein’s “Real poverty is pretty much gone” piece, his piece proposing that the Nobel prize be given to Deng Xiaoping, and Paul V. Kane’s piece suggesting that the US sell-out Taiwan in the NYT last week.

Britain? Well, there was a lot of stupid rubbish written in the US about “imperial decline” after the 2007 Iranian hostage crisis, but that’s the only thing that comes to mind. I guess you can also include the nonsense Mark Stein used to peddle about Europe (and Britain in particular) turning into “Eurabia” because of Muslim immigration – something with no statistical basis.

Q:  That’s to say, you don’t believe in that life-cycle – rise, decline and fall of empires?

A: Well, very few countries admit to being empires any more, do they? But any theory of history based on things being cyclical overcomplicates the point – things change, except when they don’t, and that’s it.

Q:  An interview about your blog wouldn’t be complete without a question about your online brawl with Chris Devonshire-Ellis. In November 2008, you wrote a post stating that Chris Devonshire-Ellis wasn’t a lawyer, and that it annoyed you that he was treated as an expert by people who ought to know better. Were you the first blogger to make that statement? Wang Jianshuo, a Chinese blogger, wrote in December 2009 that he had previously run into Mr. Devonshire-Ellis, too (also online, and not in real life). Did you expect what followed – i. e. this kind of correspondence? This followed almost two and a half years after your actual post, and it probably caused you some trouble. Would you have written the post anyway, knowing the aftermath? Why, or why not?

A: Actually someone left a comment on a thread on Wang Jianshuo’s blog outing him as early as 2006, and people knew about it before even that. It’s just that he had managed to silence them through intimidating tactics such as those Wang Jianshuo (and also Ryan McLaughlin) describe on their blogs. People were also discussing his disreputable tactics – particularly giving out that he was a legal professional when he had not even finished his A-levels – on various defunct expat blogs back in 2006, which is where I first heard of him. I checked out his story myself after I got back to the UK, and after hearing from some more people who had been hassled by him, I decided to write a post on him to encourage those who were being hassled to stand up to him by showing that there was actually nothing, legally speaking, that he could do to stop them telling the truth about him.

Do I regret outing him? Absolutely not! Yes, the old boy certainly knows how to hold a grudge, but as far as I’m concerned, he can go and whistle for all I care. I’m in the right, and he’s in the wrong. It’s that simple.

Even having my real identity outed by him, to me, was not such a problem. For years I had been planning to out myself  but the correct moment never seemed to present itself. He solved the problem for me. The negative consequences of being outed have so far been precisely zero.

I would, however, like to give a shout-out to everyone who wrote comments on my blog supporting me.

Q:  Your most beautiful post, you said when it was your turn in a blog-nomination-snowball initiative in August this year, was one about Taiwan. At the same time, it seems, you like to tease Taiwanese nationalists, once in a while. Why is that? Does your sympathy for Taiwanese (or expat-Taiwanese feelings) depend on the way they are expressed?

A: When I lived in Taiwan I had a lot of sympathy for the pan-greens. I still do. It’s just that sympathy does not extend to uncritically swallowing scare-stories about a KMT-CCP conspiracy to annex Taiwan to China over the heads of the Taiwanese electorate without evidence. It’s also striking how Taiwanese independence is the lens through which some of these bloggers see everything. They’ve become far more committed to Taiwanese independence than the average Taiwanese person, and far more committed to the pan-greens than the average Taiwanese voter, a commitment not unlike certain US officials and the former South Vietnam – which is why my first post on this was entitled “Taiwan Expats and the Saigon Syndrome“.

Also having followed the last ten years, it’s become obvious that for some people war is always just around the corner, and they always write accordingly. The Chinese invasion is always in the next election year, the KMT is always trying to fix a deal (for which there’s no evidence) , the CCP is always carrying forward its plans etc. etc. etc. Sure, “the boy who cried wolf” and all that, but there’s a difference between warning people to maintain vigilance, and essentially trying to sell scare stories on the basis of rumours.

The goal of demonising the KMT is to de-legitimise them as a political party. Any vote they win is put down to dirty tricks. Their manifesto is portrayed as a tissue of lies. The idea that, by de-legitimising one half of Taiwan’s democratic balance, they are also delegitimising Taiwan’s political system, does not seem to occur to the purveyors  of such propaganda. It does not matter that propaganda from the other side has the same effect.

I’ve kind of mellowed on the Taiwan blogs, though, firstly because the DPP has changed it’s policies over the past few years – particularly since Tsai Ing-wen become leader – and a lot of the blogs have followed their lead. I’m certain that the CCP will try to paint her as an extremist – it’s what they do to everyone – but this is neither here nor there. I just hope that, if she loses, she, or someone like her, gets another chance.

Q:  Is there an unasked question you’d like to reply to?

A: I’ve been asked a lot how I ever could have worked for Foxconn. The answer is that I joined them before the major scandals came out. Actually, for me, it was quite a positive experience. I know I’ve been critical of people who have worked for outlets like Global Times and it may look like I’m applying a double-standard, but to me it does not seem that way.

Q: Foarp, thanks a lot for this interview.

The interview was conducted by an exchange of e-mails.



All BoZhu Interviews


Sunday, November 13, 2011

The BoZhu Interviews: Chinese Perspectives and Calabrian Concepts –

an interview with Tai De

Tai De is a civil servant from Verden, Lower Saxony, in the vicinity of Bremen. He started blogging in 2008, and his posts are usually reactions to national, international or local news. He’s interested in everything along the Silk Road, in history, natural science, and horse breeding. His wife is partly Chinese, and courtship and the marriage ceremony, a long time ago, were complicated but instructive.

His blog can be found here.

The interview –

Q: You have been blogging for more than three years. How did it start?

I started with my home town, Verden, because I felt that besides the established political parties’ and the local press – well-connected with those parties -, there was little discussion of other local perspectives. So, based on personal experience, and on my interest in local affairs, it was broadly about Verden, and you’ll still find many Verden-related posts on my blog.

Q: Aren’t the Free Democrats filling that gap efficiently enough? Those things that may not be covered by the Social Democrats and the press?

What can I say…

Q: Your topics are about everything along the silk road. Isn’t that topical setting too broad to develop a genuine focus, and to get a constant readership?

I agree. This diversity hampers development of a continuous readership, but I blog about whatever interests me. If other people feel interested in certain articles nevertheless, I’m always pleased about that, of course.

Anyway, you can probably guess from the number of posts that blogging isn’t the most important part of my spare time.

Q: Let’s suppose that Tai De gets tons of comments and controversial threads, all of a sudden… would that bother you, as it takes time to reply to comments or to moderate?

Not if the commenters are patient.

Q: China doesn’t play a major role on your blog, but Chinese topics do emerge once in a while. Which kinds of “Chinese” topics are most likely to make you react strongly enough to write a blog post about it?

It’s not so much because the topics would be Chinese, but it’s because of the way Germany and the western world deal with this latest challenge from a power which isn’t too calculable in my view. Right when that poor blighter, Francis Fukuyama, had announced the end of history, after the end of the Soviet threat, another challenge emerged.

Q: Chinese officials, citizens, and Germans who feel close to China would probably disagree with you. China doesn’t challenge us – it feels challenged by us.

OK. That’s a normal and understandable perception, and I believe that as a German, I know this perception well. After all, Germany kept bothering its neighbors with a similarly wrong-headed world outlook, during the 20th century.

Q: Have you seen big changes in your own blog, and in the foreign blogosphere respectively, since you started blogging yourself? Have you seen changes in the mainstream media?

I have to admit that I’m still more into printed newspapers than into the blogosphere. I can therefore only base my answer on what I’ve read in the printed press. As far as that’s concerned, the China-jaggedness of the 1990s and the first decade of this century have been replaced by – in my view – partly racist coverage, and by fear.

Q: Before someone else asks this question – isn’t MyLaowai racist, for example? You’ve commented there occasionally.

No, I don’t think he’s racist. Some of his commenters are, though, and that’s why I don’t comment there more frequently. Even online, I mind the company I’m hanging out with, especially when faked “Chinese” commenters emerge there and speak bad English. But I like reading MyLaowai. Compared with appeasement blogs – like Doppelpod, for example -, MyLaowai has something to say, and he doesn’t need to make a mark at his own country’s costs.

Q: What’s wrong with Doppelpod’s approach – a position between rather contrarian political or (maybe) civilizational positions – in your view? Wouldn’t yours be a rather “Chinese” view of the world? Sort of Shames and honors?

If you have time for a little story… I was at a pretty sterling dinner years ago, on invitation of just as sterling hanseatic pepper sacks. Someone remarked that a professor who had attended previously hadn’t shown up again. One of those merchants told him that the professor in question had made negative remarks about his university in public, that is to say, at such a dinner. He wasn’t welcome any more.

I keep to this kind of policy myself. That’s why you won’t find much – or anything – about my actual field of work on my blog. Work with students is a protected range, and when it comes to educational policies, I mustn’t be too specific there, either. Tangible examples or occasions are out of the question.

Interestingly, most of those merchants probably shared the professor’s criticism, but rejected him as a person. They found him disloyal. I agree with that sentiment, even though I find the merchants outlandish in many other ways.

Q: That’s pretty old school, isn’t it?

It may be old school, it may be a rather Syrian or Turkish perspective, a German pre-war perpective, a Chinese perspective, or a Calabrian concept – that’s up to you. Doppelpod won’t need to worry about that – most decision-makers these days will think of this as “old school” indeed. Therefore, what I feel is disloyalty, isn’t disloyalty to others. It’s no practical issue any more. But adhering to that “old school” isn’t only a matter of decency in my view, but practical for everyone involved. It seems to me that most of us complain about a lack of “binding values”, or a lack of reliability within society. This seems to be a major complaint in China, too. If you feel that something of that kind is missing in your society, you’d better practice such values yourself, as honestly as you can.

Q: Are your teaching colleagues or your students aware that you are blogging? Posts like “Newthink – da future is digital and dumb” wouldn’t suggest that you are using the internet at all.

There may be a few exceptions. Most colleagues definitely don’t know my blog. But there are some students and teachers who think that they’ve recognised me.

Q: Why not blogging under your real name, then?

I’m not blogging for the sake of a career, and I appreciate freedom of speech (which is only available on American servers, by the way). Therefore, I’ll stick to “Tai De”.

Q: Your posts usually discuss Chinese, German, Israeli, Palestinian, Syrian, Thai, and Turkish issues. Are there other countries that interest you, or that play a role in your life, too?

Britan for sure, and Italy – for family reasons, too, and because they have something to do with my life.

Q: If Lower Saxony was a sovereign state, I’d have mentioned it in my previous question, too. You discuss Lower-Saxonian issues, once in a while. Why should the rest of the world care?

Even if we leave the fact aside that Hanoverians are the most classy Brits, and the island monkeys are only the remains of the day, I will usually write about what I can see every day, and about structures I’m familiar with.

Q: Some of your posts suggest that you like to wash Germany’s dirty laundry in public – even worse, you aren’t even washing it, you just keep displaying it. You aren’t a patriot, are you?

Am I patriotic? Am I not? With the events of the past century – its first half, anyway – on your mind, it isn’t easy for a German to have patriotic feelings. There’s that concept of a Verfassungspatriot, a constitutional patriot – that’s what I am for sure. Contrary to France, Spain, and Great Britain – and even when you compare Germany with its old provinces around Amsterdam and Rotterdam -, Germany is a belated nation, just as Italy. The concept of the Reich has become contaminated, too much so to be connoted in a positive way. My country, my people, and its civilization, that’s where I belong.

Q: Tai De, thanks a lot for this interview.

The interview was conducted in an authentic Chinese restaurant in Bremen.



All BoZhu Interviews


Thursday, October 27, 2011

The BoZhu Interviews: a Translator and his Blog –

the internet’s blessings, the uphill battle battle of practicing foreign languages, and an old novel’s lasting relevance

Huolong started blogging eleven years ago. During the earlier stage, in Harbin, he mostly wrote about everyday life, his reading experiences, his work, hopes and fears, about childhood, classmates, and friendship. He originally started blogging in Chinese, but his blog soon became a blend of Chinese and English-language posts. Somewhere in the process, translation became another topic, and has by now segregated into his main topic. He lives and works in Beijing.

Huolong’s complete blog can be found here, and it also contains a category with English posts only.

The interview:

Q: You have been blogging for more than a decade, and for much of the time, you have been a bi-lingual blogger. Why do you blog? Was there a key moment where you felt that you should share your experiences and your feelings, which got your blog (or blogs) started?

A: Firstly, I want to express myself. A blog, or rather the broader Internet with all its applications built and flourishing on it, is a blessing for people like me. Secondly, I want to help. I’m a professional translator with Chinese as native tongue and English as a foreign/second one. I’ve been in this trade for more than a decade and have learned a great deal I want to share to do some good. Last but not least, I want to build some online brand for myself. My website helped me land my first and second jobs in Beijing and even played a great role in making my wife (just a classmate back then) believe I remained a not-so-bad person in 2004 after the long 14 years during which we’d lost each other.

Q: What’s the worst online article or post you have ever read about China (that you remember)?

A: The article or post I can’t remember. But I still remember a China blog that never fails to repulse me: In its newest post, he called the Chinese police officers “monkeys” and implied that their brick-breaking palms are useless for performance of their duties. This only further enhances my belief that Mylaowai has an unbalanced mind. For example, he couldn’t seem to understand that physical sturdiness is a small but key part of their overall capabilities. Only Mylaowai seems to assume that the Chinese officers don’t think high-tech is crucial to modern police actions.

Q: A number of your readers have subscribed to your translation training serial. How many persons are taking part? Do you know some of them personally? Do you feel that they are making headway, and do you get feedback which you put back into your courses?

A: Currently, there are about 300 subscribers to my newsletters, with some of them being my office colleagues. Most of them are only casual subscribers. I’ve seen no meaningful results since I started the newsletter more than a year ago.

[Update, Oct 28, follow-up question 1]:

Q: Are you mulling ways to guide subscribers to more efficient problem-solving?

A: Yes. I’ve tried in vain and found that it’s extremely difficult to change how they think about translation learning or that they are not dedicated enough.

[End of update follow-up question 1]

Q: How did you learn English? Which approach was most helpful? School? Work? Reading? “Real Life”?

A: Generally, I taught myself to use the language. I owe my English to a now controversial man named Li Yang, an English-language teacher-businessman whose teaching and motivation approach is characterized by crazy shouting by large English-learning crowds. I haven’t met him personally. But I bought some of his books in 1996. And in his books, he showed how people could learn good English in a non-English-speaking environment. According to his teachings, if I speak English well, I can then understand it well both spoken and written and write it well. Another secret he revealed is that reading is the shortest-cut to wisdom and knowledge accumulated over the years. I then went almost crazy practicing speaking English and became a devouring reader. As every language professional understands it, learning and studying a language involves everything associated with it and is a never-ending uphill battle. His methods make the process easier for me. My problem is the same as that of most other English learners in China: I have listened and spoken too little. This is where I must and will improve.

[Update, Oct 28, follow-up question 2]:

Q: Baike Baidu describes Li Yang’s approach as one that would tear down psychological barriers, when it comes to speaking (or shouting) – the fear of making mistakes and losing face (false shame). Does this explain his concept correctly?

A: His concept is more than tearing down the barriers, which I think is the only the first step. It also includes practical methods about how learners can learn English better, e.g. tongue muscle training and special English-pronunciation techniques for Chinese speakers. His concept also includes a key component: Learners should learn the language sentence by sentence, article by article, and book by book. This is a very effective antidote to the bad habits of most English learners in China, who tend to learn and study English vocabulary, grammar, listening, speaking, reading and writing as completely separate components. They dream that the components will fall into place automatically and then their English will be good one day. That day will never come.

[End of update follow-up question 2]

Q: Do you expect a broader readership to pay attention to your articles – about translation, or about your personal life -, or is yours rather a niche blog for a small circle of specialists? Would you mind if a broader readership got strongly involved in your commenting threads? Would you mind controversy?

A: I’ve only recently – that’s about one year ago – shifted my blogging focus to translation and languages. So now I only expect a much less-varied audience. It’s always good to have a bigger and more participatory readership for any types of blogs. I don’t mind controversy as long as I consider it constructive.

Q: Do you have a policy on trolls? Can you think of a reason to ban a commenter from your threads?

A: No. I don’t need any currently maybe because my posts don’t attract those people. I don’t like off-topic, abusive, or meaningless comments, to name a few.

Q: How closely do you follow Chinese and non-Chinese blogs respectively? Do you (as a reader) or they (as bloggers) focus on certain, recurring kinds of news or topics?

A: I like blogs with meaty contents. I’m a subscriber to quite a few Chinese and English blogs and read them every day. Most of them are in English. Their topics include translation, language, Internet, history and quotations.

Q: Being a bilingual blogger, you seem to follow both Chinese- and English-language blogs, and blog posts written by Chinese and foreign bloggers alike. Do you see anything their blogs would have in common? And what makes them different from each other?

A: The blogs I read are too diverse in topics and styles to have any commonalities. If there is one, I think it’s the dedication with which the bloggers write great contents.

Q: Have you seen big changes in your own blog or blogs, and in the Chinese, or foreign “China blogosphere” respectively since you started blogging yourself? Have you seen changes in the mainstream media?

A: For my blogs, I have changed to focus on language and translation topics. Sorry, I haven’t read enough China blogs or pay enough attention to changes, if any, to the mainstream media to offer useful inputs.

Q: Which is your favorite blog? (Please don’t name mine.) What’s the most informative online source about China?

A: My favorite is EB Blog because it’s written by experts and very informative and intelligent. I only casually read “China blogs”, and this is not enough for me to come up with any informed answer to the second question.

Q: Have you ever stopped reading blogs because you felt they were becoming boring, or because they angered you?

A: Yes. Mylaowai, for example.

Q: In your view, has China changed since you started blogging? Have your feelings changed? Has the world changed? How so?

A: Ten years have passed since I began my first website. A great many things have happened. China now is a polarized and layered society and people in it don’t always know or bother to know what’s happening in the rest of the society. That’s about the case for me, my peers, and those within my close and remote social networks. During the past decade, we worked hard under great pressure in competitive cities and thankfully our life got better year by year. And now we still see hope for even better life. This must be a unique feeling or observation from a global perspective because China is only one of the few countries that have generally succeeded in achieving its ambitious economic and social development goals that have lifted the country out of poverty during the past decade and positions the country for greater prosperity in the future. Politically, China is no better than ten years ago and might be worse. Government power still runs unchecked while the officials can have their own way in most cases. I’m not sure this is good for China’s future even though they have driven the economic growth for the past several decades.

[Update, Oct 28, follow-up question 3]:

Q: You mentioned the Britannica blog earlier in this interview. The blog looks somewhat like the equivalent to BBC Radio 4 (a station you once had on your blog roll, I believe). This is what a British commenter once wrote:

Really, you must understand that Radio 4 is the nearest thing the British middle class has to Pravda. It dispenses a particular kind of wisdom which distinguishes one from the vapid upper class and the benighted working class. Its effect on the minds of the British public is to create an image of middle-class respectability which no evidence to the contrary can dispel.

In the context of Chinese society having become a more layered society, can you think of something similar to BBC Radio Four – a Chinese website or a broadcaster – who would cater to a similar middle class in China?

A: It’s hard to define what the Chinese middle class is. If they are well educated, have professional or technical jobs, and earn enough money, I think they will like CCTV’s movie channels and

[End of update follow-up question 3]

Q: Besides your main translation/personal blog, you have also run a blog devoted to the Dream of the Red Chamber (or Mansion), since 2007. It seems to be hibernating. Why is that?

A: This blog is mainly one for collecting posts by other bloggers or writers. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong place, but Google searches yield few articles about that novel that I think warrant reposting. That novel is encyclopedic in scope and depth: life and death, life experience, history, philosophy, literature, food, health, architecture, and so on. Writing good articles about it requires lots of “been there, done that” stuff, acute observation, expansive thinking and great dedication. I view the novel as a description of a declining society in which the enlightened few saw no way out but still had hope in their heart. Historically, the novel described the decaying Chinese life and society in the 17th and 18th centuries during which time Europeans started to produce great science, technology, art, and literature, explored overseas and experienced drastic changes that led to the Industrial Revolution. China missed them all. This, I think, makes the author one of the most-visionary Chinese people in history.

Q: Is there an unasked question to which you would like to reply anyway?

A: Yes. I would like to say something again about the future of my blogging. I want it to be a source of useful information, a place where my readers find seriously written contents related to language and translation. I have learned to focus and concentrate in blogging. And finally thank you very much for this interview.

Q: The pleasure is all mine.

This interview can also be read here. This interview was conducted by an exchange of e-mails, October 27 – 28.


» Dream of the Red Chamber, a translation by H. B. Joly, 1891
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