Beijing Update

Life in the capital has been unspectacular during the last two weeks. Some small tasks, some language learning, and collecting evidence for some sidelines of my project.

There is, for example, the phenomenon of the Crowded Homepage: Chinese newspage design differs significantly from western design, the pages are huge, and packed with hundreds, if not thousands of headlines. There are nearly no teasers at all – what we consider the epitome of web news editing skill is mostly unknown in China. A homepage like the New York Times’ would strike the chinese reader as minimalistic and, probably, boring. Why is this so? I have been discussing this question with students in Wuhan, with no satisfying results. Now I have found some pertinent entries on expat weblogs that I’m going to follow up on.

Another interesting topic is the so-called Human Flesh Search Engine, which is not, as the title might suggest, related to pornographic content. It is simply a name given to the attempts by chinese netizens of nailing down persons whose alleged misbehavior has been documented somewhere on the web. It is a certain way of crowdsourcing, and its impact sometimes seems to be acceptable, in some cases dubitable, but at second sight, in its sheer extent, with bulletin boards sporting thousands of contributions, and with the moralistic self-righteousness almost always involved, it is nearly always a downright scary thing.

A third phenomenon I’m dealing with is called the 50 Cent Party. This is a name given to people who are suspected to be paid by government institutions to contribute to community discussions and influence them in a massive and coordinated way. Last summer there have been some discussions subsuming this under the label of censorship, until Paul Denlinger, a weathered public relations expert and blogger, got fed up and pointed to the fact that it is simply a form of astroturfing, a PR tactic similarly to be found in western countries.

Stay tuned for more facts, stories and reasoning circling around these and other topics on Orchis Tower during the next days. No, really.

Ah, and this weekend Beijing’s central heating system will be started. Yesterday two cheerful mechanics invaded my apartment and, after checking the radiators, chatted with me for something like ten minutes – happily ignoring the fact that I didn’t understand a word of what they’d been telling me.