Michael Anti: enjoy Twitter in China while it lasts


Michael Anti

Michael Anti (安替), is a well-known Chinese blogger who used to work for the New York Times as a researcher and made headlines when his Windows Live blog was deleted by Microsoft for its content.

Anti has been awarded fellowships at Harvard and Cambridge, and as the Niemen Fellow at Harvard 07-08, he quite notedly said that it was not difficult for information to be stopped in China, because once a service like Twitter is stopped, then the most popular ways for information dissemination will end for a while.

Ethan Zuckerman, the co-founder of Global Voices Online, had this to say about Anti in 2007:

He mentions that there are lots of projects trying to monitor China by following internet news – Global Voices, China Media Project, new projects at Hong Kong University. In 2004 and 2005, it made sense to follow blogs to find this “sharp news”. But since 2006, most of the interesting and dissenting news is coming from chat rooms. 2004 and 2005, he tells us, were the “golden years” for the Chinese blogosphere… and they’re over now.

The golden age began with Muzi Mei’s sex diary, where she began detailing her encounters with various men in late 2003, to the shock and titillation of the general public. It ended, he believes, with the blockage of his blog by Microsoft in late 2005. “The government can control every aspect of speech via keyword censorship, firewalls and self-censorship.”

On the topic of the Twitter service in China, Anti has a good deal to say, especially in terms of the somewhat flowering place that “Twitterland” had become in China, just like the golden age of the “blogosphere” of a couple of years ago. Especially as noted figures such as columnist Lian Yue and journalist Hu Yong are huge Twitterers themselves. Anti encourages subscription to his Twitter.

Anti also answered some questions about the online journal that he started, and based on his experience in American media (as a researcher and as visiting fellow to universities), his experience with western media.

Danwei: What are you doing now?

Anti: I’m freelancing now, trying to figure out what I should do next. Doing media jobs for both the Chinese and American, studying at Cambridge and Harvard, and teaching at Shantou University has given me a lot. However, I need to have a rest to digest it all.

Danwei: What are you hoping to achieve with the Far and Wide Journal

Anti: I started the Far & Wide Journal with my friends more than 3 years ago, right after my blog was removed by Microsoft. Before I worked for Beijing bureau of New York Times, I had been a journalist who often reported International news for Chinese newspapers, one of which even sent me to the Iraqi as a war correspondent. Compared to American media, Chinese ones are far from professional on international reporting. Most Chinese international reports or analyses are just edited translations from major English media. Agendas are set by Americans.

Chinese readers know everything that happens in the Middle East, where China has fewer interests, but they seldom read stories that have happened in China’s neighboring countries, like Russia and the ASEAN.

When Chinese investors have already had great influence in Africa, this continent only occasionally appears in the crisis reports which themselves are lazily translated from English coverage. Worst of all, when liberal media give up defining China’s national interest in the new globalized world, Global Times is selling cheap nationalism to millions of young readers, making them more hostile to the rest of the world.

My intention was to organize an independent professional analysis group consisting of journalists, scholars, columnists and students, who will continue to research on a single country, area or topic for years. Every week, we publish online a collection of their political analyses. It’s a kind of civil think-tank on international politics. We offer Chinese media readers an alternative option from lazy translation or nationalist propaganda.

China is rising and more and more people need to know what really happens in the world and what they mean to us Chinese. I hope Far & Wide Journal will have some role in shaping the Chinese people’s worldviews - their becoming more liberal and open.

Danwei: When blogging became big in China, you were one of the first to keep one. Do you feel the same way about blogging today, as you felt then? What’s changed?

Anti: In the whole of 2005, I was blogging. However, blogging is public personal writing, which is also the externalization and sharing of the thinking process. And the deeper I thought, I tended not to expose my immature thinking to the readers.

It’s also time-consuming. I spent more and more hours on research before I finished a blog post. A large readership also meant that any tiny fault in the post was a shame for me.

Next month, I will start a professional blog focusing on Technology and Politics with a friend, which is in fact a blog-style column based on serious research.

Danwei: You worked as a researcher at the New York Times. How would you characterize their attitude towards China news, and what type of stories most interest them?

Anti: I don’t buy the claim that the western media is always negative in their China reporting. Bad news is good news. Journalism should be generally negative wherever it is based. The best Chinese journalists are also investigative reporters.

But without knowing the linguistic, cultural and social background of China, some foreign journalists will continuously do their superficial journalism. That’s OK. We Chinese also have the Global Times, right?

Danwei: In terms of new media, do you still feel that in China censors could control everything that’s happening in this area - you once said that if they shut off twitter, for example, it would be very easy, and information will just not get out.

Anti: Twitter is a new thing in China. The censors need time to figure out what it is. So enjoy the last happy days of twittering before the fate of Youtube descends on it one day.

By the way, I want to point out that the Chinese Twitterland is funnier than the English one, for a Chinese tweet can have three times the volume of an English tweet, thanks to the high information intensity of the Chinese language. 140 Chinese characters can make up all the full elements of a news piece with the “5 Ws” (Who, What, Where, When and HoW). But the joy of the Chinese Twitterland is more fragile, and I hope that it will live longer in this country.

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