[this entry is reposted on 56minus1 from Danwei with permission from the original author]
:: chinaSMACK launched barely four months ago, but it immediately proved to be one of the more interesting niche websites about China in English. The site translates posts and comments from China’s lively Internet forum scene.
Internet fora, or BBS, were one of the first types of website in China to get young Chinese hooked, and they remain very popular. Chinese BBS are a refreshing contrast to the stodgy state media, and the cowed privately-managed media.
You do however need a strong stomach to enjoy Chinese BBS because for every thoughtful or thought-provoking posting, there are two or three vicious ad hominem essays, human flesh search engine man hunts, or nationalistic rants.
chinaSMACK is a slightly anarchic collective of people, mostly Chinese but living all over the world. Under the leadership of Fauna (pictured), they select and translate Chinese BBS posts and comments into English. Reading their website helps makes sense of the chaos of the Chinese Internet, and the moral debates that occupy wired Chinese youth across the globe.
Danwei recently asked Fauna of chinaSMACK some questions and she sent the questions to all the contributors. Below is an edited transcript of their replies.
Who started China Smack and why?
I started chinaSMACK. The reasons are in my about page and in the 3 month post. The basic reasons：Make my own website, improve my English, and help foreigners see and understand a different side of Chinese people that many other English websites about China do not always show. I like to go on online and read BBS forums so I thought it was a suitable topic for me.
Who are all the contributors and where do you live?
The contributors are: me,
Kai (Sydney), Kris Chen (Shanghai), Ping Gao (North Carolina), Ian Statler (Dalian), Xia Boyang (London), Joe Xu (U.S.A.), and Yang Shaohua (Taiyuan). Each of these people have published at least one post. Some have published 3. There are a few other people who have not published anything yet or hope to do different things but none have been completed yet so it is best to recognize these people.
Which websites do you draw most of your translations from?
They are mostly BBS forums like Tianya, Mop, Sina, Sohu, and KDS (because I am in Shanghai). Sometimes there are other BBS like Tiexue, Liba etc.
Tianya. I am a member of the famous Tianya Guanguang Tuan (a group on the Tianya forum).
Mostly Tianya, Sina and CQ 69.
I always translate articles on BBS of Sina.com.
Usually Tianya and NetEase, but I also frequent many other major BBS.
What do you personally consider the most interesting Chinese forum or BBS?
KDS. Maybe I am biased.
Absolutely Tianya. There are some humorous people who post hilarious stuff there. They are full of humor and wisdom. Another thing that makes Tianya interesting is that it is very comprehensive. One can find almost everything about life there. Politics, traveling, music, cooking… all kinds of stuff.
BBS.sina.com and Mop.
I always liked Tianya members the best, mostly due to some of their clever antics when it comes to getting around censorship.
When did you first start following Chinese online conversation, and have you noticed any big changes in Chinese online culture since then?
I started to read BBS forums every day maybe 2 or 3 years ago. Before that, I used to to read them but not so often as every day. I think the big changes for Chinese online culture are that Chinese netizens are now more funny, more yellow, and maybe more free.
However, I think it is also very clear that the Chinese government cares more about the Internet now than before also and many “bad” things are deleted very fast too. Sometimes I notice that the source of a post we are working on is deleted before we are finished translating. That makes me worried that if I post it, I will attract too much attention from the government.
I only hope they do not care too much because we are just translating and most Chinese do not read English. We also try to talk only about social things and not very political things like democracy or human rights.
When I was 18 or 19, in college I was not as busy as when I was in high school, so I could spent more time on internet. Yeah, big changes! I think the influence of the Internet has been growing. Internet was more about sharing information 6 or 7 years ago, but now it can has social influence as well.
Chinese online culture is not only playing a role as media and as encyclopedia, but it’s also a window for people to know the world, and to let the world know China. This is very important for a growing and changing country.
I always receive lots of information from KDS, and it actually makes reading news (TV news, newspaper) unnecessary for me.
Big changes, hmm, basically there are a few changes, but most of them I consider as negative. It’s like people don’t know what to do with their newly granted right, e.g., exposure of private photos without the owner’s consent, taking girls pictures on the streets and posting them on the web, etc. It’s kind of an infringement of others’ legal rights.
Though many online communities provide people with access to various information, people helping each other to solve problems, is kind of encouraging. But basically it seems a higher moral standard is needed.
I’m beginning to see the use of more memes or Internet catchphrases that may have resulted from online censorship.
I only just started following online Chinese conversation and it’s mostly because of chinaSMACK, so let’s say about a month at most. Since it’s been only a month, I can’t say that I’ve noticed any big changes in Chinese online culture. However, just from browsing and translating for chinaSMACK, my opinion is that the comments on chinaSMACK aren’t much different from those on other (English) websites — there are LOL ones, douchebag ones, idiotic ones, intelligent ones, faux-intellectual ones, argumentative ones, racist ones, and of course, very Occidental ones.
Are you ever worried by online mob behavior (human flesh search engines etc.) on China’s Internet?
Of course. That is one big reason I will not give my Chinese name, do personal interviews, or show my face. I know some Chinese do not think it is good I make this website and there are some crazy people in the world. I do not want them to try to find me.
Originally, I changed my gravatar ["globally recognized avatar"; explanation] for the three month anniversary of chinaSMACK (see image above):
I PhotoShopped a picture of me so people could see me but not find out who I am, but I am shy and am not sure I will change it yet. Who I am or what I look like is not really important. I hope people will care more about the Chinese netizens.
Not really. Yeah, sometimes online mob behavior can be annoying, but it also does something good, such as people human flesh search engines help people find their lost babies back. Every thing has two sides. But I think one thing needs to be considered is people’s privacy and rights should be protected by the law.
I do feel bad for some of the victims of online mob behavior. However, most people remain anonymous. And that type of behavior does not focus on random targets, so I guess that’s it. If that’s the way it is, so be it. The key is always remember to protect your private and personal information.
Yes. It is really dangerous for anyone online because your information can be leaked by several methods. I think if your information cannot be kept safely, your money, your safety and your property will also be disclosed by someone who wants to hurt you. But, it is an effective tool to find out some person who has committed a crime and to debate about people’s behavior. It depends on who is using it.
Human flesh search engines are just a tools. It depends on who uses them. So if you are worry about the knife, I think you will be worried about that.
I think the online mob is doing what paparazzi and tabloids do in the Western world. The problem is of course the accountability. Since it is mostly anonymous, it is hard to prosecute someone legally for liabilities and violation of privacy.
Online activism to uncover corruption or crime is not a bad thing, but tactics of intimidation or blackmailing in the form of online vigilantism shouldn’t be allowed.
I wouldn’t call it “worried”; to be honest I actually don’t care. Mob behaviour is endemic in all societies, even back to the days of Julius Caesar (’TEAR HIM TO PIECES!’ ). People are what they are — animals. For my part, I really don’t have that much time to “search and destroy” some guy who cheated on his wife, his mistress and his mistress’s sister.