Netizens As Locomotive

Here is my translation of the blogpost:-

“As Chinese netizens celebrate their tenth anniversary, my personal political commentary career is also in its tenth year.

I come from a background of history studies. Several books that I have published are all about modern history – those were written in the 1990s. At that time I never imagined that I would cease my history studies and get involved in political commentary. Just prior to the last decade, a book publisher friend of mine gave me a computer to pay for my writing fee and then my internet writing debuted. Of course the internet speed then was very slow – the tiny globe that appeared on the upper right-hand corner of the web browser kept rotating for half a day before turning out a blurry webpage, like a vapor-covered mirror – you had to wait ages before it became clear. Despite this, I was feeling thrilled and had an acute sense that the internet was like a window that would open up to a whole new world for me – a world that would be more wonderful than what I could ever have previously been able to dream up.

In fact, reality has turned out to be exactly like that. If one compares my previous mental process to a journey on foot, on a path as hazardous as the ancient Sichuan access path (古蜀道), so devastating, so suffocating, then the internet that came out from nowhere can be said to have given wings to my thinking, letting me fly freely, leisurely, over soaring mountains and ridges and past man-made and natural hurdles.

From then on, I have become a netizen, or to be exact, a networm. After the children have gone to school in the morning and I am left all alone in a room, I would immerse myself in cyberspace and indulge avidly in it. At that time, the campus webs used to charge fees according to clicks, and I had a shock at the year end when I received the bill: the cumulative fee owed for less than a year amounted to two thousand yuans. This was almost one-third of my annual income then. I couldn’t even tell my wife about this and somehow scraped together some cash from my own savings to settle the bill. As much as it hurt a lot, it was not enough to kill my addiction and whenever I had time, I would surf the net for as long as I pleased.

Now looking back, that was money well spent. Because if I had not spent that money, I would not have begun my career on political commentary, nor would I have got where I am today.

The internet space that I was initially familiar with was in the current politics domain; for example, the Chat Room at Sina.com, the early Protest Forum at People.com.cn and the subsequent Strong Country Forum. It was probably due to the fact that I had felt repressed for too long, coupled with the far less stringent control of the internet at that time compared with now, that I felt a particularly strong urge to express myself. I came to a certain conclusion about myself in relation to the internet at that time: a pair of keen eyes, an incorruptible frame of mind and a fervent disposition can best sum up my positioning – the positioning of a critic.

At that point, my career became split. Professionally I am a historian, but as a matter of fact most of my time and energy has been spent on my side career – that is, writing passionately on the internet to comment on politics. It was also at this point that several of my books fell foul of certain people, and I received a clear hint: that I was no longer welcome at the college. So I took the initiative to terminate my campus career, one that I had spent almost half of my life’s time on. Thus I began to roam in a society that seemed so strange to me. Large as the world was, there was no longer a quiet desk that could let me sit down at to travel back in time and have a dialogue with intellectuals of the past. I was not able to continue my work as a historian. Luckily with my experience of writing online critical essays, I was able to switch easily to the media industry. My side career of writing commentaries on current issues and politics on the internet thus became my main career.

Today, standing on the threshold of the internet’s tenth anniversary and looking back, I am feeling a mix of emotions. My personal growth history in the past decade can be said to have struck a common chord with the 10-year growth history of China’s internet development, as well as the 10-year growth history of China’s public opinion development. Ten years ago, my internet writing was nothing more than a monologue in some remote suburban area, just a few quiet words expressed in a barely noticeable corner, words that would hardly cause a stir. Who would have thought that such marginal and inconsequential online posts could develop into something so prosperous of today?

This is a transformation from a small-circle game ultimately to a public platform, from a private space ultimately into a social apparatus, from a purely virtual existence to becoming merged with reality, from a self-proclaimed grassroot level to a level that gradually wields influence in the system. In the past ten years, I have personally experienced changes in these four directions. And my personal transformation trajectory can be said to parallel the 10-year trajectory of China’s internet evolvement. The past ten years have witnessed the growth of what may be the world’s largest internet community. Without the internet, they would be trapped like I was ten years ago within a space surrounded by high mountains, catching only a narrow glimpse of the world (坐井觀天). In that case, they would inevitably become more distanced than ever from modern civilization, and lead an isolated existence inside a jungle, weeping without being heard and struggling without being seen. The arrival of the internet changed all that. The 200 million Chinese netizens are traversing the million-year old Great Wall to engage in a process of intellectual smuggling under the sun. The world map of the intellectual is changing because of that. The fate of China is changing because of that. The 200 million netizens, or the 200 million intellectual immigrants, are becoming the mainstream of civic society, the locomotive for China’s drive towards modern civilization.

Give me a lever and I can change the world. The internet is the lever for the Chinese people. Indeed, the problems of China are so complicated, and for her to transform is such a horrendous task. But with the help of the internet, we could consolidate the intelligence of the whole human race and the power of the whole modern civilization to help China change and re-create China. The intelligence of the whole human race and the power of the whole modern civilization are invincible. In this, I have the strongest faith.”