Chinese web “participation gap”: response to Jenkins
This is an older post from a conversation that happened back in February. But since it’s so interesting, and I did the work of translating it, I thought I’d post it now, months later. Enjoy.
MIT professor Henry Jenkins post on China’s Digital Mavens, which was translated into Chinese and then responded to on Chinese blog OhMyMedia.
Jenkins writes: “Some have adopted judgmental perspectives on this participation gap suggesting that the Chinese take but do not give to the culture of the web.”
OhMyMedia author Maomy argues that from a Western perspective, just looking at the traffic that flows between the Chinese language world and the English language world, this view would be correct, and that on more or less every kind of media exchange, including the Internet, there is an unfavorable balance in cultural flows between China and Europe/North America. Maomy sees this not as a cultural or individual choice but rather as an effect of political and economic power.
But Maomy doesn’t see a “participation gap” when looking at things from a Chinese perspective, where Chinese language content is growing exponentially and all kinds of participatory behaviors–mix and match, fan fiction, and so on–can be seen. He notes things like fan fiction written about Super Girl and Super Boy competitions, and e’gao spoofing on Mop.com. In sum, “Chinese young people are just as excited about contributing their personal creations to the web.”
Maomy then references a blog post by Hecaitou about what Chinese netizens are up to (this is a paraphrase! Too much slang for me and too little time):
I’m so busy. I need to read the latest news on Sina, check the latest shocking bits on Sohu blogs, play QQ and get my little guy dressed, play some online games and get some cool equipment, and find a BitTorrent to download the latest movies.
It’s true, says Maomy, and these are just the kinds of piddly little things that make up the daily life of the Chinese netizen. (And of an American netizen, for that matter). Everyone should have the right to do what they want, read what they want, and spend their time how they want, no matter how boring or worthless it seems to an outsider. Maomy sees this right as a scarce commodity in China, and believes that the value of the Internet for many Chinese lies in its freedom of choice, even with the contraints and limitations that are attached to the Chinese web.