CN Reviews looks back at 2009 – part 1


Photo credit: ED Jones/AFP/Getty Images via Boston.com

So what did you find interesting and memorable about 2009? In April, we (led by Kai Pan) rebooted CNReviews with the goal of focusing on interesting people, business opportunities, and aspects of life in China.  Here’s part one of two of “CN Reviews Best Of 2009″ from my perspective (Kai may differ), covering the first half of 2009.


In January, Rebecca MacKinnon wrote a great letter to Obama (in Huffington Post) that highlighted four key misunderstandings that Westerners have about China, namely:  (1) popular opinion does actually matter to the authoritarian CCP, (2) that young Chinese don’t see the West as liberators, (3) that popular support for the government is greater than most Western people think, and (4) the Chinese are not “an undifferentiated mass of brainwashed drones.”

In April, Jackie Chan created a Western media sh1tstorm with his comments that “Chinese need to be controlled.” Translated by the AP (via Taipei Times):

I’m not sure if it’s good to have freedom or not,” Chan said. “I’m really confused now. If you’re too free, you’re like the way Hong Kong is now. It’s very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic.”  Chan added: “I’m gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we’re not being controlled, we’ll just do what we want.

Kai Pan took issue with this translation (as did ESWN) and argued that the Western media is mistranslating his words and ignoring the context of Chinese history:

Any person with a passing interest in Chinese history should be aware of the Chinese people’s preoccupation with order and chaos. Unification and revolution throughout China’s much boasted 5000 years of history has almost always bore the cause of bringing order to a China plagued with chaos. As a Chinese person, however Hollywood-ified, Chan is deeply aware of this, and his comments regarding his uncertainty over more freedom or less freedom are made with reference to what balance would best serve the interests of developing China forward as a whole.

So please, for the love of God, stop trying to make his comments into some sort of high-profile betrayal of — or backtracking from — the unassailable righteousness and immutable pinnacle of human enlightenment that is “Freedom.” Doing so says more about the colored-lenses you’re wearing than it does about Chan’s personal thoughts regarding individual rights and liberties. It also says your Chinese sucks, or you’re allowing yourself to play stupid.

In April and May, we also highlighted the progressive development of the English-language China blogosphere.  First, we noted  the growing trend of translating Chinese BBS and social media by chinaSMACK, ChinaHush and others, joining old stalwarts like Global Voices Online and Danwei.  Kai also profiled some of our favorite bloggers, including Charles Custer of ChinaGeeks and Rand Han of LittleRedBook.cn.  I then highlighted 10 Ecletic China blogs including Adam Schokora’s 56minus1, Alec Ash’s 6, Zafka Zhang’s China Youth Watch, street fashion blog Stylites in Beijing, and many others.  Finally, we compiled a list of 72+ women English-language China bloggers to prove (to ourselves) that not all China bloggers are culturally-sensitive white guys in China (many of whom we know and love, and whose Chinese is much better than mine).


In March, I attended a panel at SXSW about Entrepreneurship in China that was surprisingly well attended considering it was in Austin, TX.  Kris Krug, Robert Scales, Andrew Lih, Sage Brennan, and Kaiser Kuo (from the audience) contributed some great points for Westerners interested in going to China.  Some of my favorite points were as follows:

  1. Take your time to understand China.
  2. You simply cannot succeed without a trusted and capable local Chinese partner
  3. Question your assumptions about how things work in China.  Always.
  4. Learn to handle more nuance and complexity than you are used to in the West.  Evaluate China on its own terms
  5. If you want to truly change China, you must also localize your approach (in reference to the Tibetan activists during the Olympics)

In March and April, I also fretted about seeing the first clear signals that US dollar hegemony is coming to an end, with People’s Bank of China governor Zhao Xiaochaun asking the International Monetary Fund to begin playing the role that US has historically played in providing an international reserve currency.  I later wrote about 5 signs the Chinese government is preparing an escape route from the US dollar.  I’m afraid this story is far from over.

In May, our partner BloggerInsight translated a post called Taobao is Toxicby prominent Chinese blogger Keso which highlighted Alibaba’s push into transforming university graduates into businesspeople through becoming Taobao sellers.  The only problem is that Taobao is brutally competitive and that this initiative would merely enslave students into becoming part of the Taobao system, with little hope of success.

In May, I also took the opportunity to observe a bit of “parachute journalism,” with Sarah Lacy of TechCrunch swooping into the China VC community in dramatic fashion and writing an expose of alleged bribe-taking at Sequoia China.  The post was later quietly edited with all the major claims removed.

In June, internet control continued to be in the news with the proposed Green Dam initiative and then CCTV attacks on yellow content (aka porn) on Google (which include a “fake” student as an interview subject).  BloggerInsight then polled Chinese bloggers on their opinion regarding the CCTV attack.  Bloggers sardonically noted that Baidu also received negative CCTV press until they spent 40 mm RMB in advertising, at which point the reports went away.

Finally, we and BloggerInsight also highlighted the opportunities in the Chinese travel industry, and mused about the future of travel metasearch in China.


We captured some of the current events that affected people living in China in 2009 and covered some other random topics along the way.

What’s life without food? In January, I reposted a version of Min Guo’s excellent slideshow of regional differences of Chinese New Year food.

In February, David Feng committed an act of journalism by breaking the news on the CCTV fire (TVCC building, actually) on Twitter and driving to the CCTV building to live-tweet and take photos of the fire which burned the TVCC/Mandarin Oriental building to a crisp.

In April, Kai waded into the discussion on racism in China. Kai also stirred up some controversy by highlighting the fact that many expats come to China and then not really make an effort to develop “real” friends who are local Chinese.  Min Guo also translated a few posts from overseas Chinese community site Wenxue City highlighting a Chinese returnee’s experience coming back to Shanghai after time outside of China.

In May, Kai also provided an exceptional news summary on the Swine Flu response in China. We also remembered the victims of the Wenchuan earthquake on the 1 year anniversary on May 12.

June 4 was Chinese Internet Maintenance Day in China, with over 390 sites down for scheduled maintenance.  I blogged about edited memories and consensual amnesia on this sensitive anniversary.  Kai also commented on Mark Anthony Jones‘ Fools Mountain blog post that questioned the dominant Western narrative of the TAM Crackdown.  We also remembered where we each were in 1989, and highlighted some newly released Tiananmen photos of the event.  Finally, BloggerInsight blogged about Chinese bloggers’ perspective on the 20th anniversary June 4.  I’m proud of our coverage on this important historical event.

That’s it.  In the vastness of the topical areas we broadly covered, what happened in the first-half of 2009 that we should remember?

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