The young man next to me was writing a blog, tapping ferociously, linking, uploading,
framing, copying, pasting, and tapping ferociously again. Mr Li is from the local neighbourhood and comes here daily to
write what he describes as his “daily thoughts about life”. He graduated from “three-year
college” with an engineering qualification, but has not held a full-time job for more than three months in the three
years since leaving college.
like technical things very much; I guess I studied the wrong thing at college. It’s never long before
my boss gets tired of me.
me get things sorted in my mind. I can take the frustrations of daily life and turn them into something
“For instance, I bought a
yoghurt yesterday, and it was off. I tried to get my money back from the xiaomaibu – a small
kiosk selling snacks and drinks – but they said I had opened it! How silly, of course I had to open
it to find out it was off!
“So I told everyone about
the unreasonable shopkeeper and of course about the brand that I had bought. That made me feel better…
I suppose you could call it revenge, but I prefer to think that I am helping others by telling them what they should
avoid… and also what they should buy… If
I find something cool… that’s surprisingly good… or a great offer, I also talk about it. The
many thank-you notes… and messages of support I get back from complete strangers… makes it all worthwhile.
It’s great to know that there are so many like-minded people out there.”
He and millions of other bloggers write from the heart and Mr Li’s experience of a brand, or of a small corner
shop, have a great influence on what his readers think. Should the criticism of a brand, or of a person,
place or thing reach a critical mass, then the resulting Internet “wave” could result in an image crash, a boycott,
or even a protest outside an embassy. Particularly so if the “official media” decides to fan
the flames of the criticism. So, then, brand stewards, as well as countries, need to avoid upsetting people
like Mr Li. In fact, the really bright ones go out of their way to win him over my over-delivering on expectations
to the extent that he becomes an advocate.
A report published recently by the organisation responsible
for analysing the development of the Internet in China has cast more light on this increasingly influential group.
According to their “Survey Report on Blogs in China
2007”, at the end of November there were 47 million people
in China who had written a blog. Those blogs were occupying about 73 million “blog
spaces”. Approximately, then, one in every four Internet users in China has put finger to keyboard
to publish a blog. Of course many of them are what may be described as lapsed or inactive bloggers, but
their thoughts, ideas, preferences, grievances, loves and hates are still there for all to read.
really influential group, however, are people like Mr Li – who is one of 17 million active bloggers – because
their up-to-the-date musings attract a huge, hungry-for-advice readership. Obviously, all bloggers have
not been created equal, so the more entertaining Mr Li is, the more readers he gets, and the more his “advice”
counts. In other words, some active-bloggers are more attractive than others…
A few weeks ago,
on the provincial island of Hainan, which basks in the South China Seas, Zhang Zilin, a six-foot-tall, 23 year-old from Shijiazhuang,
the capital of Hebei province, became the first Chinese to win the Miss World contest. Her blog, hosted
by Sina.com (http://blog.sina.com.cn/zhangzilin), received over one million hits in the first few days following her win. All brands, the yoghurt brand
that offended Mr Li included, can breath a sigh of relief, however, as no bad experiences were reported. On
the plus side, “Brand London”, where she visited shortly after receiving the crown, enjoys pride of place on her
home page. The amount of money it would have cost the British Tourist Authority to have made a similar
impact – using conventional means – on the ever-expanding group of people who have the means and inclination to
take a long haul holiday, is anyone’s guess.
Blog readers develop a rapport with their favourite
bloggers to the point that the attitudes and preferences that are expressed are bound to seep into their minds.
Bloggers who pour out their worries, fears, and insecurities can build a loyal (and caring) readership, particularly
among those who are experiencing similar emotional traumas.
“It’s therapy for
both of us [the blogger and the reader],”said one young woman I spoke with in Yantai. It is clear
from the several dozen articles and blogs I’ve read recently – as well as from the many conversations I’ve
had – that blogging and blog-reading are the “coping tools” that are increasingly being used to deal with
the “emotional disorientation” caused by China’s dizzying rate of change.
“cyber-cathartic” role of blogging also extends to people’s love life. A few years ago,
Mu Zimei became famous overnight after she blogged about her affairs with several lovers. More recently,
Zhou Qiangling (aka “Madam Rose”), a 51 year-old divorcee surprised her 24 year-old son by setting up a blog,
not to mention attracting "500,000 regular readers" by, according to the China Daily, enjoying “on-line
trysts and writing about them”.
As I was
leaving, an influx of eight young men arrived and the counter was a flurry of activity. Two of that number
were first time visitors to the café and, as well as handing over their ID card, also had to have their photo taken
(with the ID card placed at the bottom of the small camera device on the counter – presumably to cross-reference the
card with the photo). One chap said that he had had his photo taken here last week, but didn’t protest
when the woman from Shanxi told him that she couldn’t find his record and so would have to have his photo taken again.
I managed to finish a bottle of green tea during the several minutes it took to process the courteous and very patient
group at the counter.
The first two to be processed, both in their early
twenties, sat on the settee I had just vacated. Within minutes, they had donned their avatars, and set
out on yet another quest to save the world, ridding it of evil doers as they went.
There are somewhere in the region of 120 million gamers in China (of the 210 million Internet users). When it
comes to digital therapy, then, slaying virtual dragons rates far higher than exorcising personal ghosts.