Documenting the Toishan-US migration

From Kickstarter:

I need your support to return to Toishan, China, and complete my photographic and historical documentary project tying together my family history and the larger story of the Chinese-American diaspora and emigration abroad.

Over the next several years, I will spend six to twelve months in China, photographing and interviewing Toishanese families, many with similar stories to my own.

3 days left! More information here.

Phone maker Xiaomi’s incredibly charismatic (and trilingual) Twitter account

Much has been stated about Xiaomi as the rising star in China that’s making premium-but-affordable phones with its own UI for Android. But it seems like they’re also a formidable force on social media.

The tweets below come from their official account:






Not only is @XiaomiChina joking with other people on Twitter, it also speaks three languages:




And it’s not just public announcements – it responds and retweets in Spanish, Chinese and English.

To keep all of this in context though, remember that:

This makes Xiaomi’s Twitter account an international PR space for its potential early adopters and the international press. Compared to Baidu, who’s only Twitter account seems to be broadcasting weekly Top 10 lists, I’d say Xiaomi is doing quite well.

Follow @XiaomiChina here.

Thanks for our very own Graham Webster for bringing this to our attention.

Hong Kong’s First Online Petitions Platform


Full disclosure: I worked on the design for this project.

Online petition platforms have taken off in the English speaking world, but what about a Chinese petition platform? In the US and UK, the government both run official petition platforms (remember the Death Star petition to the White House?) and there are a whole host of free-for-all services like, Causes and Avaaz. But in the Chinese-speaking world, they’re still in their infancy. The Mainland Chinese government’s own petition platform crashed during its debut, and even now requires real name registration before you can even access its contents.

In Hong Kong, multinational organizations like WWF have their own online solutions, while smaller local players have to choose between a Google Form embed or one of the free-for-all English-language platforms. SupportHK is (to my knowledge) the first, homegrown open petition platform in Hong Kong, but there is a catch. It’s only available for environment-related petitions; this editorial decision is either a lost opportunity (if you’re gunning for large-scale political change) or a clever tactic (if you realize that environmental issues are being buried by other, more contentious issues).

The bet with SupportHK is that a local community of engaged citizens will emerge around the platform. For starters, that would be useful for government-related petitions, for which only signatures from local residents or citizens count. (Hong Kong petitions on international platforms are often filled with support from foreigners, which do not always make the best case when petitioning a very Hong Kong-centric entity.) And signing petitions is also an interesting activity for Hong Kong itself, as it finds its feet as a democratic city-state that just happens to be a part of China.

Visit SupportHK.

Watch This Super Cute Animated Intro to Alibaba’s Personal Finance Product

It’s pretty great. First, it pokes fun at how people are told to save and not spend. Then it introduces their product which allows people to save AND spend from the higher-than-usual interest rates if customers put their savings there.

Check out Alibaba’s Yuebao 余额宝 for yourself.

The Long-list King of China Bloggers Returns


When I first started blogging about China, Roland Soong’s EastSouthWestNorth was an essential destination for any China watchers at the time. This was back in 2005. A former media analyst, and now heir to some formidable Chinese-literary estates, Soong would translate page-long excerpts from multiple newspapers and magazines about the same “suddenly breaking incident.” Then he would throw in a few terse words of his own, cryptic and/or analytical. The truth was usually between the lines somewhere. In my mind, Soong is the one who popularized terms like “human flesh search engine.”

(The three column list of links at the top of EastSouthWestNorth was also always full of gems, and was a huge influence on what I read as a budding internet researcher-writer back in the day.)

But he’s been on an extended hiatus for the past few years. Other projects came up (related to the aforementioned literary estates), but also:

The other major reason why I stopped updating this site has to do with the state of the Chinese Internet over the past couple of years. When I first started this website, I thought that it was an exciting moment in history when all sorts of good things will come out of the Internet. Many of my initial entries were about how the Internet gave ordinary Chinese people the platform to tell the truth and gave justice a chance. But in time, the process has been perverted as unscrupulous people exploited the platform for their own purposes. Thus, many of my recent entries were of the rumor-busting variety. Every time I read the news, it was just more nonsense that can be dispelled with elementary fact-checking. Eventually, this wore me out. Why should I spend my life busting one rumor after another? I didn’t even want to read any news. It was time to quit.

More recently, things have taken another turn. Perhaps this is story of Hegel’s dialectic:

The thesis, then, might be an idea or a historical movement. Such an idea or movement contains within itself incompleteness that gives rise to opposition, or an antithesis, a conflicting idea or movement. As a result of the conflict a third point of view arises, a synthesis, which overcomes the conflict by reconciling at a higher level the truth contained in both the thesis and antithesis. (Reference- Encarta Encyclopedia)

My sense is that people are sick of the rumor mongering now. They are more aware of manipulative efforts. So this is perhaps the right moment to come back.

Welcome back. Read his full announcement here.

Apple dominates in the Chinese MOOC space even though it’s not a MOOC


Spurred by this article on MOOCs taken hold in Hong Kong, I decided to do a survey on MOOC adoption by Chinese institutions. I did not, as you can see, survey any Chinese MOOC platforms (are there any?), so it’s a bit of a biased selection.

Chinese etymology meets modern graphic design



Entrepreneur ShaoLan Hsueh has teamed up with designer-illustrator Noma Bar to breathe new life into the age old practice of teaching kids Chinese characters using its pictorial etymology. And they need your support for their Kickstarter campaign.

Even though the campaign over sells itself (with prosaic catchphrases like “The real agenda behind this project 
is to bridge the gap between the East and the West”), Chineasy does a very good thing by bringing together traditional language learning and modern graphic design; I would definitely recommend this for young children learning Chinese for the first time.

There’s only 48 hours left on the Chineasy Kickstarter campaign! Back it now.

WeChat: Buying their way to the top of the world?

I saw a version of this (adorable) ad on local Hong Kong TV a few weeks ago – it surprised me that WeChat had gone to new lengths to advertise its service. Before this, WeChat had been buying up traditional ad space on the tops of skyscrapers and in subway stations in Hong Kong (in the case of the latter, the ads feature local celebrities). But having Lionel Messi, probably the most famous football star today, in a long TV ad is a level on its own.

To place all of this in context:

  • I haven’t seen any WeChat ads in China (though Amazon advertises plenty in subway stations in Shenzhen for example)
  • WhatsApp only appears sporadically on billboards here in Hong Kong
  • Line advertises (also on TV) using Korean celebrities and by partnering with convenience stores to offer redeemable trinkets

Google or Facebook never bought any TV ads, or hired celebrities to be its face; will it work for WeChat?

Mini-documentary on Cult Youth on making comix in China

CULT YOUTH from Diesel New Voices (by Coco Wang and Mi You) on Vimeo.

Just discovered this gem recently, an 8-minute mini-documentary about the people behind Cult Youth, one of the leading underground comic groups in China today. What comes off as surprising for a group whose motto includes “If you were not born in the 80s and couldn’t decode the plots, then give up! This is not for you!” is that they do not have a revolutionary bent in the same way the undeground comix movement did in the US and UK in the 60s and 70s.

As Nadim Damluji notes on the Hooded Utilitarian:

In my interview with Ca, he politely deflated my suggestions that maybe China was on the verge of a new comics renaissance. Instead, he explained that for him comics are more about a group of friends having fun on the side of their day-jobs, not a potential career path.

Yet the stylistic similarities to comix remains:


For more about Cult Youth, read Damluji’s article over at the Hooded Utilitarian or follow him on Tumblr at Tintin Travels.

Book Review: Understanding China through Comics, Volume 3: The Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms


The third volume of “Understanding China through Comics” continues Liu’s epic quest to chronicle all of ancient Chinese history in comic form. As with the first two volumes, the book zips through Chinese history, in this case 907 to 1368 AD, with text and illustrations.

Liu spends more of the third volume explaining Chinese cultural ideology and geopolitical context than before, and to good effect. In particular, the Song dynasty’s rise, resilience and downfall is set up as an epic tale. Despite these welcome additions, Liu’s comic history still moves at a hurried pace; before you know it, one ruler is dead, a dynasty is over, and it’s time for the next one.

Get it from Amazon, as a paperback or Kindle e-book.

Editor’s note: Read our reviews of volume 1 and volume 2.