Brunswick Review Issue 2

Wu Xiaobo - Blogger On Chinese Business And Economics

A personal view on the impact of blogging in China

It may surprise some outside China that blogs provide commentators inside the country with a significant opportunity to express views, with few restrictions, on financial and economic issues. Recent turmoil in the macro economy has naturally inspired much creative and thought-provoking writing. More than ten years ago I started my career as a columnist for a traditional newspaper, Hangzhou Daily. Today, however, my writing is carried in both traditional and online media. In 2006 I began blogging on Mindmeters, a community forum of contributors with similar blogging interests that became highly popular – perhaps because it was not a mainstream portal. Since the beginning of this year I’ve been blogging on SINA, one of China’s leading online portals; Netease, another prominent online portal, has offered to reprint my SINA posts in real time. In addition, I have a column called “Observing Chinese Companies” on the Financial Times’ Chinese language website, FTChinese.com.

These blogs provide a platform for more texture and emotion than is typically found in the more serious and editorially strict writing environment of traditional publications. The language used is more colloquial and the style more eye-catching.

My increasing use of blogs is driven by their unprecedented reach and the unmatched speed with which they disseminate information. Blogs also offer a valuable opportunity to engage with readers providing feedback.

A defining moment occurred in June 2006 when The Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, had signed an agreement to acquire an 85 per cent stake in Xugong Group Construction Machinery Company. The investment was strongly opposed by Sany Group, a Chinese competitor of the Xugong Group. The CEO of Sany Group wrote 46 articles on his blog setting out reasons why the deal should be opposed. The blog became one of the most visited business blogs in the country and set the tone for future coverage of the investment, which was ultimately halted. Such an outcome would previously have been unimaginable.

At times my own blog posts have stirred controversy. In April 2007, the founder of China’s largest beverage company, Wahaha, claimed that the company had been “cheated” more than ten years earlier when it set up joint ventures with French company Danone. He expressed his wish that the Chinese government and public should react by protecting a national icon and dismissing the joint venture. I had interviewed some of Wahaha’s people 17 years ago and had written a bestseller featuring the company, which I knew well. I wrote a post on my blog stating that the founder’s comments violated the spirit of the contract and would unnecessarily incite nationalistic sentiment. This served to rebalance the previous one-sided, biased commentary on the issue.

It is always interesting to review the messages left in the comment field. Most are from people I do not know. But judging from their comments most are under the age of 30 and are quick to react emotionally. Inevitably some remarks are critical but there’s a degree of social fairness about blogging that is more important.

My teeth were cut on traditional media and it continues to play an important role in my writing – but many of today’s new breed of financial and economic commentators (Ma Guangyuan, Niu Dao, and Ye Tan among them) have only ever written online.

Wu Xiaobo is a blogger on business and the economy.