Saturday, November 26, 2005

Is someone in Harbin China reading this blog?

I posted yesterday on Harbin China, a large city that the New York Times described as a "town". Harbin has lost a large portion of its tap water due to benzene in the nearby river -- an environmental disaster on the Soviet scale. (Arguably Bhopal India still holds the cup.)

My post seemed unremarkable, but it solicited a comment:
kaikaiisagirl said...
I agree with you. Seriously the NYT reporters don't know enough about China. I go to college in Harbin, it is like the 8th or 9th biggest city in China.
It's nice to receive affirmation, but is someone in Harbin really reading Gordon's Notes? "Kaikaiisagirl's" blogger profile tells us s/he joined in August of 2005, but the profile has no other information. I suppose this could be a machine generated post, but I don't see why. On balance, it's most likely someone in Harbin did read that post. Someone who reads and writes English fluently.


Gordon's Notes is a hobby blog. It exists because I'm compelled both to write and to rage against the fall of America. It does not have the practical utility of either Gordon's Tech or Be the Best You Can Be; they have value for me as convenient place to keep my own notes. I have long assumed its readership consists of me, my wife, and, on occasion, a few friends. (My own mother gave up on it a while back.) My limited brushes with fame have been links from Brad DeLong and David Brin. I'm also syndicated in .... medlogs, a project of the ever inventive Dr. Jacob Reider. My guess is that my Harbin readership came via the last.


Not coincidentally, I read recently the blog reading and writing is increasing exponentially in China (I almost wrote 'exploding in China', but that phrase has become a cliche nowadays). At the moment the authorities are not too aggressive, though raging against the communist party, or discussing life in Harbin, would be substantially riskier than my rants against the Vice-President for Torture.

One curious side-effect of the Chinese blogging scene is that bloggers who read English also translate what they read into Chinese. Years ago Cisco helped the Chinese government erect powerful blocks to forbidden sites; and later to defeat proxy servers that reached those sites. These blocks are perhaps less effective against millions of blogs, each of which excerpts fractions of the forbidden material -- effectively acting as millions of proxy servers.

This is an interesting example of natural selection in action. The role of personal blog as a low profile proxy server is an accident of nature, but blogs that crave readership will adapt to it. They will become more reliable "proxy servers", the better to serve their Chinese readership.

Incidentally, if anyone wants to send me comments on what life has been like in Harbin, I'll post them anonymously here. You can email me at I'll also experiment with turning off the 'members only' filter on my Blogger comments, and see how well using the moderation filter alone will work.


brightkelly said...

hi! I AM truly from Harbin. I have an account at blogger but I don't keep a blog there. I registered a few months ago, but I find it impossible to post my blogs onto blogger(probably thanks to the Great Firewall). However I can post comments. I may try if I can post blogs here sometime later.

JGF said...

Wow, I am honored! If you'd like to mention something about Harbin life please feel free to post in the comments and I can place it in the blog itself. Of course you know better what's safe to comment on. It's not surprising that the Great Firewall blocks Blogger posting, I'm a bit surpirsed it doesn't block blogspot reading. Maybe next month!

brightkelly said...

It's totally safe to post whatever I like in English on a foreign website(as long as you can access it easily within China). I don't have habit of writing a blog, especially an English blog, I have to try very hard to write an article readable to native speakers on an English blog site, everytime I finish an English article, I find it flat and void:(

because as I'm raised in China, it's hard for any Chinese to have an excess interests in politics. A lot of people, like me, do care about what's going on domestic and internationally, but to be safe you can't become an activist in China...

I used google's blog search function to search the English blogs concerning Harbin yesterday.

Harbin is not as bad as it sounds in the news, maybe it's because I live on campus. People have so much inconveniences without tap water, although it will resume this evening, most of us still are skeptical of the water quality, since benzene is difficult to get rid of, and we don't trust the government.

brightkelly said...

I just tested my blogger, i can post a blog on it after all. it's confusing.