Our sources – Douban

Another regular source of articles for is is Douban.

Douban.com, launched on March 6, 2005, is a Chinese social networking website allowing registered users to create content related to cultural life in Chinese cities. Some Chinese authors and critics also register their official personal pages on the site. Douban registered users are mostly young urban Chinese people who go to the platform for ratings and reviews of books/movies or music or join movements and discussion boards, and it gives a direct insight into emerging trends in urban China.

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Our sources – my1510

Readers and users often ask us where we source our texts. So we thought it was time we prepared a short series of posts about our sources.

Our first go-to website is My1510.

My1510

This online platform created by Chinese TV journalist Rose LuQiu LuWei brings together articles written by different Chinese writers and bloggers. Some of the pieces published here are shared from traditional media, while some are original blog posts; some writers are recognised intellectuals others emerging citizen bloggers. Topics range from politics, society and cultural analysis to more personal reflections on contemporary Chinese life.

The platform was developed around one core vision: to provide independent opinions and valuable information. My1510 bridges the gap between news from traditional media channels and opinions from citizen bloggers, striving to be a platform that provides valuable information for its readers.

Global Age Intellectuals must understand the Chinese tradition – Why Marco Polo Project #1

This post opens a series about the factors motivating us to run the Marco Polo Project. Please join in the conversation, and tell us why you think the Marco Polo Project should exist. 

To qualify as a respected intellectual in Continental Europe, you must know the core languages of the Great European Tradition: French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Latin and Greek. You’re not expected to join in spontaneous conversations with no trace of accent, of course, but know enough of each language to read its literature in the text, or at least appreciate its original flavour when reading a translation. And reading them you must: Moliere, Shakespeare, Goethe, Dante, Cervantes, Virigil and Homer are all part of a multilingual tradition in constant dialogue, and make full sense only through their complex relationship with each other.

Up until recently, reading these languages was enough – although respected intellectuals from smaller European countries might throw their own language into the mix, and add colour to the dialogue. Meanwhile, ‘Oriental’ languages were a niche specialty, only marginally more relevant to the conversations of the Great European Tradition than, say, Nahuatl or Quechua. Sanskrit and Hebrew, Russian and Arabic, as close neighbours, peaked a timid glance over the fence. Mandarin was far beyond the pale.

But things have changed. Under the combined effects of globalisation and the rise of Asia, it is likely that Mandarin will feature as part of the linguistic panoply for aspiring intellectuals in Europe and globally. Those ignorant of things Chinese will no longer find themselves in a position to speak with universal authority. This is radically new, this is probably positive, and this is surely challenging. The European traditions have conducted their dialogue for centuries – translation and multi-lingualism is at the core of the European Project. But will this project integrate a language and tradition so long distant and separate?

We believe in a world where cultural and intellectual leaders are multi-lingual, and their thinking is informed by a deep understanding of multiple traditions. We believe that today’s world involves a conversation between the Chinese and European traditions. And our goal for developing this project is to support the great learning effort necessary for this important conversation to take place, and become a matter-of-fact.

Market research

I spent last week-end working on our first market analysis documents. We had been doing a general scan of the environment, but this was the first time we systematically looked at who’s doing the same kind of thing we do, what features they propose, and how we may be different from them.

I re-discovered two very cool websites on the way – China Hush and China Smacks, which both propose ‘hot topics’ from the Chinese web in translation. Their model is different from ours, in that they think of themselves more as a magazine than a language learning and cultural dialogue community. But their stuff is pretty cool!

Yet one thing struck me: there are a few websites out there translating English to Chinese or Chinese to English; but other languages are completely left out. So that’s the big original thing about Marco Polo – multilingualism. Will that work? We shall see.

Danwei

A few days ago, I exchanged emails with Jeremy Goldkorn, who runs the wonderful Danwei online magazine. I was introduced to Jeremy through Professor Geremie Barme at ANU, himself introduced by Jill Collins at the Australian Embassy in Beijing. Thank you networks! It is really precious, when you start a project like this one, to received some attention and support.

I was thrilled when I saw Jeremy’s email. He’s a legend – he’s been one of the most influential online writers in China for the last 8 years. And now he’s giving us advice. He confirmed our initial thought that crowd-sourcing would only really work if we built solid partnerships with teaching institutions, who would feed a regular inflow of fresh and motivated translators to our website. He also expressed concern about the quality of our translations – something most people have talked about. We will need to think about it more deeply, maybe find a way to pay translators to review advanced work, or have ‘sponsored’ articles, with a reward for the translator.

But now, my main feeling is confidence in the possibilities of the internet. Jeremy was very friendly, and very quick to contact us. Earlier this year, I had a similar thrill when I contacted Meedan.net, and they got back to us rightaway, telling us about their web system.

Right, we’re still a bunch of random friends buidling a website in our study. But I can see how, slowly, we’re beginning to exist as a group with a mission. It’s a great transition, towards a proper collective. Thank you Danwei for the tips. Let’s do this thing!

Back from China

Back in Melbourne after two months in Tianjin, it’s time to launch the second phase of development for Marco Polo Project.

While in China, I made good contact with Nicolas Idier and Jill Collins at the French and Australian Embassy. I also talked extensively with Juliette Salabert, director of Alliance Francaise in Tianjin.

This Chinese time did not make me doubt about the feasibility of Marco Polo. The Chinese people I met, whether students at Alliance Francaise or friends of friends, were all very keen to promote Chinese culture, intent on improving their English and any other language they spoke, and constantly plugged into the internet. Idealistic only children are ideal users for our website!

So now, let’s get the thing started, and launch an improved version. Nicolas mentioned the possibility of taking part in French-Chinese cultural events or, if not, he offered to circulate our business cards at the many literary events that he attends around China. High level marketing – let’s be worthy of the generous offer. To work!