Rebecca McKinnon, former bureau chief of CNN in China and an active blogger, was one of the participants of the Shanghai bloggercon last weekend. On her blog she wrote a post about it, and one issue she mentions there has been going through my head for the past couple of hours. She noticed that web 2.0 is potentially a very Chinese thing: at the core of web 2.0 is social networking and relationship building. And these are the bricks of the Chinese economy: guanxi (relationships).
Rebecca states it like this:
The Chinese economy functions today (to the extent that it does) thanks largely to personal relationship networks: networks that enable people to get stuff done despite bone-headed regulations, politics, logistical obstacles, and everything else. You are nothing in China – and can accomplish very little – without a good “guanxi” network. Expect Chinese internet users to seize upon Web 2.0 tools as a way to expand and deepen their human relationships, enhancing both personal lives and businesses.
I never really gave it much thought, but being an active participant on the internet in China can give you a much bigger network that can help you out in difficult situations. By following people’s blogs and commenting on them, you can get to know other people quite well (and they get to know you), without having physically met. Micah Sittig mentions this on his blog as well when he describes the blogger meeting:
“…this was the first time that many of these people had the chance to meet face-to-face, but the camraderie felt was deep because lots of these guys have been very good friends online for years”
This is of course true all over the world, but because you have to rely more on guanxi in China, it can have a much bigger impact here. Could a poor but intelligent migrant worker build a network through his blog and step up the social ladder because of the guanxi he can develop? Maybe, but he likely does not know about blogging yet and does not have the funds to go online. But this will come. There are smart people out there who otherwise just do not get the chance to show their skills.
The same is true for Chinese companies, building an online network can enhance your reputation in the business community in China. Through the guanxi you make it can directly or indirectly bring in new business, or help you make friends to solve your problems. The only problem is that most Chinese business owners here do not even read blogs yet. But I am sure that time will come sooner than many people expect. At the lastest when the current generation of students start working and bring their blogs with them.