Picnic Creative China
Last Friday, I attended Creative China, a partner event at Picnic 2007. One of the main topics of this seminar was the use of Internet versus government regulations and Internet restrictions in China. The Internet is by no means a tool for self-expression, if it was up to the Chinese government to decide, but in reality, Chinese users are vehemently looking for ways to express themselves, to challenge authority and as a way to find freedom within a restricted space.
Average people become national heroes
Gary Wang, co-founder of China’s leading video sharing site Tudou presented three cases in which average Internet users became national celebrities. The first one is about a lady who goes by the name Sister Lotus. She gained popularity on the Internet when she started posting blogs and video’s in which she showed her eccentric dance moves. Sister Lotus was (and still is) convinced that she is the most beautiful girl of the world and claimed her fame by distributing images, video’s of, and blogs about herself. Curious to find out who she is? Visit her website and see for yourself.
The Back Dorm Boys refer to two college students who gained fame for their lip sync act on videos to songs by the Backstreet Boys and other pop stars. These guys would just sit in front of their webcam in their dormitory (with other students in the background) and “perform” their favorite songs.
And there is Little Fatty, the accidental Internet hero. Little Fatty is a 16-year-0ld boy named Qian Zhijun whose picture at a traffic safety class was edited and his face superimposed on several iconic images and movie posters. Zhijun first discovered his own fame at the Internet café when a customer asked him if he was the real-life Little Fatty. There is an official fansite launched on his fame.
Semi-legal publishers and internet companies
Strictly speaking, most of the foreign magazines, or internet companies are semi-legal (or illegal). Such companies as Tudou traffics around 360 million video’s per week; according to Gary Wang, co-founder of Tudou, 2/3 of the uploaded video’s are removed due to “inappropriate” material.
Jeremy Goldkorn, publisher of Danwei, a website about media, advertising, and urban life in China shared his first encounter as a foreign publisher with legal authorities in China. It appears that foreign publishers do not obtain the rights to publish, so foreign publishers always need a local partner who is eligible for publishing rights. Their first publication amounted to a visit from legal authorities. Still, according to Goldkorn, there is always room for negotiations. There are certain topics you just cannot touch in China ( Falun Gong, Tiananmen Square protests of 1989). But everything else is negotiable to a certain extent.
What about creativity?
Another topic of discussion was whether there is room for creativity in a country that is known for its “cheap” imitations or piracy. Kaiser Kuo from Ogilvy China pointed out a very interesting way to look at creativity, not versus piracy (or imitation), but rather in a dialectical process.
Almost 86% of all software installed on computers in China in 2006 was pirated. This is because the average price for software is unaffordable for Chinese locals. Even access to Internet is not legally acquired. There are numerous of free dial-up accounts available for people without internet connection. But as a result, China’s Internet usage is growing beyond countries such as United States. Chinese internet users spend almost 2 billion hours each week. This year, China has 162 million Internet users, with a 12,3% penetration.
The growing internet usage opens up new opportunities for China to catch up on technology and knowledge. In a country with an abundance of engineers, scholars, and self-taught Internet users, the Chinese has a lot more to offer than imitation products. In other words and paraphrasing Kuo, piracy in China will someday lead to a creative China.