Deng Jian (邓剑): Ten Emotional Years with the Internet

Blogging is booming in China, and is not just limited to students, and white collar workers in coastal cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. In small, rural areas of China the Internet has had a profound impact on many people’s lives as well. Here is one example. According to his blog ZuiYanZhuJian, Deng Jian (邓剑) lives in Zunyi city, Guizhou province, and has been an active netizen for ten years. In his New Year’s message, excerpts translated by CDT, he writes that China’s 200 million netizens are just, “200 million intellectual migrants, forming the bulk of China’s civil society and becoming the locomotive of China’s journey toward modern civilization”:

I have been in no mood to write blogs in the New Year. Most Chinese did not expect the year of 2008 to be so vulnerable. “Gloomy” has become the most accurate qualifier the majority of people use to talk about the multitude of events last year. Chinese netizens have stood up for 10 years. My own blogging history has been more than two years, in which I wander around all kinds of message boards, big or small, and blogrolled many friends. All these have taught me a lot of things.

I was from the bottom of society. Although I am not rich, my life has been quite happy. In terms of defining richness, I tend to agree with some scholars’ argument that the heavens and man must be one. You will get lost if you can’t match your material desires with the spiritual dimension. Over the past ten years of my Internet experience, I could hardly imagine that now I would be addicted to writing blog pieces and commenting on democracy and constitutional politics from time to time. It is not a transition that happened as my age increased, but rather it was brought on by the hard reality of life. I couldn’t have done otherwise. When privileged groups and interest groups relentlessly trample on the miserable citizens and use leftover food to reward sycophants, who shamelessly thank their masters, it is natural for me to say something and it is reasonable for me to judge.

I logged onto the Internet for the first time in my life with a dial-up connection ten years ago. Of course it was really slow. The tiny globe on the upper right corner of the Netscape Navigator would have to revolve for quite a while before a blurry page would show up. It’s like a vapor-covered mirror that will only be clear after a long time. Nevertheless, I was extremely excited. I was sensitive enough to notice that the Internet was tantamount to a window that opened to the sky. It would bring me a brand new world, a world that is more magical than any I’d ever seen in my dreams.

If my journey of thought prior to the Internet could be called a trek on the ground, its roads were more steep and precarious than those in mountainous Sichuan. They were despairing and suffocating. The sudden advent of the Internet gave me wings of thought, enabling to fly over high mountains, deep valleys and numerous other natural or artificial ravines.

Ever since then, I became a netizen, a net worm to be exact. When my family went out and I was alone at home, I immersed myself in the web and I barely missed anything else. Internet was charged by bits/traffic and at one point I paid 300 yuan a month. I was shocked by the bills at the end of the year – I paid 3,000 yuan for less than a year of Internet service. It was almost one third of my annual income. My heart was aching, but I couldn’t wean myself off the Internet addiction. I surfed the web whenever I had time.

Looking back, the money I spent was really worthwhile. If I didn’t spend it, there wouldn’t be the accumulation of my knowledge and I wouldn’t have the guts to criticize the privileged class and use the power of democracy and constitutionalism to confront vested interests.

I was most familiar with news and current affairs websites. I frequented two websites based in Hainan. At first I liked Tianya. As I became older, I usually visited Kaidi — Cat898. Because I had felt oppressed for so long and because the surveillance was not as tight as it is now, I was able to say whatever I wanted to. So I had a really strong desire to speak out. I had cold penetrating eyes, stubborn uncompromising bones, and hot blood. I positioned myself as a social critic.

In reality, to feed my family is a big problem. I spent some energy and time on the web and naturally was distanced from my wife and kid. As both the pressure and the child grew, it became impossible for me to be glued to the Internet. Wealthy people and the middle class have the luxury to squander their time, but people at the bottom of the society are destined to be occasional visitors on the Internet.

I was filled with all sorts of thoughts in retrospect after these 10 years as a netizen. The history of my personal growth through the Internet in the past 10 years completely correspond to that of the Chinese Internet and that of Chinese public opinion. My scribbles on the Internet 10 years ago were just like solitary confessions in the wilderness that would receive no one’s attention or some private murmurs uttered at some corners that would trigger no consequences. How could I imagine that the marginalized Internet comments could become so prosperous today.

The Internet transitioned from private space to a public forum, from a purely virtual world to something mixing virtual and real, from grassroots to intellectual. My own personal transition reflects the overall transition of the Chinese Internet over the past 10 years.

Ten years have seen a lot of changes and arguably the world’s largest group of netizens emerged. If there was no Internet, they would probably be like me ten years ago, trapped by high mountains and deep valleys, and could only look up to the sky from a well. They would be isolated by artificial and natural barriers, lonely and helpless. In that case, they would be separated from the modern civilization and would live out their lives in the jungles, their wailing heard by no one and their struggles seen by no one. The Internet came from heaven and served like a time tunnel, changing everything. As many as 200 million Chinese netizens are marching across the millennia-old Great Wall for an intellectual smuggle. The world’s intellectual landscape is being reshaped and China’s destiny is being reshaped. Two hundred million netizens are just 200 million intellectual migrants, forming the bulk of China’s civil society and becoming the locomotive of China’s journey toward modern civilization.

Give me a place to stand, and I will move the Earth. For us at the bottom of the society, this place is the Internet. The hardship-afflicted China is drunk in its strong nation dream. Ordinary people suffer to make ends meet and the country has an unprecedentedly arduous task to make the transition. But as long as there is the Internet, we can consolidate the wisdom of all mankind and the power of the entire modern civilization to change China and remake China.

 I wish my blogger friends happy, healthy and productive in 2009.