Reflections on Ten Years of Covering China from Cyberspace

Ten years ago this month, China Digital Times was born with the publication of this post. Xiao Qiang launched the site, then called China Digital News, as a student project at the Graduate School of Journalism at U.C. Berkeley to track the development of technology in China, back when blogs were brand new and the potential impact of the Internet on Chinese society was just becoming apparent. When CDT was launched, Hu Jintao had just been sworn in as president, Xi Jinping was rising through the ranks of Zhejiang political circles, and Bo Xilai was the up-and-coming governor of Liaoning Province.

In 2003, China had 68 million Internet users, a number that seemed immense at the time but has since grown to 591 million. Weibo did not yet exist but blogs were quickly becoming a game-changing form of communication for China’s growing numbers of netizens, thanks in large part to a young sex blogger named Mu Zimei. Blogs in English about China were few and far between.

Like China, CDT has gone through a number of transformative changes over the past ten years. What started as a small, student blog has gradually expanded into a bilingual news site with contributors around the world. A few key moments in the development of CDT:

The pace of breaking news in China over the past decade has been dizzying. Many of the stories we covered early on became precursors for larger themes and trends in Chinese society. For example, the first so-called nail house, “China’s most incredible holdout,” raised public awareness of protests against forced relocations as developers took over residential property. In 2005, we published a translation of a list of keywords deemed “sensitive” by Internet companies, as part of what would later become one of our most popular translation series. The fight for rural democracy in Taishi, Guangdong was an early example of similar battles in other villages, notably Wukan. The street protests against a paraxylene plant in Xiamen, enabled by emergent social media, was the first of many such NIMBY movements.

Amid the cacophony of China news, several stories we have covered since 2003 stand out in our memory:

In these ten years, CDT has benefited from a diverse and talented group of contributors who have created unique feature stories and series that we have been proud to publish on our site, including:

We have also been very grateful over the years for the generous contributions of beautiful photographs from some very talented artists, notably Jordan Pouille, Michael Steverson, Vern Fong, Suri Sun, Remko Tanis, Felix Bonomo, Mark Hobbs, and many more.

We here at CDT look forward to seeing what surprises China has in store for us over the next decade. Thanks for reading.