In China: The Other Side of Content Startups ✍️

  • Ultimately everyone can see is what society looks like today. Everyone seems busy without producing anything of value. The haze of Internet content products makes people only want to wear masks. Welcome to China

“I understand them, but I don’t think they’re right,” was Chris’s last word in the interview. Chris, from northern Europe, has a good command of Chinese and a keen interest in the Internet. China is the world’s largest Internet market, and Chris has had a fantastic journey here.

Ever since Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called out the first sentence, “Internet start-ups boost the economy,” the term “content start-ups” has caught on in China. Under the heavy censorship, groups of start-ups have followed. But only a few of them success to survice and grow. How do they survive? That’s what Chris is interested in.

By chance, Chris reached out to an invitation from a Chinese content producer. Their slogan was “spreading new knowledge.” Chris thought it was a good goal. “The concentration of ignorance on the Chinese web is always so high that people need more real knowledge to enrich themselves,” he said. “At first I liked their project, so I jumped in, but it wasn’t something I imagined.”

Chris’s mastery of Chinese makes him look Chinese and has never been in doubt. Almost 1,000 yuan ($155) is not a competitive salary for an article, but it’s good in the eyes of part-time Chinese writers. “Thanks to my speed, I’m afraid it will be taken by late. A lot of people are trying to squeeze in, and you can feel something like a chocolate grab at Christmas in prison,” says Chris with a smile.

But the editor-in-chief’s first words startled him, “Avoiding everything related to politics.” In Chris’s point of view, there was little that could be counted outside politics. He realized that the Chinese have different understanding of the concept of “politics” from him.

“They explain, quite proudly, that this is the basis for a content entrepreneur to survive,” he said. “I sense the severity of the self-censorship situation, and expressing fear with pride is proof enough that people are already struggling to feel the roots of their emotions.”

Chris had been working here for more than two weeks when I spoke to him, although none had been “productive”. The process was such that writers chose topics in the newspaper, wrote down “knowledge points” and discussion logic, screened by the editorial department to determine the appropriate content, and told the subject to write specific words. The word limit was around one thousand words. What is called “writing” is nothing more than retelling the selected article or book in the simplest terms, refusing to create processing and comment.

It is not easy, as we all know: simplification means blurring and even variation. How to make a complex truth clear in the simplest words in the fewest number of words is much more difficult than discussing it in detail without restrictions. It can easily be misinterpreted, one-sided or paranoid. It is not academic, it’s a contrary to the concept of knowledge. But this is what content entrepreneurs in China are after.

The editor gave him four opinions: 1. The source is not well-known; 2. The theory has been published for more than three months; 3. The wording is not popular; 4. It is too esoteric to be of value.

As for the source, the editor said, “The publisher of the theory must be a celebrity.” Chris was puzzled, mainly because he thought his choice of academics from professional research sources like the University of Colorado, Stanford University, and the University of Illinois was persuasive enough, but the editor pointed out, “These are places where our readers don’t necessarily know that you need to stare at the KOLs on our Internet to count them as celebrities.”

“They gave a list,” says Chris, a group of public intellectuals active on Chinese microblogs. The editor-in-chief points out — these people are well-known bigwigs. They have a high value and must not miss any of the comments they make. “Even bullshits has to be collected because they are well-known,” says Chris.

The fans economy is not a single-tier business. Second dealers who switch hands on the celebrity effect can also get profit from it. Some so-called content start-ups are hooked up under the celebrity aura. It is hard to understand that the project’s purpose is to enrich people’s knowledge. Knowledge is what about right and wrong, and the relevance to the source is not high. Moreover, the Chinese LAN KOLs, who are considered as celebrities, is not deep enough to see the truth and creativity. These components of value are long gone under censorship.

But it is likely to be part of a “security measure.” The comments of China’s online celebrities, who exist under censorship and are widely publicized, suggest the security scope of censorship.

Chris does not understand the limit of “no more than three months”. For example, telecom scams are a hot topic at the moment, reminding people how to defend against scams should be a time-sensitive subject. But it would miss a lot of value if selected in-depth analytic scam articles were published longer than three months and were considered invalid, regardless of the practicality of the theory itself at the moment. “It’s called Internet thinking. Because we need to fill in the time of publication of the relevant article, being new is one of the highlights….. How many people do you think can read the history of an account on the Internet? Even if the account is famous.”

‘Internet thinking’ is indeed characterised by a strong sense of timeliness. Today’s pursuit of timeliness is unprecedented. But many theories are not out of date, and quite a few of the “new works” are based on classic theories, and even most of them have few new insights. To some extent, people acquire only a sense of timeliness in disguise. But that’s not what Chinese content entrepreneurs are thinking about. They just need to know how to make more money.

In the editor’s words, “The more stupid the public is, the easier we can make it.” That’s the 3 and 4 arguments of why he rejects Chris. Chris’s Chinese language is proficient at writing medium level articles. But the editor’s sense of smell is also strong enough, he says at first glance: “Your words have a heavy sense of translation, it won’t be popular.” Chris laughs at the fact that his thinking is still in English. It also makes him feel that articles popular on WeChat in China are too limited. “A conservatism steeped in ancient national culture is a shackle that inhibits innovation,” he says.

But obviously, conservative things have a market in China, and innovation is seen as unorthodox. So probably no one will care what you say. Chris believes that these entrepreneurs still have potential. Their behavior suggests that they are sensitive to the environment. They just choose the wrong direction between change and adaptation.

What is good content? — Content that people are interested in knowing + content that people think is right. It has little to do with the actual value of the content itself, or even with its correctness. If people’s perceptions are severely subverted, it is probably hard to be justified by any number of reliable arguments. This is not caused by the Internet medium. The Internet simply speeds up your negation, as people’s access is forced to make choices in a shorter time. Intuition becomes almost the whole basis, and existing perceptions and preferences are the basis of intuition.

Chris get this in a work experience that was unique to him. He quoted a Chinese joke on the Internet to express the question: “Do you want fire? You have to learn to please idiots first.” This seemingly paranoid simplification is enough to deconstruct in a thousand words.

The Internet can be a treasure trove of knowledge, because information is readily available. It can also be a strength of prejudice, because all sorts of screening and screening are ubiquitous. The content you can easily access is within your preferences. Yet in China’s local area networks, there is only one result: chronic suicide. Because You Have No Choice. Filter comes from censorship.

Chris said that “Helplessness is understandable, but pandering to mistakes cannot be accepted.”

The rapid tightening of censorship requirements in China has plunged local internet companies into a high-stakes game of survival, according to a recent article in The Globe and Mail of Canada, in which executives know that companies face closure if they allow banned content to be published. “It is no exaggeration to say that any company could die overnight,” the VP of Miaopai was quoted as saying.

This is only the first layer of censorship’s overall effect. In China, censorship rules are made by gray-haired Internet laymen who follow the Communist Party’s traditional ideology. This highly conservative ideology rejects everything new and is out of step with the perceptions and preferences of young people who dominate the Internet. What people call the generation gap in China does not seem to be sufficient to reflect this phenomenon. The result, to the full satisfaction of these policymakers, is to turn China’s large local area network into a tomb.

The second layer of censorship is the fear from Chinese internet companies. On the one hand, their products attract younger users; on the other hand, it is the older conservative political authorities who determine their survival. Without user support, the platform will surely wither; if censors are offended, it will lead to sudden death. As a result, these Internet companies have a two-pronged strategy: trying to curry favor with censors, on the one hand, fostering the habit of users and content producers of living under the rigors of censorship.

The result of the first approach is that, in addition to power-money relationships, it is more likely that these companies will trade users private data for the undead grace of those in power. This is an active collaboration. Although this part of the transaction has never been revealed in China, the vast majority of Internet users have the relevant experience: the removal of the post is not the end, but the secret police knocking on your door. The removal of the post is done by the platform, while the location tracking of the user is done by the thought police. So even if no specific secret of a public-private surveillance partnership is revealed, no one in China will doubt its existence.

As a result of these two effects, the broader user base has long been exposed to residues that are filtered by both censorship and self-censorship. People slowly begin to feel that there is only residue enough in the world. After all, one cannot know what one does not know. The result is that ignorance and backwardness, conservatism and limitation are created unconsciously.

The third effect of censorship is a broader fear, not only of being censored, of being caught, but being out of step with the people around you, a sense of isolation that forces those with innovative ideas to remain silent.

Ultimately everyone can see is what society looks like today. It seems to lack for nothing. Almost everything popular internationally has been cloned inside the GFW. The society works like an antiquated machine covered in rust and cobwebs, unconsciously mechanically. Everyone seems busy without producing anything of value. The haze of Internet content products makes people only want to wear masks.