Becoming a China watcher by Dr Alex Tan

china watcher

By Dr Alex Tan

Do you ever follow up on the little leads that present themselves to you every day? I have made it my job to tune the antennas into china and have found a world of commentary and discussion not found in the mainstream UK media…a topic for another time perhaps.

In this piece I am going to drop you a few hints as to where you might go in the digital world to find your information on China. What’s out there is not always pretty, and if you are coming from a UK centric position then perhaps the findings will challenge your current beliefs. Key topics which feature on the following sites are; environmental change, the impact of the internet in china, party politics and various rumour rumblings, pop culture, social change and expat experiences. Long term trends and those every day events that wouldn’t usually make the news.




This is a great place to start and so I recommend it first. Part of the ‘popup Chinese’ website is the regular Sinica podcast between presenters Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn (of, the show is a revelation, and a very informative (and often funny) slice of regular dialogue. No punches are pulled and we often hear quite frank opinion here. The show also recommends latest reads on China, useful websites, and naturally has great guests. Always topical.

*Trivia for you here, Kiaser Kuo was a member of seminal Chinese metal band Tang Dynasty!

Recent recommendations and topics of interest include:

‘The Birth of Chinese Feminism’ (2013) Liu, Karl, and Ko; This excellent book explores the translated writings of He-Yin Zhen an early 20th century Chinese theorist.

November 8th podcast – ‘Daosim for the action oriented’; a look at how Daoism might be applied in the modern world with Sam Crane author of ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Dao’.

November 9th podcast – ‘One journalists journey through China’; insights from top journalist Isabel Hilton.

Tealeaf nation 


A mixed topic site ranging from politics, media, to cultural change. Contributions by expats and other experts make the site engaging and relevant.

八八吧 :: 88 Bar


A group blog, 88bar covers a range of topics but with a special interest in the impact of technology. Do you remember the book ‘Factory Girls’ about workers in modern China? Well 88bar have a new post up highlighting the experience of factory workers making toys in China…yes it is a valid question on the assembly line to ask “who would possibly buy this?”.



Popular with the Sinica crew, Chinafile is another site featuring contributions from a range of writers about China and its modern experience.

China dialogue


Chinadialogue features a broad selection of translated articles from china, the fact that it bridges the language divide is  big draw here; it includes translations of articles featured. The site also covers the environmental issues within China well.



Well known through promotion on the Guardian… recent topics include discussion on proposed changes to public holidays in China…no it isn’t straightforward! Also don’t forget the ‘model worker’ section, with site awards for strong annual contributions.



At one time probably more groundbreaking than it is now, chinasmack remains an original source for all scandal and worry which is promoted on the Chinese web. some of the topics need to be taken with a pinch of salt, but for what aches the mind of Chinese ‘netizens’ and to discover what a ‘humanflesh search’ is, go here. Chinasmack has also branched out recently into Korean and Japanese versions.

That ends my list of websites which will help you become a China watcher. Of course there are many more out there, featuring many more specific topics (e.g. see the Rock in China website!), but few features such a depth of writing and are as topical as those above.

We constantly hear about China ‘awakening’ but, unless you make an effort to follow the media from the region, good mainstream sources in English are not commonplace. These websites will help you go from merely China curious to China watcher! An awareness of events and discussions in China will also help you if you are trying to understand the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’.


Dr Alex Tan is a senior contributing editor for Nee Hao Magazine, on issues and topics regarding his PhD study at Newcastle University of ‘Young British Chinese People’.

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