5.0304 Electronic Mail About China (1/216)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 4 Sep 1991 18:45:34 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0304. Wednesday, 4 Sep 1991.
Electronic Mail About China

Date: Wed, 04 Sep 91 07:34:56 EDT
From: Elliott Parker <3ZLUFUR@CMUVM>
Subject: Book: Electronic Mail on China ( long)

Zhenqin Li gave me permission to repost his review which appeared
originally on Peacenet. I asked if he had any more info. He then sent
the second part including the original review from The China Quarterly.

(No. 125, March 1991, 176-7.)

But $150 for a 2 v. compilation??? :-)

/* Written 1:56 pm Jul 9, 1991 by ga1034 in cdp:soc.rights.hum
/* ---------- "Book Review: Electronic Mail on China" ---------- */
Electronic mail on China. Edited by Esbjorn Stahle and Terho
Uimonen. [Stockholm] : Foreningen for orientaliska studier,
1989. 818 pages.

Reviewed by Zhenqin Li (ga1034@sdcc6.ucsd.edu)

This 2-volume publication is very unusual, in the sense that
it is perhaps the first ever book almost entirely based on
articles of a Usenet newsgroup (soc.culture.china or SCC). It
should be of interest to a wide readership on the computer
As a frequent contributor to SCC, to be honest, I feel
ambivalent toward this book: I am, of course, glad about its
publication, which enables ourselves and others to relive and
comprehend the hundreds or thousands of hours each of us had
spent on this newsgroup. But on the other hand, I also have the
painful feeling that what makes this book unique and publishable,
may not be due to the intrinsic quality of SCC, nor its
contributors, but rather, due to the scale of upheaval and
tragedy happened in China during the fateful period of 1989.

According to the editors' acknowledgements, the compilation and
publication of the articles in this book were made possible with the
help of numerous people who had more experience with computer networks.
Roughly 4% of their material is based on the ENCS (Electronic Newsletter
for Chinese Students), while the rest are from SCC. In all the articles
included, they have chosen to "delete names and other means of
identification for the sake of the authors' security, and that of their
families, relatives and friends, many of whom still reside in the PRC",
while keeping only the subject lines and the dates. In their book, the
editors have selected about 20% of SCC articles posted between May 8 and
July 4 of 1989, in chronological order, including most articles "dealing
with democracy, freedom and human rights in China". Articles
"comprising purely personal attacks" have been largely deleted. They
have also made some changes in the text format, e.g., replacing Usenet
quotation convention by standard quotation marks in the reply articles,
to make the format more uniform. While such editorial changes do not in
general affect the quality of news items in the book, I personally
believe, the deletion of author names in the headers and texts, as well
as the message IDs, diminishes the intelligibility of the original
discussions to readers who are unfamiliar with the history and context
of the discussed subjects. As a result, to an uninitiated reader of the
book, the thread and rationale of a SCC discussion may be lost, leaving
behind only an impression of a vast number of short messages largely
unrelated to each other, all screaming for "democracy, freedom and human
rights" in China. The editors' decision to leave out "personal
attacks", in some cases, leads to omission of debates on controversial
issues in SCC -- such debates, ironically, were and are still likely to
degenerate into personal attacks.

In my opinion, a book of this kind should ideally serve at least one of
the two purposes: (i) preservation of raw material for historical
records; (ii) providing lessons and new perspectives based on careful
analysis of the raw material. The latter does not seem to be an
intention of the editors. Unfortunately, because of their selection
process and deletions, the value of this book as a historical record and
collective memory is also somewhat discounted, despite the fact that it
can still give the general public an idea of what have been said and
when on the computer networks during the student movement in 1989.

Date: Sat, 31 Aug 91 17:13:47 PDT
From: ga1034@sdcc6.UCSD.EDU (Zhenqin Li)
Subject: Re: Email on China book
Article: 7284 of soc.rights.human
From: kriz@skat.usc.edu (KRIZ)
Newsgroups: soc.rights.human
Subject: Re: Book Review: Electronic Mail on China
Date: 12 Jul 91 08:26:01 GMT
Organization: University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA

In article <21391@sdcc6.ucsd.edu> ga1034@sdcc6.ucsd.edu (Zhenqin Li) writes:
>Electronic mail on China. Edited by Esbjorn Stahle and Terho Uimonen.
> [Stockholm] : Foreningen for orientaliska studier, 1989. 818 pages.
>Reviewed by Zhenqin Li (ga1034@sdcc6.ucsd.edu)
>This 2-volume publication is very unusual, in the sense that
>it is perhaps the first ever book almost entirely based on
>articles of a Usenet newsgroup (soc.culture.china or SCC). It
>should be of interest to a wide readership on the computer networks.

The book:

Stahle, Esbjorn & Uimonen, Terho., editors Electronic Mail on China,
Discussions of Democracy, Freedom & Human Rights, 818 pgs (1989),

The book now costs an **astounding** $150.00 per copy.

Publisher information follows:

Name: Coronet Books
ISBN-Prefix: 0-89563
Publisher Symbol: Coronet Bks
Street: 311 Philadelphi
State: PA
Zip: 19147
Telephone: (215) 925-5083

Perhaps if the publisher became aware just how popular such a book would
be among the readerships of s.c.c. and presumably s.r.h. and alt.activism
alone, the firm could be convinced to print a great deal more copies
(and much lower the price).

Right now, the book is simply "for the archives" (ie major university
libraries) ... but not for the general readership.

Has the book been reviewed by say the NY Times, Time or Newsweek? I
would imagine that the book, if it is compiled correctly, could be a
sensation ... something akin to "the Russians" when it was put out.

The only reservation I have is that there was apparently a lot of editing
in the book. That in itself IS BY NO MEANS BAD ... but the claim then
that it is a true historical record is probably wrong. It could
certainly capture the intensity/emotion of those days ... and that would
be **great** as it would inspire others to take this electronic medium
seriously. But if only 20% of the actual record is presented, that
leaves an enormous ammount of power to the editors of the book, a
controlling power (in USENET speak ... a "moderator") whose very absence
gave s.c.c. (and similar groups like alt.activism/soc.rights.human) much
its essence.

Okay, okay I just wonder "if I made the book" :-) :-) :-)

Actually, in terms of recording sheer emotion, I'm very glad that a book
like this was put out, no matter how it ends up being distilled.


(Reviewed on March issue of "China Quarterly")

Date: Thu, 11 Jul 1991 14:27 MST
From: "Dr. Ross Alan Stapleton" <STAPLETON@mis.Arizona.edu>
Subject: Here's a copy of the CQ article, by Marc Blecher.
To: ga1034@sdcc6.ucsd.edu

Electronic Mail on China, Vol. 1 (18 February-3 June 1989) and Electronic
Mail on China, Vol 2 (4 June-4July 1989). Edited by Esbjorn Stahle and Terho
Uimonen. [Stockholm: Skifter utgivna av Foreningen for Orientaliska Studier,
1989. 394 pp. and 424 pp.]

Andy Warhol predicted that "in the future, everyone will be famous for 15
minutes." These volumes demonstrate his prescience and surprising relevance
even to China studies. They immortalize in print the words, activities and
transcriptions of many Chinese students and scholars abroad who contributed
to two of the major electronic mail networks that we active in 1989. And
they present an eerie, dialectical twist on Warhol's aphorism, for many of
those made "famous" here also remain anonymous.

The Electronic Newsletter for Chinese Students (ENCS) and Social Culture
China (SCC) e-mail networks, and others like them, have been lively and
interesting repositories of news, documentary information, rumours, debate,
and expressions of emotions and angst. Their scholarly value is,
accordingly, a mixed bag with its own particular set of possibilities and
pitfalls for the researcher that remain to be explored. At their best, they
have faithfully reported and transcribed news and key texts, publicized
information (e.g., from personal letters received from China) that would
otherwise have remained adumbrated, reviewed important books and articles,
and served to publicize and mobilize political action concerning the spring
1989 events in China. At their worst, they have repeated unsubstantiated
rumours, given voice to anonymous and insubstantial if furious or depressed
outbursts, and carried silly or specious commentary ("I am so glad when I
saw the students have their own Rack-n-Roll [sic] context in TAM [Tiananmen]
square..." [I,268]). Perhaps even such useless or reliable items will some
day provide the "texts" that discourse analysts will use to deconstruct (and
reconstruct) the events of 1989. Whatever the case may be, the volumes
present a fascinating tapestry and record of the best and worst from a
particular set of human experiences of an extraordinary time.

The editors have selected for publication only around one-fifth of the
material that came over the wires of ENCS and SCC during six months of 1989.
Yet these alone occupy 800 pages! If computer memory can be likened to an
attic -- the larger it is, the more junk one depositis there -- then the
editors have performed an heroic clean-up. They have chosen to keep "most
articles dealing with democracy, freedom and human rights in China" [I,
xxxiv] but omitted transcribed press reports (on the grounds that they
appeared elesewhere, and also that they raise copyright problems).
Accounts of local political demonstrations and other activities have been
deleted, but national-level ones included. "[O]pen letters, telegrams and
statements from different sources directed to the Chinese leadership,
certain Western leaders or the general public" [I, xxxv] have been included,
but articles and debates concerning the relationship of Hong Kong and Taiwan
to the 1989 events omitted. The texts are presented in temporal order with
the titles provided in the original e-mail transmissions, and each volume is
preceded by a useful chronology of major events and followed by

For scholars who have been reading the e-mail networks regularly, and
particularly for those who have been retaining texts of importance to
themselves in printed or downloaded form, these volumes will be redundant.
But for those who have not, and for libraries with significant collections
of primary materials on contemporary China, they comprise a scholarly
resource quite unlike any other, and one whose value can only grow with time.


Journalism Dept. Internet: eparker@well.sf.ca.us
Central Michigan University Compuserve: 70701,520
Mt. Pleasant, MI 48859 USA