Surfing Through China

How an idea spread and grew on the Internet.
July 4 1998 3:30 AM

Surfing Through China

The Clinton trip, reflected by the Web.

Nobody invited me to tag along on the 1,000-person entourage. I didn't spend my Friday afternoon ogling ancient terra cotta warriors or my Sunday gallivanting around Beijing's Forbidden City. But inspired by the grand tradition of foreign correspondent hackery, I won't be stopped from reporting on Clinton's trip to China. Here's the first of a series of Internet dispatches--on Internet coverage--of the China story.

The weekend's attention was fixed on Clinton's controversial official welcome in Tiananmen Square. While the Web address www.tiananmensquare.com has not yet been claimed, other sites chronicle the massacre with bloody photos and interactive tours. Coverage of the event by the People's Daily, the Chinese Communist Party's voice, stresses "bilateral" cooperation without delving into Tiananmen's human rights issues: "To accelerate their move toward the goal of establishing a constructive strategic partnership between the two countries, they [Clinton and Jiang] decided that they would refrain from targeting their strategic nuclear weapons against each other." Whew!

Clinton roused Peking University with a speech advocating human rights and did a Q & A with its students. The university's Web site is a bit of a disappointment, being more obsessed with the school's 1998 centennial than with the real world.

Who's ever heard of human rights? Well, the Chinese Embassy has--there's a whole page of links to government propaganda on the subject, including a diatribe titled "A Look at the U.S. Human Rights Record."

Anumber of human rights organizations paint the real, less rosy picture. Human Rights in China, a New York-based group started by Chinese academics, offers a comprehensive site with links to a site for Wang Dan, the Tiananmen Square activist who was released from a long stint in prison only this spring. The site links to his speeches and the petition that helped set him free, as well as to his June 4 statement on the ninth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. For a daily critique of China's media coverage, turn to the independent media watchdog section of Inside China Today.

The Washington Post wins big with its comprehensive China trip Web links page. The World Bank, the CIA, and other China sources are just one click away. The page also features a condensed history of Beijing (disguised as a "Beijing Tour"), links to China's music, and a reader forum. The New York Times catalogs its articles (and requires that you register) and hosts a discussion. USA Today posts top China stories, many of them from the Associated Press.

More as the president continues surfing China.

As the president does Shanghai on the second day of the Clinton Surfwatch, we plow into a huge rice paddy of local propaganda. An overview of Shanghai skims all the city's tourist sites, including the classical pavilions at the Yuyuan Garden--a stop on the Clinton itinerary. Another brief summary emphasizes that Shanghai (a k a the New York of China) is the country's biggest manufacturing base, responsible for one-eighth of China's total annual industrial output. The Shanghai Daily gloats that "China is the second largest trade partner of the United States, whereas the US is only China's fourth largest partner."

Excerpts from Clinton's entertaining radio talk show include not only policy pronouncements but also the Chinese view of Clinton's figure ("[Y]ou seem to have a very nice figure, Mr. President"). And Clinton makes his unofficial call for the World Cup: Brazil. Another of the president's Tuesday mileposts was the Shanghai Library, which he hopes will cooperate more closely with U.S. libraries. Progress won't be immediate. The digital branch is all in Chinese. And though we can't hack our way into the Shanghai stock market (also the site of a Clinton guest appearance), we can still get investing advice and an overview.

After all that surfing, it's time for snacks, namely, some Shanghai specialties. Vegetarians take shelter, for the 156 tantalizing possibilities include mostly pork, chicken, and seafood. Randomly we settle on Jin Jiang Roast Duct [sic]. "Kill and depilate [sic] the duck," the instructions begin. No thanks, we'll order the Crystal Pig's Stomachic [sic] Pieces Soup, which, as you will read, makes fewer demands on us.

Tomorrow it's back to the serious stuff. We'll pay a call on the exiled Dalai Lama and get the scoop on Tibet.

As Hong Kong is treated to a first-anniversary-of-hand-over bash Wednesday, another independence issue still rankles in the halls of China: Tibet. (For a quick Tibet refresher, check the Washington Post.) Despite a conciliatory exchange between Presidents Clinton and Jiang in Beijing last Saturday, no easy resolutions are in the offing. A May article in the China Daily, revealingly titled "Dalai Lama's motives unmasked," takes the combative stance that has been wrapped up in appeasement during the Clinton tour.

For the West, Tibet is unquestionably a trendy cause. Several international organizations lobby through their extensive Web sites. Which one you choose to visit depends on whether you want to Free Tibet or Save Tibet. We recommend the latter, since its site has an up-to-date news database on Clinton's trip, a Clinton itinerary, and a Tibet event schedule. Most important, the Dalai Lama sticks up for himself from his exile in Dharamsala in North India. Good surfing there--the well-organized official site comprehensively explains the government-in-exile's situation.

What's so great about Tibet? Well, take a spin through the spectacular photo gallery (courtesy Inside China Today) of furry yaks, isolated desert tents, and the Dalai Lama's summer home ... too bad he isn't there to enjoy it.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's wrap-up whirl through Hong Kong.

We're back with Clinton for the China tour's grand finale--Hong Kong. Surfing through this glittering financial superstar is all about funky, colorful graphics, markedly different from the mainland China Web experience. Even the Hong Kong government sports a surprisingly fun Web site, which mingles facts and stats with blinking visuals. Two chunky pie graphs evaluate how the Hong Kong officialdom is handling the Year 2000 problem. (Is a "37% non-compliance rate" good news or bad?)

High on Clinton's Hong Kong agenda is a meeting with Tung Chee-Hwa, Hong Kong's chief executive. Here's his pre-hand over prognosis, which includes a pledge to maintain Hong Kong's accustomed freedoms and to operate under a one-country, two-systems scenario. But the Hong Kong Journalists' Association disputes his success; its "campaign for open government" notes that 69 percent of surveyed HKJA members believe the pre-hand-over government was more open than the current one. Corroborating evidence is offered by a new Washington Post article, which reports that an important documentary by a Hong Kong journalist about fighting in northern China has been kept off the airwaves.

OK, OK ... surf's up and over. Craving some real fireworks--not to mention independence--we catch a cab to the slick, just-opened Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok. Since the airport is just beginning service, expect delays in loading (the Web site). But before you can say dim sum, we're back in the States to celebrate July 4--just as if we'd never left.

Kate Galbraith is in Micronesia writing the fourth edition of the Lonely Planet: Micronesia travel guide. She was formerly an assistant editor at Slate.