Whether it is about US arms sales to Taiwan or how the film epic "Confucius" stacks up to "Avatar", the world's first snapshot of Chinese opinion often comes from chinaSMACK.com.
- A computer screen displays the homepage of website chinaSMACK.com
- China is home to the worlds largest web population, with 384 million people online
- The homepage of website chinaSMACK.com
The website combs China's rowdy web forums, translating popular topics into English to provide a glimpse of what is on people's minds on the other side of the "Great Firewall" of government censorship.
Advertisement"Chinese people see the Internet as one of the only real tools they may have," chinaSMACK's founder, who goes by the pseudonym Fauna, said in an e-mail interview.
China is home to the world's largest web population, with 384 million people online, but experts fear censorship and language barriers mean it is growing isolated from the global Internet.
With 1.3 million page views and more than 500,000 visitors in January, according to the site's figures, chinaSMACK has become a leading "bridge blog" -- a site that translates Chinese content for an international audience.
Fauna, who keeps her identity secret to avoid the wrath of Internet users and authorities alike, said she started the site 18 months ago to improve her English.
She describes herself as a typical Shanghainese woman, "very far" from her 30s, who likes music, movies and TV -- but one with a serious Internet habit.
She spends four to six hours daily on the site, plus time reading forums throughout the day.
The items and comments she translates are often lurid, salacious and sensational, but Fauna said she and her four-person team of contributors do not intentionally seek out racy posts.
Their formula is to simply translate the most active forum discussions -- avoiding overtly political topics.
"The material that becomes popular on the Chinese Internet is usually very shocking or controversial," Fauna said, explaining the "SMACK" in the site's name captures what she imagines first time visitors feel.
Recent postings featured Chinese netizens sounding off on how the "50 Cent Party" -- civil servants are allegedly paid 0.5 yuan (seven US cents) for each pro-government web comment they post -- seems to be working overtime.
Others include a man marrying his fiancee at her funeral, soldiers being buried half-naked in snow to train for the cold and "Leopard Print Man" who is enjoying 15 minutes of fame for wearing strange outfits on Shanghai's subway.
Some postings such as the racist reaction to Lou Jing -- a black Chinese girl who performed on an American Idol-style reality show -- have gained national and international media attention after appearing on chinaSMACK.
About a third of chinaSMACK's readers are in the United States, 18 percent are in China, while Britain, Canada and Singapore each account for roughly five percent of traffic, Fauna said.
At a time when Google is considering pulling out of China over censorship and only a fraction of Internet content is being translated from Chinese to English -- and vice versa -- experts say bridge blogs like chinaSMACK play a vital role.
Other similar sites are Danwei.org, ChinaHush.com and ChinaGeeks.
"Bridge blogs have become an incredibly precious resource," said Kaiser Kuo, a Beijing-based Internet consultant. "I just wish there were more of them and they covered a broader range of what people are talking about online.
"The hype-worthy is just the tip of the iceberg, there's a lot down there," he said.
Although far from weighty, chinaSMACK captures the "Internet memes" -- jokes, concepts and catchphrases that are shaping Chinese culture online and beyond, Kuo said.
"The Chinese Internet for some reason seems to be a lot more tightly integrated. A meme will start in one corner and will bounce its way up to every corner a whole lot faster in China," Kuo said.
Like the US celebrity news site TMZ.com, chinaSMACK is a cultural weather vane, said Shaun Rein, managing director of the China Market Research Group.
"It's one of my must-reads everyday," Rein said, adding it captures youth and digital culture well.
"It has a great finger on the pulse of the Internet culture in China that is a lot more vibrant than Americans think," he said.
Fauna said part of her goal was to dispel misconceptions that Chinese people are united in their opinions.
"I hope chinaSMACK can show the world there are many Chinese netizens and they are not all the same ... Chinese netizens are nice, sympathetic, funny, silly, mean and hateful. Chinese netizens are people like everyone else."
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