In 2011 Anthony Tao was adhering to a pretty strict schedule evenly divided into eight-hour blocks of sleeping, working from home and drinking. Unlike so many of us who get stuck in similar patterns, he was cooking something up besides a perpetual hangover, and that something turned out to be Beijing Cream.
“A lot of the stories you see now came from those brainstorming sessions,” Tao says of the nights out that preceded the blog’s launch early this year.
In this light, it’s not surprising that Tao’s Gawker-inspired brainchild is the result of collaboration among smart, savvy minds that moonlight as heavy boozers. It encompasses the full spectrum of China news including arts and culture, corrupt officials, crazies and what’s buzzing among Chinese netizens, with some sports news and a hefty helping of commentary thrown in for good measure.
“At the beginning, I just wanted to focus on Beijing and Beijing expats, but others said, ‘Go bigger! Do China!’” he says. Well, it certainly does China, especially with a section on what porn sites aren’t blocked, bi-weekly installments of Laowai Comics and regular columns projecting a range of voices, vulgarity and venom.
Other highlights include the occasionally updated “Who is China Daily Following?” a list of the absurd accounts China Daily follows on Twitter, and Beijing Slice, a section devoted to fun, off-beat, usually safe adventures people have around Beijing and China.
Though Beijing Cream rarely, if ever, breaks news, Tao and his team of both regular and occasional contributors get most of the important things quickly. Even news items found in Chinese-language news sources and social media get quickly and accurately translated and put up and, luckily for those unable to jump the Great Firewall, they make sure videos are available on both YouTube and Youku.
If a blog is any reflection of the mind behind it, what it says about Tao is that he is a news junkie who loves China and sees its potential but is still able to delight in and poke fun at its extreme weirdness. He doesn’t trust state media, but he follows their moves closely and is happy to jump on their gaffes.
If Tao was sent back to America in the early 1900s, he would be a reporter assigned to the circus beat, covering side-show attractions like bearded ladies in cabaret shows and exposing corrupt labor practices affecting the women who get cut in half during magic acts.
Tao says almost all of the site’s traffic comes from China and the United States, but with so many people using VPNs in China, it’s hard to say how many people making up those U.S. stats are actually in the U.S. But regardless of readers’ physical locations, the site is slowly shaping up into a community in which frequent commenters become frequent contributors and people are actually having a conversation in the comments section.
“I want this to be a community,” Tao says, “where people get it and react accordingly. I want to get to the point where people going to bars in Beijing are the ones passing around these stories,” he says. “People seeking news have found us, but how do we get others to seek us?”
While he works on bringing non-newshounds into the fold, he’s eager to keep the ball rolling forward. He points to the goals of literature—“to entertain and to inform, and in that order”—as the example of the balance he’s trying to strike.
Despite the frequency of things like first-hand accounts of the Guangzhou Sex Culture Festival and commentaries such as “Jonathan Kos-Read is a Turd,” it’s not just a laugh-a-minute boob parade. Tao is constantly refreshing his RSS feed, scanning social media, talking to contributors and keeping his eyes and ears open for China-related news.
Beijing Cream has linked to loads of great things written about Mo Yan’s Nobel Prize this year, updated readers on the string of scandals swirling around the country’s corrupt officials and, of course, kept tabs on the CBA so readers don’t have to. “People are interested, even if they don’t know it,” Tao says of the CBA, adding that he probably wouldn’t cover it so much if there weren’t so many foreigners playing in it.
He uses Stephon Marbury as an example of a player who is still known back home in the U.S. but “made himself a champ” here and achieved an impressive level of superstar in this basketball-crazed country.
He is a phenomenon nobody could of expected but, in the end, he’s just like the rest of us who came to China looking for something we couldn’t find back home. “He’s been here three years. The first two years were rough,” Tao says. “There’s a lesson in there. Maybe.”
The site recently underwent a redesign and, at press time, the kinks were still getting worked out, but we’re all hoping that Beijing Cream’s trajectory is something like Marbury’s, whose “Starbury” column in China Daily could use a dressing down from Beijing Cream.
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