When you’re hearing something about media in China from David Feng, you’re hearing it from someone who knows the books, the controls, the details, the stories, and the theory.
▶ Early Beginnings
The first beginnings into media (communications) for me came in early 2002, when I co-founded what was then the Beijing Macintosh User Group with six other people, each from a different country. This group was to be one of the more active tech groups in Beijing, and was one of the few groups to be active internationally, with members active in the US, Hong Kong, and other places.
The success of the Mac user group gave me a perfect opportunity to start blogging about tech news in general, and in late 2007, I added social media (as well as mobile technology) to my topics of coverage when blogging, first with the then-“blognation” network of tech blogs, then independently. Whilst co-blogging on “blognation”, I was very much honoured to have worked along some of the better-known tech players around the world, and grew my part, centred on China-specific news, from “yet another country-specific site” at the start, to one of the top three sites by the end of the year. In 2008, I went independent, but also blogged with others, including becoming part of CNReviews with Elliott Ng and other key China-centred bloggers.
At around the same time, I was active in the (“offline”) media world, first as radio host on university radio (University of International Business and Economics), then, via an internship at Radio Beijing, as part of city radio in the Chinese capital. I’ve also hosted (and spoken to) audiences with attendance in the thousands. In 2008 and 2009, I was a regular part of Travel Bar, one of the “Top 3” ranked programmes on bilingual (Chinese and English) city radio in Beijing. I stayed at Radio Beijing to become a part of an auto show, but also took part in general news discussion shows on air, and I also did Chinese-language rail travel shows for about a year. By the time I left Radio Beijing in 2014 upon relocating to London, I had taken part in multiple shows (at least one every year), and my voice was heard on nearly every channel throughout the station, mostly in the form of shows I co-hosted, but also through interviews due to my activity in Beijing.
In part due to my interest in media, and in particular becoming an active part of programmes, I studied under the guidance of now-Professor Lu Jing of the Communication University of China, who was a household name in the 1980s as a host on Chinese news TV. In my MA thesis, I took an original comparison of prime-time news programmes in China, and compared them to a myriad of nations both in Asia and in the West. These included “regulars” such as the UK and Germany, but also less well-covered nations including North Korea. I predicted there would be a change in the way prime-time Chinese TV news would change — and it did (to certain extents) in 2013, by introducing live interviews and other changes on-air.
▶ Deepening Social Media Involvements
In addition to “general” media, I became increasingly interested in social media. In late 2005, I started my own blog (initially Raccolta Online but now merged onto the main davidfeng.com domain). In 2007, I was one of the very first bloggers on the website of City Weekend in Beijing, an expat-centred English-language magazine in the Chinese capital, where I mainly blogged on city developments including late-breaking news and infrastructure developments. Also in that year, I set up accounts on Twitter and Facebook, becoming one of the earliest China-based users of these networks. I also took an active part in the then-Chinese Blogger Conference (CN Blogger Con), first as a “Twitter reporter”, then as a speaker in 2008. I also joined key tech players in late 2008 in a China 2.0 tour of the tech (and social media) world in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, which featured key players including Shel Israel and Robert Scoble all being part of the tour.
My interest in social media continued in 2009, by then becoming one of the most influential voices in the China social media world, having being featured as one of the “top 25” Twitter list in Beijing by AdAge, and being interviewed by world media, including the BBC, BusinessWeek, and key Chinese media including the Southern Metropolis Daily Group. In May 2009, I enrolled in PhD studies in communications. I remained active, both online and offline, throughout my three-year course, speaking at TEDx and Ignite events about social media and the Twitter story, but also by being part of key Chinese national research projects led by the Ministry of Education, and publishing to key Chinese communications journals.
My PhD dissertation centred on the at times hard-to-tackle issue of the Internet, government, and potential controls, including censorship. Here, I argued that rather trying to “fit” Habermas’s public sphere into the fabric, that it was much more rational to recognise the Web, and in particular social media, as a place which remains ruled by laws, but would be used as a place for democratic governance and the demonstration of a diversity of viewpoints. Following a successful viva voce, I graduated and became Lecturer at the Communication University of China beginning autumn 2012. The special structure of the Chinese state meant I also became a concurrent “foreign expert” (as a Swiss passport holder).
▶ Solid Beginnings in Academia
As Lecturer in Beijing, I undertook two years of academic research, teaching, and pro bono involvements, where I gave back to the rest of us in society, whether it being optimising social media policies for a Chinese high speed railway station in Eastern China, or joining diplomats, scholars, and language professionals as part of an editorial team of an English-language handbook published by the city authorities of Beijing. My experience of teaching environments both in China and in Europe meant I accepted a further posting Hebei University as Lecturer of Chinese Media Analysis.
2013 saw me starting the year with my own radio show, which meant I was in charge of the show’s contents and was almost always live, along with local co-host Alison Zhou, who herself had become a key part of the station’s English programmes and involvements for many years. I co-presented a radio show live at the Beijing Foreign Languages Festival in late 2013 as an “extra” show, and would return to this stage with others and on my own in 2014 for a total of four public appearances.
▶ Continuing a Success Story in London
In early 2014, upon invitation by the University of Westminster’s China Media Centre, my media commitments started expanding beyond Chinese borders. In April 2014, I took part in the organisation of the very first China-UK summit on media formats, the Inaugural Sino-British Television Programme Innovation Management Summit, an event I also personally involved as part of the planning, organisation and translations team, and onstage as compère. I landed with my wife in London in August 2014, and continued my research and teaching at the University of Westminster and its China Media Centre.
In the UK, I have continued to be active. I’ve given presentations about social media in China and media messages at academic talks held at the University of Westminster, the London School of Economics and Political Science, the British Academy, and at Cardiff University.
My unique experience — as radio personality, prolific blogger, tech group president, media student and researcher, social media speaker, and university lecturer, amongst others, coupled with at least a decade each of experience in Europe and China, proficiency of up to ten languages (five fluent or near-fluent, including English, Chinese, German and French), a travel record of over a million kilometres across 250 cities in over 20 countries, teaching experience since 2000 to students, professors, and business professionals from over 40 nationalities, speaking experience since 1996 to audiences in Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Australia, and further features on CNN, Xinhua News Agency, and other key world media — makes me a highly experienced media academic and participant like no other.