The website Radii wants us to focus on a China of innovation, lifestyle and transformative technology

Joy Ginger , bass music producer from Beijing

Joy Ginger, bass music producer from Beijing

One of the modern truths that any citizen in any community has to deal with is that we live in a world of soft power - a cultural and mental landscape in which organisations and institutions (and nations) are trying to tell the most attractive stories about themselves.

As our co-initiator Indra Adnan has written about in her e-book The Soft Power Agenda, the best guarantor of an effective soft power strategy is that it communicates actual change and really virtuous behaviour - which is what distinguishes it from hype or marketing. Global transparency in an Information Age means that “walking the talk” in your cultural messaging is the best policy.

China is generally recognised as one of the world’s major and self-conscious deployers of soft power - but also shows how badly the policy can be handled. The rumbling controversy about its Confucius Institutes - striking up alliances with many Western universities, significant numbers of which are now withdrawing their involvement, because of various claims of Chinese state interference in academic research - is a prime example.

But UK citizens need to find a way to handle the giant facts of China - as a continent, a “civilisation-state” (as Martin Jacques once put it), a socio-economic system, a cultural legacy. And a presence in our daily and multicultural lives.

Seen particularly from the perspective of civic power, it could be important to seek out Chinese stories that echo parallel desires for autonomy and self-determination, made real through techniques that work for localities. That’s one way to live with multiple versions, at least, of what “China” - in all its teeming diversity and developments - might mean to us, in an “I-We-World” framework.

All that is a way of setting up our introduction to a site that claims to do exactly this - Radii. In the words of its blurb:

RADII (rā’dē-ī’) is an independent media platform dedicated to understanding and sharing vibrant stories at the core of the world’s most populous nation.

The China of copycats, corruption, and smog still exists, but it’s changing – fast. A new generation is ready to transform the country. From unwavering environmentalists and ethnic dialect rappers, to visionary entrepreneurs and sage healers, there are people across the country from all walks of life, all poised to make waves. RADII aims to share their stories.

In changing, challenging times, we need mutual understanding between China and the outside world now more than ever. RADII views China honestly, critically, and humanely, from the inside out. Our hope is that the truth becomes obvious: our commonalities are greater than our differences. 

Who is behind Radii? An interesting overlap. The University of Southern California launched the US-China Institute in 2006, aimed at “informing public discussion of the evolving and multidimensional U.S.-China relationship through policy-relevant research, graduate and undergraduate training, and professional development programs for teachers, journalists, and officials”. The Institute became part of their respected Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2011 - and Radii is a part of their overall publishing agenda.

Yet the other founding partner (and also one assumes, funding source) is closer to the Chinese base: Brian A. Wong, a Chinese-American who is now Vice-President of the giant Amazon-equivalent Alibaba in China. According to his biog:

With US-China relations as the most globally consequential bi-lateral relationship, Brian wanted to create a platform that empowers young people to share their own stories about China, providing a grassroots forum to discuss the transformations taking place in one of the world’s most dynamic countries. It’s his hope that RADII can add something new to the conversation, and bring China and the West closer to a place of mutual understanding.

The main editorial stream of Radii is heavy on popular culture and the arts, food and cuisine, as well as technology and innovation stories (see their “Daily Drip” below):

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They seem to handle the more substantive news stories through podcasts, interestingly. For example, this one on the Chinese tech giant Huawei. It responds to the recent US boycotts of Huawei technical infrastructures systems as a gateway to state surveillance, with a discussion aiming to show the “human scale” of the company and its unique “wolf” culture. The podcast covers its “dark history of employee suicides to inspiring ‘war’ stories, where company staff have braved earthquakes and civil wars to serve clients”. Similarly, this podcast (part of their Wǒ Men series, hosted by Yajun Zhang, Jingjing Zhang and ex-New-York-Times Karoline Kan) goes into depth about the successes and failures of Chinese soft power strategy.

As their advert for a China-based Innovation Editor shows (“should be intimately familiar with at least one of the following fields (the more the better): AI, VR/AR, e-commerce, robotics/drones, Internet of Things, sharing economy, maker movement, lockchain/cryptocurrencies”), Radii wants to tell a story of China as a radical innovator, in the fields of arts, tech and lifestyle.

But search their archive on “Hong Kong” - as one might be expected to do, as the Hong Kong youth movement currently raises its voice - and political or civic innovation does not merit a mention. What is expressed is a recognisable millennial culture of tech literacy, creative self-definition, and global ambition - and it may be exactly the right to those experiences that the Hong Kong protestors are fighting for. Still, the absence is notable. (For example, there seems to be no mention in their archive at all of the vTaiwan experiments in digital democracy).

However, Radii is an experiment with the Chinese future worth following.