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March 3, 2010 in The China Beat


Copyright March 3, 2010 Richard Baum. Used by permission.


In the winter of 1994 I moved to Yokohama, Japan, to direct a semester-long U.C. Education Abroad Program (EAP) curriculum on Peace and Development Studies at Meiji Gakuin University. Because all electronic communications in Japan were controlled by the government’s telecomm monopoly, NHK, Internet access was extremely expensive, and my Compuserve subscription was costing me a small fortune —over US$250 each month — in connection charges. Since I was in more-or-less regular e-mail contact with a number of other China scholars in various countries, I decided to economize on my on-line connection charges by periodically sending group e-mailings to several recipients at a time, on subjects relating to Chinese politics. My monthly telecomm bills quickly dropped by 70 percent.

By the time I returned to Los Angeles in the late summer of 1994 there were twenty-one China watchers on my group recipient list; by March of 1995 the list had grown to thirty-one, including a handful of international journalists residing in China. At that point I decided to set up a dedicated on-line SIG (special interest group) exclusively for specialists working on contemporary Chinese politics. The idea was to create an interactive electronic forum where scholars, journalists, diplomats, and other China experts could exchange information, ideas and insights about current events and developments. I sent out a request to each of the thirty-one people on my group e-mail list, inviting them to take part in the new forum and asking them to provide the names and addresses of other China watchers who might be interested in participating. Needing an eight-letter alias for the group in order to conform to the standard DOS file-naming protocol, I called the group “Chinapol.” Here is the letter I sent out:

Date: Wed, 15 Mar 95 08:45:00 PST

Subject: creating a Chinese politics forum

Dear friends and colleagues:

I would like to establish an on-line e-mail forum to facilitate rapid, informal communication among Internet-linked specialists in contemporary Chinese politics, economics, and related fields. Insofar as my personal list of e-mail addresses is rather limited, I would like to invite you to help me expand my mailing list. For the moment, I would like to limit the group (which I have called “Chinapol”) to academics, Government analysts, and journalists who specialize in contemporary Chinese affairs. It may also be possible later to add a few advanced graduate students, people in the private sector, and others on an individual basis. . . .