A growing community of young Chinese people debate science with experts.
Project URL: Guokr.com
A PhD in biology is an unlikely route to becoming a celebrity. But Ji Xiaohua is just that, at least among the growing community of young Chinese people interested in science.
After blogging about science as a student, Xiaohua – more commonly known by his pen name Ji Shiang, G13 – set up a string of science-based web ventures, which eventually led to the creation of Guokr, the largest community of young scientists in China.
Guokr is organised into 15 different “theme stations” which cover everything from brain science to art. Visitors can ask questions to more than 652 Guokr Deren; experts drawn from universities, hospitals, academia and public research institutes. Extensive and lively forums debate the answers. In mid-August 2013 the trending debates on the site were all about whether death had a colour and the nature of brain death.
In Chinese terms Guokr, set up in November 2010, is still small: it has about 140,000 registered users and gets 1.6 million visitors daily. Yet according to Xiaohua, who has more than 155,000 followers on Sina Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, the aim is to provide a “new ecosystem, where techie youths can gather together”.
Providing such a public meeting place for open debate, where myths can be challenged, may in itself be socially and politically significant: through those debates young people learn how to test evidence, weigh up arguments and when to trust authority. They have formed a community together, around science. In a society where myths about medicine and illness abound, the role of a site promoting rational, empirical debate among young people is especially important.
Ji Xiaohua has only just got going. He envisages Guokr becoming a trusted brand among Chinese young people; providing a platform for publishing books and making television programmes, one which other technology brands will want to be associated with. Guokr is a hint of what might be possible for online science education in China.
Image 'Chinese Scientist' courtesy of U.S. Cory M. Grenier
Last updated: 09th of May, 2014