Naming the blog

When I first set up this blog, I couldn’t think of a cool name for it. So I just called it Andrew Batson’s Blog, not as a title, really, just a description. But I was never really happy with it and stayed on the lookout for an actual name. I think I found one.

The phrase that captured my fancy is in this short passage from Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, which I was re-reading last year.

I went upstairs again and sat in my chair thinking about Harry Jones and his story. It seemed a little too pat. It had the austere simplicity of fiction rather than the tangled woof of fact.

It’s a great line. In Chandler’s books, the private detective Marlowe spends his time breaking down people’s pat, plausible but wrong stories about what happened, and finding the messier truth underneath.

The phrase appealed to me as, I’ve come to realize, I’m largely empirically oriented: I’m most interested in explaining actual things going on in the world, not in constructing grand theoretical edifices. My formative educational experience was in anthropology, which teaches the understanding of society through participant observation, and my formative professional experience was in journalism, which (at least in my experience) emphasizes relentless effort in discovering and establishing facts. Living in China further demonstrated that, yes, the facts are often pretty tangled.

So that’s it. I’m calling this blog The Tangled Woof.

My year in blogging, 2017

The most-read posts of the year were, in order:

The most-popular list does include some of my own favorites, but there are always some posts I like that don’t find a big audience.

These tend to be the more specialized China pieces or translations, though my jazz record reviews also have a notable track record of failing to dominate the internet (which hasn’t deterred me yet).

Here are some posts that did not make it into the top five, but in retrospect were in fact pretty good:

My year in blogging, 2016

The second year of this blog has been a good one: total pageviews are up about 33%, and I also wrote more (91 posts against 73 in 2015). My top five posts this year in terms of traffic were:

I’m pleased and surprised that my annual book review topped the list (mostly thanks to Tyler Cowen’s link I think), although less surprised that the admittedly clickbait-y posts on McCarthy and Trump did well. Both the Trump and Xi Jinping posts were mainly translations, which I find I really enjoy doing. The main non-China theme on the blog this year was nationalism, the subject of several posts though none of them definitive.

Other posts that I myself liked, but that did not do so well in terms of traffic, include:

On to 2017!

Looking back on my first year of blogging

This blog went live to the public approximately a year ago this week. What have I learned?

The main lesson is that blogging is good fun, as I always suspected. I was a newspaper journalist during the golden age of blogging, ca. 2005-10, and hence not really allowed to have a personal blog (I have however archived some of my favorite pieces from my Wall Street Journal days on this blog).

While these days I am no longer forbidden from blogging (thanks boss), I still edit and write thousands of words a week for my day job. So I don’t really have the capacity to do high-frequency blogging, but it’s still been great to have a venue for writing different kinds of things. A change is a good as a rest, as they say, and changing gears to do a bit of blogging in fact relaxes and clears the brain. The mainstream of this blog has still ended up being the Chinese economy, since that’s what is in my head most of the time. But I have tried to maintain some variety, since the main purpose of this blog is entertaining myself.

In fact, the two posts that got far and away the most traffic this year were probably the my least typical and most offbeat ones–which is in fact very pleasing. I had lots of fun writing those pieces; they had been bouncing around in my head for a long time looking for an outlet, which the blog finally provided. The winners were:

Some of my wonkier economic discussions about China also got decent traffic, though not the same order of magnitude as those top two:

But there was of course lots of stuff on the blog that I thought was great but which, strangely, the collective wisdom of the internet disdained. It is sad and baffling to me that Lost masterpieces of jazz-gamelan fusion resurface was not more popular. Come on people, this is important stuff! It’s what I want from the internet anyway.

On the other end of the spectrum, one of my more substantive pieces about the Chinese economy (On regional gaps, the growth slowdown and the missing middle-income trap) did not generate much in the way of traffic or comments–a disappointment as I was looking for more feedback. Maybe I should have worked harder to come up with a catchier title.

Another lesson I have learned, like many small internet publishers before me, is the importance of the aggregators. For this blog, the two most reliable drivers of traffic have been Bill Bishop and his Sinocism newsletter, and Tyler Cowen at the Marginal Revolution blog. Thanks for the links guys, I owe you both a beer.

Joining the Paulson Institute

Starting this month, I will be a nonresident senior fellow at the Paulson Institute, the Chicago-based think tank. Yes, I’m still based in Beijing and working full-time at Gavekal, but I hope this affiliation will give me a chance to contribute a bit more to some of the public debates on China. I had a very good experience working with the Paulson Institute’s people on the paper I did for them a couple of years ago on state-owned enterprises, and I look forward to doing more good work with them. Thanks to Evan Feigenbaum and Damien Ma for giving me the opportunity to collaborate with them, and thanks also to the surprisingly large number of people who have already heard about this and sent kind wishes.

I should probably also make clear that the usual disclaimer applies: this is my personal blog, and the views expressed here are mine and not those of my employer, nor of the Paulson Institute.