Dim Sum interview about Visible Chinese
Sunday, 14 December, 2008
Andrew Mellor interviews the founder of Visible Chinese, Mark Wu.
DS: What are the aims of Visible Chinese?
MW: Visible Chinese aims to become an authoritative independent listing of achievers within the UK's Chinese Culture. Pretty much like a 'Who's Who' guide. It attempts to highlight individuals and represent the UK Chinese Culture's past and present.
It's mission statement consists of:
1. To be comprehensive
(Through all walks of life and subjects)
2. To operate with integrity
(Candidates are carefully screened and selected)
3. To provide recognition
(Profiles will inform, celebrate and inspire)
DS: How did the concept come about and why do you think the community such a website?
MW: There are a number of issues affecting the UK Chinese community, such as being too silent, not enough role models and not being equally represented in public life. Having met and worked with "active" UK Chinese individuals who I felt were making a difference for the community and were also addressing these issues, I felt that it would really help if the rest of the community knew what they were doing and could have access to this information easily. After all - its "who you know". Creating a website to highlight these individuals made sense.
The concept of listing profiles is easy to grasp and understand straight away, so it was an idea that was simple to convey, and ultimately, simple to realise.
I think it would be brash to say that the community needs something like Visible Chinese, seeing it has been moving along without it. But I do think that given time and growth, the site can be an excellent reference point for the UK Chinese community, not just in documenting and showcasing the culture's talent, but also for networking and to create awareness of the culture for the wider UK public too.
All profiles need a portrait photo. It helps to put a name to a face, particularly if you've heard of someone but never met them. In addition, someone I met who had seen the site mentioned how it was useful to see what people looked like in order to help recognise them at a future networking event.
I also steadily receive enquiries for the individuals (which I forward on) that range from possible speaking engagements, nominations for awards, and even from someone who wanted to analyse the bilingual names of Chinese personalities!
With the 'profile guestbook' feature, visitors can also leave messages which will hopefully get people talking, although they're welcome to leave fan mail for some of our famous film and tv stars as well!
DS: What is you background and how has that inspired you to create the website?
MW: My background is in design and art direction for digital media.
In the last decade, I've been a Director of my co-founded design company Kibook Interactive Design, which at its peak in the dot-com boom, grew to eight people plus freelancers.
Some of our clients were British Chinese organisations such as Yellow Earth Theatre and The Pearl Foundation (The Pearl Awards) and that was great for me personally, to be able to tap into my own culture professionally.
Promoting Chinese culture in the UK is something I am passionate about, partly encouraged by being involved with the work of Yellow Earth and The Pearl Foundation. I'm quite "hands on" with my work, so the idea of Visible Chinese came about through being inspired to do something for the community coupled with knowing that I could make it happen.
I'm quite happy with the name too, which simple as it is, still came about through hours of brainstorming and discussion. It describes literally what the site is about and gives a nod to the perceived invisibility of the Chinese community.
DS: How does someone get on Visible Chinese? Do you have set criteria?
MW: The criteria for appearing on Visible Chinese is quite straight forward - individuals should simply have contributed to the UK's Chinese culture in some way. This could be as part of their job, an initiative they've taken or voluntary work that they do. Or they simply could be very successful and as a result, raise the profile of the UK Chinese culture.
I began the site with stricter criteria, but with some feedback from colleagues, realised that some hard working individuals who have done good work, might be left out. I thought it would be good to have a mix of high profile individuals as well as the unsung heroes of our communities, and hence the criteria is very simple and easy to judge with. The aim really, is to include as many deserving people as possible.
DS: Do you hope seeing these leaders of their respective industries in your website will inspire future generations of Chinese and BBCs?
MW: Definitely. I think a lot of good can come about through showcasing what these achievers have done. Not just with how far they've gone, but also with the nature of their achievement.
A wide variety of people profiled from all walks of life and subjects will hopefully mean that future generations of Chinese and BBC's will find someone who they can aspire to as well as find out what is possible and what others in their community are doing.
DS: Have there been any negatives when working on the website? Are people's reactions always positive? Has anyone ever said they didn't want to be on the website?
MW: People's reactions have been positive so far from what they tell me and what I've heard, although since the UK Chinese Community is meant to be the "silent minority", who knows what they're really thinking?!
However, the site idea is simple, positive and not controversial in any way, so I'd be surprised if it did garner negative criticism.
The only down side I've come across, is that usually, people are happy to be featured on there, but it can take forever to get information for a profile out of them. I'd always assumed that people are happy to talk about themselves but I guess the Chinese in the UK are a modest lot.
Which brings me to a couple of people who didn't want to be featured. Although I thought they were well within reason to be, they felt that they didn't deserve to be showcased on Visible Chinese, and that it wasn't their time.
Although the site showcases people, I think its a shame when potential candidates are too modest or want to stay out of public view. Their inclusion could well influence and inspire a young visitor to the site as well as add to the presentation of the UK Chinese culture as a successful one to the wider UK population.
One approach to the profiles which I sometimes suggest to potential candidates is to write more objectively about what it is that they do, and give exposure to the initiatives and organisations they do it for. Having a profile is great for getting more exposure to good causes as well as for their own businesses.
DS: What are your plans for the future? How do you see the site in 3 years time? Would you ever consider making it bilingual?
MW: When I created the site, I intended it to be an ongoing, long-term project. There's nothing I dislike more than a useful site that I'd once seen on the net, disappear several years down the line, particularly if it doesn't take much to keep them online. This won't happen to Visible Chinese however, as adding profiles doesn't take long and the cost of keeping it running isn't much either. At the very least, I'd like to keep the site going as a useful reference for the community.
At the most, I'm juggling several ideas around with regards to expanding the site and its functionality. For instance, there could be a possibility of adding more of a community aspect to the site. There is branding potential with using the name "Visible" to expand to other ethnic groups. And I wouldn't rule out a print edition either.
A bilingual website is also possible, though its a matter of resources and whether the work is justified for a UK website.Visible Chinese was developed primarily for a UK, English reading audience, although a Chinese version would open up communication channels for people in China who are interested in the UK.
For now, there's a lot to do in terms of adding more profiles to the site. Wider exposure for Visible Chinese is essential for more people to see the site and submit their profiles or recommend someone they think should go on there.
Any constructive feedback is also always welcome as well as hearing from people who might be interested in helping develop Visible Chinese further. Ultimately, its a site for the community and I'm interested in making it better.
For further information, please visit visiblechinese.com.