The site, Boxun.com, relies on a host of bloggers and citizen journalists -- mostly in China -- to break stories, often faster than state-controlled Chinese media or foreign news services. The site is banned in China, but Chinese people can skirt that Internet censorship through proxy servers hosted in the United States.
Posting on Boxun (pronounced "bow shwin") is not without risks. Numerous contributors, including three in the past several weeks, have been jailed in China.
"It's really aggravated the [Chinese] government because it takes stuff outside and puts it on display internationally," said Bob Dietz, of the New York nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists. "For us, the site is required reading."
Despite Boxun's long-standing connection to many Chinese activists, Meng said he doesn't call himself a political activist.
The 2005 graduate of Duke's Fuqua School of Business is the software brains behind Boxun's management. He edits others' stories and videos, but rarely writes his own bylined articles. Meng said he simply strives to carve out a different niche from other overseas Chinese news organizations, which seem to be either overwhelmingly favorable to China or affiliated with the banned religious movement Falun Gong and against the Chinese government.
"I want to be in the middle," Meng said. "To be independent -- there's a market, there's a value."
Boxun has garnered high-level attention. A U.S. congressional committee on China frequently refers to the site in its reports. And a famous Chinese civil rights lawyer once told Meng that Beijing assigns someone to keep an eye on Boxun 24 hours a day. Boxun's servers were attacked as recently as December, temporarily erasing the site's more than 2,000 blogs, Meng said.
The beginnings of Boxun trace back almost 15 years ago, when Weican "Watson" Meng was in his late 20s, working for Motorola in China as an accountant.
Meng, now 42, had grown up during the Cultural Revolution in rural Hebei, a province that surrounds the capital, Beijing.
"I worked like a cow," he said, pointing to hands calloused from tough farm labor.
By 1993, the electrical engineering university graduate was one of only a few thousand people in China with e-mail accounts. Meng wowed friends on university campuses by plugging his company laptop into public phones and showing them how e-mail worked. He subscribed to e-mail lists with news that Chinese students overseas compiled from various sources, and he printed stories out to give friends. He was excited when a friend forwarded him chapters of a book banned in China, "The Private Life of Chairman Mao."
Fast forward about five years. Meng had gone to Rochester, N.Y., to study management of information systems. He decided to create his own weekly news e-mail bulletin, compiling stories about China from various sources. About 5,000 people subscribed.
As he scoured the Internet for news, Meng realized some people were spending several hours a day to research and write articles online. He thought it would be a good idea to organize their work on a common platform.
In 2000, Meng, then chief software architect at a New York company, founded Boxun. A friend coined the name -- "bo" means "wide-ranging, comprehensive" in Chinese, and "xun" means "information" or "news."