China and the Internet: Politics of the Digital Leap Forward

China and the Internet: Politics of the Digital Leap Forward

China and the Internet: Politics of the Digital Leap Forward

China and the Internet: Politics of the Digital Leap Forward


This book covers the aspirations of Chinese policy-makers for using the Internet to achieve a "digital leapfrog" of economic development. Avoiding technical jargon, this work is accessible to anyone interested in the social impact of the Internet and information and communication technologies.


China’s digital leap forward

Christopher R. Hughes and Gudrun Wacker

The study of Chinese politics can no longer be considered complete without an understanding of the social impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Since the country’s first e-mail was sent overseas in September 1987, the number of Internet users has risen to over 30 million, a Ministry of Information Industry (MII) has been established, ICTs have become a central element of the Five-Year Plan, and there is a wide-ranging debate over their impact across the spectrum of public policy. This volume aims to go some way towards clarifying the relationship between technology and politics in China that is indicated by such developments. It is the product of two workshops organised between the Asia Research Centre of the London School of Economics and the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), Berlin, on 8-9 December 2000, and 21-23 February 2002, generously supported by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the British Academy respectively.

While the original task of the participants in this project was to focus on the social and political impact of the Internet in China, it quickly became clear that convergence between different kinds of information technologies meant that the picture had to be somewhat broader, touching at least on telephone, cable television and satellite systems as well. the Internet, however, remains the main case study for the book, and the focus has been fixed on politics by locating its appropriation within the context of public policy making. While it has been necessary to use some technical language and explanations in the process, the authors have tried to keep this to a minimum so that their work will be accessible to as broad a range of social scientists as possible.

There are two main reasons for the title of the book, China and the Internet: Politics of the digital leap forward. First, it is an allusion to the belief amongst China’s political leaders that a developmental ‘leapfrog’ can be achieved on the back of ICTs. Second, it is intended as a reminder that this is not the first attempt to make a developmental ‘leap forward’ in China’s modern history. in other words, the title is also supposed to emphasise the view of the authors that the political impact of new technologies needs to be understood in the context of modern Chinese history. While the belief in a ‘digital leapfrog’ is a long way from the political radicalism of Mao Zedong’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ . . .

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