Chinese Cyberspaces: Technological Changes and Political Effects

Article excerpt

Chinese Cyberspaces: Technological Changes and Political Effects, edited by Jens Damm and Simona Thomas. London: Routledge, 2006. xx + 180 pp. £65.00 (hardcover).

This volume is a very welcome addition to the literature on the development of the Internet and its effects on politics and the economy in China. It originated from a "virtual research community" of international Internet researchers on China, "Chineseinternetresearch", which led to various conferences, bringing the editors and authors together.

The book presents "e-policy" as an ongoing process, "a combination of the attempts and strategic plans of the government to guide Internet developments in the desired direction" (p. 6). It argues that the CCP's e-policy has shaped current Internet development and will continue to influence its future. Following the introduction of the Internet to China in the 1 990s, for a while different groups and regions had the opportunity to develop their own strategies while the Chinese government was concentrating on integrating into the global economic system and taking a relatively open stance towards the emerging technology. Over the past decade the relationships between the key players - the government, the national and international business community, the administration, the news media and the users - have become more complicated. The CCP's e-policy has resulted in the rise of two groups as the main beneficiaries of the current Internet development in China: the users "who are able to play a self-determined role without conforming to any state curricula" (p. 5), and Chinese enterprises which have benefited from the tremendous investments in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector over the last decade.

The introductory chapter considers the academic and historical context within which the study is set. It positions this volume with regards to Internet Studies in general and Internet-related research dealing with China in particular. Damm and Thomas argue that, while Internet research has diversified, the use of ICT for economic purposes and the role of government in the information age have remained at the centre. With regard to China, two research themes emerge. The first focuses on the liberating potential of the new technology and government responses. The second focuses on the economic potential of ICT through industrialization and informatization.

In Chapter 2, Eric Harwit and Duncan Clark examine three key factors shaping the government's regulation of the web: physical control of the information pipelines undertaken by the government and the private sector, content control, and the element of foreign influence. Based on interviews with Chinese academic researchers and business people, Harwit and Clark argue that the Internet is unlikely to become a tool for social or political transformation in China because the state has strong financial and political interests in controlling it.

This theme is carried into Chapter 3, where Johan Lagerkvist discusses the struggle between the government and online news producers over newsmaking. Based on interviews with online editors and journalists of two news portals, Lagerkvist finds that online newsmakers have been going through "soft" negotiation processes with the Chinese government for online spatial freedom as demands have reduced the amount of Party propaganda in newsmaking. However, elements of the special political culture of contemporary China, Lagerkvist argues, still affect media production greatly, although the Internet at times facilitates the emergence of alternative space for public opinion and less controlled news coverage. …