Historicizing Online Politics: Telegraphy, the Internet, and Political Participation in China

By Zhou Yongming | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
China and the Internet
Proactive Development and Control

IN LATE APRIL 2002, there were two pieces of news closely related to the topic of this book. On April 22, a Nielsen/Netratings press release reported that by the end of the first quarter 2002, China had the world’s second-largest at-home Internet population: 56.6 million. But given the fact that this number amounted to only 5 percent of the population in China, the survey conductors predicted that China possessed a huge potential for further Internet growth. If China were to reach a usage rate of 25 percent, half of what the United States had at the time, there would be 257 million Internet users in China. As proclaimed by the press release, at a growing rate of 5–6 percent monthly, this could be a reality in the not too distant future.1 Compared with the above eye-catching news, which was picked up quickly by both the media and researchers, another piece of news, on the telegraph in China, seems to have attracted little attention. On April 25, People’s Daily reported that from May 1 on, China would abolish the government affairs telegraph and press telegraph services, which signaled the end of the era in which the telegraph had played an important role in both governance and press, as we saw in previous chapters.2


Public Telegrams and Politics in the PRC

Before we begin the discussion on the Internet and political participation in contemporary China, it is necessary to have a brief look back at how the telegraph faired in the earlier years of the People’s Republic of China. From the very start, the telegraph was put under rigid government

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