The Internet, Social Media, and a Changing China

By Jacques Delisle; Avery Goldstein et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
The Coevolution of the Internet, (Un)Civil
Society, and Authoritarianism in China

Min Jiang

This chapter extends Guobin Yang’s 2003 seminal article on the coevolution of the Internet and civil society in China.1 It argues the Internet has facilitated, on the one hand, the coevolution of Chinese civic spaces and authoritarian control, and, on the other, the coevolution of civic activities and uncivil interactions. The Internet has not only helped amplify civic discourses and group formations; it has also augmented the influence of uncivil exchanges online, leading to a greater degree of fragmentation and cynicism of public opinion. Although social media platforms such as the Twitter-like Sina Weibo can serve as a critical space for expressing and channeling public opinion, they are unlikely to be the ultimate game changer.

In charting the new terrain of China’s online civic spaces, the chapter focuses on four aspects: (1) real-time activism; (2) online political jamming; (3) weibo celebrities; and (4) the rise of an “uncivil society” online. I explore conditions and instances of “real-time” activism; the use of cultural jamming and “serious parody” for political activism; the role of weibo celebrities in fostering plurality and fragmentation; and the uncivil ideological discourse exchanges that have led to public brawls in the street and popular rejection of “public intellectuals.” In contrast, to curb the political consequences of new forms of mediated activism, the control regime has implemented a variety of new measures besides filtering and employment of pro-government commentators to forestall or pacify collective actions, including real name registration policy and anti-rumor campaigns.

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