Citizen Journalism and Cyberactivism in China's Anti-PX Plant in Xiamen, 2007-2009

By Chin-fu, Hung | China: An International Journal, April 2013 | Go to article overview

Citizen Journalism and Cyberactivism in China's Anti-PX Plant in Xiamen, 2007-2009


Chin-fu, Hung, China: An International Journal


INTRODUCTION

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have been instrumental in the global information revolution, facilitating the transition from an industrial society, driven by forces of market globalisation, to the current information-based society. Theorists of information society such as Manuel Castells have reminded us that human beings are now living in networked societies that are fundamentally different from those of the past. The information age is leading to the increasing convergence of a number of processes, including the restructuring of capitalism and the introduction and increased application of ICTs. These processes have both facilitated and reacted to the forces of globalisation, shaping a distinct form of modern society, i.e., the information society, and changing the ways in which people communicate among themselves and with the public sector. (1)

In the modern world, the internet and short message services (SMS) are used by civil organisations, political parties and governments to embark on various social and political activities. These include newer modes of political marketing, web election campaigns, online and offline petitions, protests, social movements, propaganda, dissemination of political doctrines and cyber mass mobilisation. These activities have prompted scholars, mostly from the field of comparative politics, to conduct research on the political impact of information and mobile technologies upon authoritarian regimes, and a majority of the scholars regard the ICTs as either a potent driver of, or a contributing force for, political development and change. (2)

The post-9/11 world has seen a new surge of interest in the study of ICTs in internet politics. A new revisionist literature has emerged that calls into question the conventional wisdom of ICTs and the wishful thinking associated with the sociology of technology, dubbed "technological determinism". (3) This "wishful" thinking had previously been inspired by and strengthened following the fall of communism in the former Soviet Union and East Central Europe, where the authoritarian communist states were argued to be incapable of reining in the electronic flow of subversive information. (4) These works on ICT's political impact have sought to readdress the fundamental question of whether new technologies like the internet undermine the power of authoritarian regimes.

Many contemporary studies suggest that there is little evidence to support the previous "wishful" thesis; instead they tend to hold that states around the world are having a degree of success in managing this medium and are staging something of a counterrevolution. (5) Several of these discussions centre on the People's Republic of China. Some contend that the Chinese government has set a good example for other authoritarian regimes, and to a lesser extent, developing countries, in that the central government has been able to aggressively promote ICT developments to stimulate economic growth, but at the same time sustain its stronghold on authoritarian political power. (6)

Recent work on China and the internet has indeed reached a new level of sophistication in comprehending the effects and impact of the new information technologies upon Chinese politics and society. Outside of traditional research on internet control and anti-control, there is little work done on the study of the impact of innovative and interactive information technologies, such as blogs, microblogs (miniblog, Weibo) and Twitter upon China's social and political development. Studies on newly emerging online phenomena, such as the ICT-enabled and mediated citizen journalism and environmental activism are also under-explored. Therefore, a study of the Chinese experience can serve as an illuminating case that may shed light on ICT's social and political impact on current developing and undemocratic states.

Using the case of the Xiamen anti-paraxylene (PX) plant movement, this article investigates the evolving phenomenon of citizen journalism with Chinese characteristics. …

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