Communication in China: Political Economy, Power, and Conflict

By Merrington, Louise | The China Journal, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Communication in China: Political Economy, Power, and Conflict


Merrington, Louise, The China Journal


Communication in China: Political Economy, Power, and Conflict, by Yuezhi Zhao. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. xii + 373 pp. US$85.00 (hardcover), US$29.95 (paperback).

Yuezhi Zhao's Communication in China follows on from her previous book, Media, Market, and Democracy in China: Between the Party Line and the Bottom Line (1998), which is widely judged to be one of the foremost works on the Chinese media in recent years. In this new book, Zhao casts her net even wider, examining how China's emerging capitalism has impacted on both the media and the communications industries. While her first book examined the democratization of the media in the initial reform era of the 1970s and '80s, Communication in China focuses on the post- 1989 development of the media as China realigned itself with a series of market and social reforms. Such an analysis is not as straightforward as it seems, and consequently the book ranges over a variety of issues, including the effects of commercialization on ideology and censorship, the increasing trend towards entertainment over news, the rise of domestic private capital and the "cultural entrepreneur", the mobilization of the mediato advocate legal and social justice, and the impact of globalization, transnational capital and nationalism.

Zhao argues that, contrary to popular belief, the commercialization of the media in China has actually helped to entrench state control, as the media now has a vested interest in maintaining the political status quo which protected the industry by encouraging decentralization at a time when many other state organizations were facing bankruptcy. She also claims that corruption, in the form of bribes for favorable news reports, has been endemic in the Chinese media industry since the 1990s.

This leads into a discussion of underlying political tensions in China - namely, the problem of how to balance an increasingly capitalist economy with the CCP' s legitimating ideologies of socialism and anti-imperialism. Zhao notes that this has resulted in the restructuring, including privatization, of state-owned enterprises, without the concurrent development of the necessary legal and social frameworks or a properly competitive market. Consequently, issues such as property rights have emerged. Zhao examines how media mobilization, both in the traditional media and on the Internet, has both affected discussions of these issues at an intellectual level and had a practical impact on the development of social justice. …

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