The Power of the Internet in China

The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online

GUOBIN YANG
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/yang14420
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Power of the Internet in China
    Book Description:

    Since the mid-1990s, the Internet has revolutionized popular expression in China, enabling users to organize, protest, and influence public opinion in unprecedented ways. Guobin Yang's pioneering study maps an innovative range of contentious forms and practices linked to Chinese cyberspace, delineating a nuanced and dynamic image of the Chinese Internet as an arena for creativity, community, conflict, and control. Like many other contemporary protest forms in China and the world, Yang argues, Chinese online activism derives its methods and vitality from multiple and intersecting forces, and state efforts to constrain it have only led to more creative acts of subversion. Transnationalism and the tradition of protest in China's incipient civil society provide cultural and social resources to online activism. Even Internet businesses have encouraged contentious activities, generating an unusual synergy between commerce and activism. Yang's book weaves these strands together to create a vivid story of immense social change, indicating a new era of informational politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51314-2
    Subjects: Technology, History, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-24)

    Of all the aspects of Chinese Internet culture, the most important and yet least understood is its contentious character. Media stories and survey reports have perpetuated two misleading images of the Chinese Internet: one of control and the other of entertainment. These two images create the misconception that because of governmental Internet control, Chinese Internet users do nothing but play. The real struggles of the Chinese people are thus ignored, and the radical nature of Chinese Internet culture is dismissed. Yet, not only is Internet entertainment not apolitical, but political control itself is an arena of struggle. Contention about all...

  7. 1 ONLINE ACTIVISM IN AN AGE OF CONTENTION
    (pp. 25-43)

    The suppression of the prodemocracy movement in 1989 did not quell the spirit of contention. After a short hiatus, new waves of popular protests started to surge across China, beginning roughly in 1992. There were 8,700 “mass incidents” in 1993, according to China’s Ministry of Public Security. This number rose to 32,000 in 1999, 58,000 in 2003, and 87,000 in 2005.¹ Accompanying the alarming ascendance of social conflicts in recent years is the appearance of an official rhetoric of building a “harmonious society.” Perhaps more than anything else, this new discourse indicates that Chinese society has entered an age of...

  8. 2 THE POLITICS OF DIGITAL CONTENTION
    (pp. 44-63)

    Lawrence Lessig argues that software code is the basis of control in cyberspace and that architectures of Internet control can be built on the basis of code. Code can be open or closed; open code is harder to regulate than closed code. Therefore, whether and how the Internet is regulated depends on its architecture of code. Since architecture is built by people, it is ultimately the government that has the power to decide what architecture to build and how regulatable the Internet remains.¹ His prediction that the Internet will become more and more regulated is coming true everywhere, and this...

  9. 3 THE RITUALS AND GENRES OF CONTENTION
    (pp. 64-84)

    Contention always has a cultural aspect. It involves contentious performances and uses symbolic resources such as narratives, languages, imagery, and music. Recurrent performances become rituals. Symbolic resources fall into genres. The quality that distinguishes the use of certain symbolic resources in certain historical periods, regions, and social strata constitutes style.¹ A culture of contention is thus recognizable to the extent that contentious rituals, genres, and styles can be identified. It is through the rituals, genres, and styles of representation that activists express demands and grievances, identify opponents, arouse public sympathy, build a sense of solidarity, and mobilize participation.

    Culture is...

  10. 4 THE CHANGING STYLE OF CONTENTION
    (pp. 85-102)

    Like literary works, popular contentious forms have styles. Some social movements are somber and serious, others are lighthearted, humorous, and pleasurable.¹ Some are grandiose and assertive, others plain and moderate. Some movements have an epic style, boasting of large numbers and a prolonged duration. Others are essayistic, involving only small-scale and episodic activities. Just as literary styles convey aesthetic ideals, so movement styles express participants’ political aspirations and self-understanding. They channel and circumscribe movement dynamics. Radical revolutionaries express messianic visions and adopt hyperbolic styles of political struggle; reformist activists follow more moderate styles. Sometimes the existing action repertoire facilitates the...

  11. 5 THE BUSINESS OF DIGITAL CONTENTION
    (pp. 103-124)

    If contention always has its culture and politics, it is not apparent that it also has a business aspect. Modern China has produced numerous “professional revolutionaries,” and to make a profession out of revolution smacks of some kind of entrepreneurial pursuit. But professional revolutionaries of the past would undoubtedly reject association with mercantile business practices. It takes a market economy to marry activism, or at least some of it, with business, producing a business model of contention.

    Some Western scholars have applied a marketing perspective to the study of contention. In The Marketing of Rebellion, Clifford Bob uses this perspective...

  12. 6 CIVIC ASSOCIATIONS ONLINE
    (pp. 125-154)

    Organization is central to collective action, yet organizational resources vary greatly. Institutionalized civil-society organizations are an important presence in many contemporary societies but were largely absent in the PRC until fairly recently.¹ From the Red Guard movement to the student movement in 1989, schools and work units provided the essential social basis for movement organization.² Activists appropriated state-designed organizational structures and turned them into resources for mobilization. Although independent movement organizations appeared in the middle of these movements, they ceased to exist with the suppression of the movements, and no legitimate nonstate organizational basis ultimately developed. Social organizations grew rapidly...

  13. 7 UTOPIAN REALISM IN ONLINE COMMUNITIES
    (pp. 155-184)

    Drawing on Ernst Bloch’s work in The Principle of Hope, Fredric Jameson distinguishes between utopia as program and utopia as impulse. Utopian programs include all systematic efforts to found a new society, such as a revolution and a commune. While utopian programs are limited in number, utopia as impulse is pervasive, “finding its way to the surface in a variety of covert expressions and practices.”¹ Jameson mentions such examples as political and social theory and social democratic and liberal reforms. For Jameson, the value of utopia lies in its “critical negativity as a conceptual instrument designed, not to produce some...

  14. 8 TRANSNATIONAL ACTIVISM ONLINE
    (pp. 185-208)

    The final dynamic of online activism I will analyze is transnationalism. Many cases in my sample have a transnational dimension. In some, domestic activists reach out to international actors for support; in others, their targets are foreign states or corporations; in still other cases, international nonstate actors seek to influence domestic politics through direct or indirect pressure. I consider activism transnational when it involves nonstate actors reaching across national borders in contentious activities.¹ The actors so engaged will be called transnational activists. Such activism is not new, yet its combination with the Internet is new, resulting in transnational online activism....

  15. CONCLUSION: CHINA’S LONG REVOLUTION
    (pp. 209-226)

    Online activism appeared in China in the mid-1990s, at a time when the revolutionary spirit of the student movement in 1989 had been sapped. It has become increasingly frequent and influential since its appearance. I have examined more than seventy cases in this book, involving hundreds of civic groups, online communities, and Web sites, and numerous people. Some of these cases were sustained struggles; others were episodic. Some involved large-scale, spontaneous protest activities; others were organized or took moderate or surreptitious forms. The issues ranged broadly, from the most horrific forms of human exploitation to controversies about single parenthood and...

  16. AFTERWORD TO THE PAPERBACK EDITION
    (pp. 227-240)

    Since this book came out in June 2009, online activism in China has undergone some new developments. Important new cases of online protest have occured. The influences of political and commercial forces are becoming more subtle and pervasive. New Internet services, especially microblogging, have caught on. These new developments invite some updates and critical reflections.

    From the late 1990s to 2008, online activism in China surged. I have collected fifty-six new cases of contentious Internet events for 2009 and 2010, and despite some new features, they remain fundamentally similar to the cases studied in my book, suggesting that the main...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 241-276)
  18. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 277-304)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 305-318)