Fragmented Society: The Diffusion of ICT and China’s Modernization

by Hefan Xu (Author)
©2018 Thesis 216 Pages


Information and communication technology (ICT) has boosted economic development in China. To understand China’s modernization, it is therefore necessary to consider the development of ICT. The book reflects how a catch–up country with a fast modernization process develops into a relatively modern country and the consequences of the fast development. It focuses on the development of media in China by examining the diffusion of ICT and providing a case study in an indigenous place to explore the modernization process. The book offers a new perspective to understand modernization and contributes knowledge to understand China’s media, technology diffusion, indigenous culture transformation into modern culture and social changes.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • 1 The Fragmented Society of China
  • A Train Metaphor
  • The Carriages of the Train—hukou
  • Urbanization
  • Passengers who are Influenced by the One-Child Policy
  • The Environment of the Train
  • Conclusion
  • 2 The Eastern Media Philosophy
  • The Role of Intellectuals in Traditional Chinese Culture
  • The Inital Values of the Chinese Intellectual
  • The Intellectual, Liberty and Freedom in China from 1880 to 1949
  • The Introduction of Liberty and Freedom to China
  • New Concepts without Real Meaning
  • Conclusion
  • 3 The Two Stages of Development of the Media in China after 1949
  • The Outside Circle: Interaction of the Media and Society
  • The Inside Circle: Social Condition and the Media
  • Mao’s Period—Slogans and Social Mobilization
  • Press
  • Radio
  • Television
  • Fixed-phones
  • The Post-Mao Period: Learning Experience and Fast Diffusion of ICT
  • Press
  • Television
  • The Learning Experience and Telecommunication Reforms
  • The First Reform
  • The Second Reform
  • The Third Reform
  • The Fourth Reform
  • The Fast Diffusion of ICT
  • Fixed-phone
  • Internet
  • Mobile Phones
  • Conclusion
  • 4 Is the Diffusion of ICT in China Special?
  • The Diffusion Curve of ICT in China
  • A Comparative Analysis of ICT
  • Fixed-phones
  • Mobile Phone
  • Broadband
  • Conclusion
  • 5 Losing and Rebuilding the Social Trust System
  • The SARS Virus
  • Guo Meimei
  • Conclusion
  • 6 How an Indigenous Society Develops in the Wave of Modernization
  • A Window to Observe
  • The Difficulty of Entering into the Local Community
  • Background of the Samples
  • Xijiang
  • Zhaoxing Dong Village
  • Longjiao Village
  • Wanggang Village
  • A Traditional Society
  • Economy: Agricultural Society with Pervasive ICT Diffusion
  • Social Structure
  • Political Institution
  • Values
  • The Pervasive Usage of ICT in the Minority Area
  • The Tourism Modernization Process
  • Improvement of Knowledge
  • Political Change
  • Economic Change
  • Dual Markets
  • Commercial Sense
  • Increasing Income
  • Conflict of Interest Groups
  • Social Mobilization
  • Psychological Adaptation
  • The Changing of Clothes
  • The Shift of Authority and Taboo
  • Changes of Customs
  • Live or Achieve—Who is the Owner of Modern Society?
  • A Dialog with a Local Intellectual
  • Conclusion
  • 7 Reflections on Indigenous Culture and Modernization
  • Behind the Fast Speed of Economic Growth
  • The Digital Divide: The Usage Gap and the Age Divide
  • Different Carrier— Tradition and Modernity
  • Cultural Awareness
  • Conclusion
  • 8 Summary
  • The “Social Vacuum System” with Fragmented Social Memory
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Bibliography


In 2010, I participated in a project to investigate how modern media is changing traditional Chinese villages. This first look at indigenous Chinese culture piqued my curiosity about the relationship between media and modernization. I was shocked when I saw how people carry heavy loads along the narrow mountain road, and at first wondered why they do not choose a flat place to build apartments. I still wonder how modernization processes are changing the area, and what the relation is between tradition and modernity. To this day, I still remember my first impressions of that village: the traditional wooden buildings (diaojiao lou), handmade clothes, majestic terraced mountains, friendly local people, and the ubiquity of digital devices. This is an ideal place to observe the media and modernization of China, and serve as a window to understand social change.

China, as the largest developing country, the biggest socialist country, the fastest rising GDP country, the second largest country by land area, the most populous country, the country with the second largest economy and a single party country etc., has experienced rapid transition. In recent years, increasing attention has focused on China, as it is regarded as an economic engine for the world and the center of digital device production.

So far, information and communication technology (ICT) has boosted economic development in China. The process of modernization can be seen in the widespread use of energy-saving tools, and with physical devices that perform more efficiently and effectively than humans (Levy, 1966).

At the moment, in China as well as in other countries, traditional media are being replaced by new media, especially the ICT that combines computer, broadcasting, satellite, and visual technologies; for example, computers and smartphones have merged books, news, music, television, radio, etc. into one device. In the information age, individuals are adapting to new technologies as well as using them.

As technology diffuses across the globe, developing countries are considered to be “hitching a ride” on innovation, acquiring advanced techniques while investing less in new technology. The ability of so-called “catch-up countries” to benefit from mature technologies to accelerate the penetration procedure is called “the advantages of backwardness” (Glaziev, 1991; Keller, 2001). As a catch-up country, China is trying to modernize quickly, and will have to face many issues. ←11 | 12→

“A society will be considered more or less modernized to the extent that its members use inanimate sources of power and/or use tools to multiply the effects of their efforts” (Levy, 1966, p. 11). To understand modernization and social change, it is important to find out what triggers them. To understand China’s modernization, it is necessary to take into account the development of ICT.

Toffler, Longul and Forbes (1981) first introduced the concept of the three revolutions, namely the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution and the information revolution. As ICT has become more widespread, society has entered the information era, which means the diffusion of ICT has set off a new wave of modernization.

However, this wave did not appear suddenly; it can be traced back to the beginning of the industrial revolution. In A History of Mass Communication: Six Information Revolutions, I. E. Fang (1997) attempts to divide the Information Revolution into six stages according to their characters, namely the Writing Revolution (eighth century B.C.), the Printing Revolution (the second half of the fifteenth century), the Mass Media Revolution (middle of the nineteenth century), the Entertainment Revolution (the end of nineteenth century), the Communication Toolshed Home (the middle of the twentieth century, when the home became the central location for receiving information and entertainment), and the Information Highway. As can be seen from the dates given, each stage is shorter than the one that preceded it, with the last four revolutions occurring in the past two centuries. In an information society, changes in industry and human life are closely related to the Internet, where information appears and disappears rapidly, and new technologies develop ever faster.

The six information revolutions that Irving Fang highlighted comprise a wide spectrum of information and media. The initial period of each revolution suggests how long it takes until the older revolution transfers into the new revolution. The information revolution accelerates to transform into the next stage. It took approximately 1,700 years for the first revolution to transition into the second revolution. However, the last four information revolutions, impressively, have finished their transition and overlapped during the past two centuries. In the information society, the update of the industry and lives of human beings are closely related to the Internet. It will concurrently create and delete information at a high speed. Most importantly, the update of new technologies will develop rapidly in the information society.

Modernization is a process that transforms a traditional or pre-technological society into a society characterized by machine technology, rational and secular attitudes, and highly differentiated social structures (Huntington, 1971; Tipps, ←12 | 13→ 1973). The diffusion of ICT is not identical with “modernization”, nor is it the main cause of China’s modernization. However, in view of how widespread ICT has become in China, and the information age is labeled as the new revolution of the world, it is important to understand the social transformation process in one of the oldest cultures and longest-flourishing civilizations in the world. ←13 | 14→ ←14 | 15→

1The Fragmented Society of China

A Train Metaphor

China, as the largest developing country, is transforming from tradition to modernity, and is now experiencing conflictual social change. During this transformation, the development of ICT is influenced by economic development, social structure, and the political system; ICT diffusion also has a reciprocal effect.

A general impression about the China train is that it resembles a steam locomotive train. As the train is gathering speed, it rumbles down the tracks, with increasing noise, smoke, dust and dirt. Green things near the track are covered with soot; it is not an elegant or clean system. Nevertheless, the train is accomplishing its main function-—transportation. The train is not the most efficient but it runs with lower cost.

If China’s society is like a train, several factors need to be considered about this train, namely time, space, people, and communication. The train becomes more crowded over time: think of the passengers as members of society, and each destination is a step toward an improved living standard and the next stage of the planned economy (arrival times can be attributed to the stages, e.g., 5-year plan, 10-year plan, etc.). The passengers and the organ of the train come to the consensus that the train is uncomfortable, but are pleased that it is doing the job, getting them to the next destination.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (January)
Sociology Media Urbanization Tradition Modernity Telecommunication Reforms
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 216 pp., 10 fig. col., 18 fig. b/w, 11 tables

Biographical notes

Hefan Xu (Author)

Hefan Xu received her Ph.D. from Heidelberg University, Max-Weber-Institute for Sociology in 2017. Her research interests include diffusion of information and communication technologies, digitalization, media in China, modernization, tourism in indigenous culture, transcultural studies and micro-expression recognition fields.


Title: Fragmented Society: The Diffusion of ICT and China’s Modernization
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218 pages