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Regulating Social Media in China

Foucauldian Governmentality and the Public Sphere

Bei Guo

Regulating Social Media in China: Foucauldian Governmentality and the Public Sphere is the first in-depth study to apply the Foucauldian notion of governmentality to China’s field of social media. This book provokes readers to contemplate the democratizing potential of social media in China. By deploying Foucault’s theory of governmentality as an explanatory framework, author Bei Guo explores the seemingly paradoxical relationship of the Chinese party-state to the expansion of social media platforms. Guo argues that the Chinese government has several interests in promoting community participation and engagement through the internet platform Weibo, including extending the presence of its own agencies on Weibo while simultaneously controlling the discourse in many important ways. This book provides an important corrective to overly sanguine accounts that social media promotes a Habermasian public sphere along liberal democratic lines. It demonstrates how China, as an authoritarian country, responds to its citizens’ voracious hunger for information and regulates this by carefully adopting both liberal and authoritarian techniques.

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Chapter 3. Background of China’s Internet and Social Media

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BACKGROUND OF CHINA’S INTERNET AND SOCIAL MEDIA

Introduction

This chapter describes the background and context for China’s internet and social media, notably the social media platform, Weibo. This background includes essential information on the development of the internet, the common assumptions about the internet’s potential and the degree to which it is controlled. It also examines the specific development of Weibo in contemporary China, and the nature of Weibo’s power, providing detailed demographic and typological observations of Weibo users.

Since its advent in the early 1990s, the internet has contributed to enormous economic development in China. According to the 2005 Five Year Plan, it has been considered a cornerstone of the drive for economic development. Former Chinese president Jiang Zemin delivered a message to a computer conference in China in 2000, stressing that “we should deeply recognize the tremendous power of information technology and vigorously promote its development” (Tai 2006, p. 120). The development of the internet has indeed added significantly to China’s GDP growth. It is said that online advertising is growing quickly in the Chinese markets and is expected to grow at a rate of 48 percent per annum by 2015, driven through ← 55 | 56 → rapidly expanding levels of internet penetration (M2 Presswire 2011). However, the emergence of the internet as a public and interactive platform has created a dilemma for Chinese authorities. On the one hand, the authorities wish to embrace new media technologies...

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