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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 5. Weibo Broadcast of the Bo Xilai Trial


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The trial of former official Bo Xilai is a significant benchmark for social media’s role in increasing transparency in the Chinese justice system, at least when it comes the trials of Party officials. (Zhang 2013b)


The political ousting of Bo Xilai, former member of the CCP and secretary of the Chongqing branch, a high-ranking political official identified as a neo-Maoist populist, marked a significant turning point in China’s political history. Earlier studies have examined cultural and economic fields through the lens of governmentality. This study, however, will apply the concept of governmentality to the political field, integrating representations of political figures and events in Chinese social media, notably Weibo, taking the Bo Xilai trial as a case study. This trial also marked an unprecedented moment in China’s judicial history; and in the way that the social media platform, Weibo, was used for a live broadcast of the trial, which made it the first open trial in Chinese history. The Chinese government’s long held tight regulation of both traditional media and new media, including Weibo, meant that it was paradoxical to see Weibo broadcast the Bo Xilai trial, ← 115 | 116 → showing a transparency which would be more expected in liberal societies. Previous scholarship has already illustrated that the governance strategies of the Chinese government have demonstrated certain liberal and democratic elements since the reform and opening up in late 1970s...

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