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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 6. Patriotic Citizenry in China’s Weibo Community


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The event, “Ding was here” should be an opportunity to reflect on one’s educational attainments… [The self-reflection on this event] made people see a strong appeal to the level of civilization of this society and a conscious reflection on the state. (Li 2013)


The quotation is a commentary from the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of China’s Communist Party, after the “Ding was here” controversy, which was an internet incident that garnered great debate on Weibo about the Chinese people’s national and international image. This event evoked and consolidated strong patriotic and collective sentiments among Chinese netizens. This chapter therefore draws upon this event as a case study, seeking an explanation for this powerful online discourse and illustrating how the party-state attempts to embrace more sophisticated forms of governance to construct an environment for “free” communications space. At the same time, it exemplifies the techniques of “technologies of the self”, which Foucault defines as the multiple procedures and art or knowledge that government applies to promote willing compliance rather than directly employing brute force (Foucault 1991, ← 143 | 144 → pp. 102–103). This type of governance involves more complex and ambiguous relations between the state and netizens as indicated by this case study.

Drawing from possible explanations from the literature review chapter as well as the samples collected from “Ding was here”, this chapter argues that the formation of patriotic...

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