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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 7. Conclusion


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· 7 ·


Overseas observers and scholars regularly attempt to capture the political implications of the rise of social media in China under the theme of oppressive state control; however, the Chinese government’s constant advances in the way it deals with social media should not be underestimated. The state of play between the regime’s maintaining of strict information control and its allowing greater freedom of information in China has been richly analyzed by scholars in recent years (Tong & Lei 2013; Yang 2009; MacKinnon 2009), who have concluded with a variety of interpretations. This book contributes to the analysis, reaching a different conclusion than earlier discussions by explaining the occurrence of more open debates on Weibo despite facing strict censorship. Chinese social media culture is so internally complex that it is actually possible for both greater freedoms of information and information containment to take place simultaneously. This paradox is informed by the new context of China’s more expansive conversation with the world, which contributes to a subtly changed internal landscape for new media.

This book puts forward a new contribution to the literature on Weibo and democracy through its analysis of governmentality and the public sphere. Instead of taking on either a democratizing role or a non-democratizing reading of Weibo in China, this book outlines both optimistic and pessimistic ← 175 | 176 → aspects generated by Weibo use. More significantly, it shows how the party-state has adapted its regulatory measures by offering more...

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