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After the Internet, Before Democracy

Competing Norms in Chinese Media and Society

Johan Lagerkvist

China has lived with the Internet for nearly two decades. Will increased Internet use, with new possibilities to share information and discuss news and politics, lead to democracy, or will it to the contrary sustain a nationalist supported authoritarianism that may eventually contest the global information order?
This book takes stock of the ongoing tug of war between state power and civil society on and off the Internet, a phenomenon that is fast becoming the centerpiece in the Chinese Communist Party’s struggle to stay in power indefinitely. It interrogates the dynamics of this enduring contestation, before democracy, by following how Chinese society travels from getting access to the Internet to our time having the world’s largest Internet population. Pursuing the rationale of Internet regulation, the rise of the Chinese blogosphere and citizen journalism, Internet irony, online propaganda, the relation between state and popular nationalism, and finally the role of social media to bring about China’s democratization, this book offers a fresh and provocative perspective on the arguable role of media technologies in the process of democratization, by applying social norm theory to illuminate the competition between the Party-state norm and the youth/subaltern norm in Chinese media and society.

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2. In blogs they trust? 65

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65 2. In blogs they trust? Blogs are just a place for love writing, I can’t imagine a day when people don’t look for information from Xinhua News Agency or other providers.1 Chen Tong, Vice-President of Sina We at Sina have no plans to make blogging a commercial product. We are not actively searching for blogging col- umnists.2 He Hongbin, Former Director of Online Communities, Sina, Shanghai The first of the above comments was given to Chinese mass media in December 2004. The second was delivered with much confidence in an interview with the author in March 2005. These two quotations show that the rise of an extremely important part of China’s Internet – blogs – was not even on the horizon for Sina, one of the biggest play- ers in the information and communications market, at the time. Since then, Sina has changed its strategy toward this business segment, now a major factor and a standard ingredient for profit-motivated as well as community-oriented websites, impacting on all sectors in Chinese society: news, business, culture and politics. A market survey con- ducted by the company TNS in 16 countries in 2008 showed that Chi- na’s Internet users are more aware of, and contribute more to, their national blogosphere and online forums than users in other countries do in theirs. Actually, foreign correspondents nowadays scan the Chi- nese blogosphere for stories, leads, and the keys to understanding their 1 See “Blogging’s future in China,” http://vweb.cycnet.com/cms/2004/cycenglish /news/t20051202_41615.htm, last accessed August 15, 2010....

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