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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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3. And the baton passes to … citizen journalism 93

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93 3. And the baton passes to … citizen journalism In-depth and investigative journalism seldom comes to mind when the Chinese media system is described or diagnosed. For most media scholars or other observers of the Chinese media, investigative jour- nalism starts with the Guangzhou-based Nanfang group’s profitable venture into this political minefield in the mid-1990s. It is little known, however, that this was actually the third wave of investigative journalism in the history of the People’s Republic. Historians and sinologists have analyzed the activities of the first generation of investigative journalists and critical writers, such as Liu Binyan and Wang Jiwei, who started out doing social and investiga- tive reportage in the 1950s (Spence 1991; Link 2006; Dai 1994). Dur- ing the Hundred Flowers Campaign from 1956 through 1957, the work of these first mavericks became more intense and their effort constituted the first wave of investigative journalism in China.1 This first wave came to an abrupt end when the enraged Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong launched the Anti-rightist movement in 1956. Liu and other intellectuals were severely punished for their work, which gave rise to the clampdown against so-called rightists inside the Communist Party and in society that followed. According to Liu Bi- nyan himself, between 1956 and 1958, as many as 30 percent of Chi- na’s journalists were labeled rightists because they had published neg- ative reports (Liu 1990: 161). The second wave of investigative and critical journalistic repor- tage took place under former Premier Hu Yaobang’s prot...

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