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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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4. Weapons of harmony and irony 127


127 4. Weapons of harmony and irony A: Just posted a thing others dare not post! As a result I have been harmonized! B: You got to be strong. C: A few things cannot be shown that nakedly. A: It is so late at night! How come the administrator is not sleeping! Why not let me finish this and then harmonize me! D: Being harmonized is only natural.1 When government authorities at different administrative levels in China shut down a commercial website, a university bulletin board system (BBS) or an individual’s blog, it is commonly referred to as being “harmonized” in vernacular web language. The explicit aim of the Par- ty-state is to instill compliance with its norm on what amounts to ac- ceptable language and behavior on the Internet. The Party-state censors Internet users, teaching them the rules of the new media game, and the- reby promotes self-censorship – wanting it to become “only natural.” In Chinese history, one way to avoid incurring wrath and pu- nishment from the governing elite was to use irony, subtle euphem- ism, and allegory to disguise political criticism. This practise was occasionally used also during the totalitarian reign of Chairman Mao Zedong in the years from the 1949 revolution through to the death of the “great helmsman” in 1976. The most famous example is the histo- rian Wu Han. A renowned expert on the Ming dynasty, he had at one time severely criticized the Guomingdang nationalist Party-state under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in the 1940s,...

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