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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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6. A nationalistic information sphere 191


191 6. A nationalistic information sphere North Korea: Big brother, I want to conduct a nuclear test China: Umh, I know, when? North Korea: 10 China: 10? Ten what, ten days or ten hours North Korea: 9, 8, 7 ... China: You bastard.1 In the West, Chinese popular nationalism is mainly portrayed as, and believed to be, an important social phenomenon catalyzed by new media usage. Observers in Japan, Europe and the United States have been worried about the surge in nationalist sentiments in China in recent years. In conjunction with China’s rise to great power status, Chinese nationalism has been viewed as chauvinistic and potentially dangerous for both China and the world (Friedman 2000: 118; Bernstein and Munro 1998; Cabestan 2005). As a consequence of foreign worries, many observations of ㎳槡, fenqing, the angry youth, focus on the ferocity of this new popular nationalism that is capable of mobilizing online and offline demon- strations through the Internet and cellphones.2 However, as chapter 4 on spoofing, and the above joke on the relations between North Korea and China, indicate, the young and angry may as easily switch from collective anger to slacker-style ironic individualism. Instead of blind hand-wringing, irony is employed to point to failure in standing up for the national interest and naïve policies toward Pyongyang, China’s long-time brother-in-arms, ever defying the international community with its nuclear arms program. Popular nationalism is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon in itself. Sometimes it is a desired ally of 1 See,...

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