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G_Yang_Internet–mediated_networks_China_Reading Notes

Page history last edited by David Shutkin 8 years, 10 months ago

Guobin Yang First Monday, Special Issue #7: Command Lines: The Emergence of Governance in Global Cyberspace

Characteristics of Internet–mediated networks in China

  • Official media report: Internet activism just a swarming mass
  • Instead:  this “swarming mass” is organized with specialized issue areas into:
    • Web sites,
    • bulletin board systems (BBS),
    • newsgroups, and
    • e–mail mailing lists.


Large online communities

  • Such as those hosted by Tianyaclub.com (http://www2.tianya.cn/)
    As many as one million registered users.
  • At any time: thousands of users reading and posting messages. 
  • compelling information circulates rapidly and produce publicity effects as powerful as the mass media.


Internet networks not completely free realms:

Trend past 10 years:

  • Growing amount and scale of control and
  • Increasing sophistication in the methods and technologies of control

Regime China internet control evolved along three (3) axes:

  1. Social and political control: Examples: arresting a cyber–dissident or bulletin board managers to censor posts.
  2. Technological control: Filtering of keywords and blocking of Web sites.
  3. Psychological control: Creating a panopticon: anticapatory conformaty


That these activities are taking place at all indicates both the limits of control at the current stage of Internet development and the resistance and creativity of social actors!


Internet–mediated networks engage in four kinds of politics:

  1. Information politics:
    • Generate politically usable information and
    • Move it to where it will have the most impact.
  2. Symbolic politics: Tell stories to frame situation.
  3. Leverage politics:
    • Call upon powerful actors to influence a situation 
    • Internet and
    • International organizations.
  4. Accountability politics: Hold powerful actors to their previously stated policies or principles.


Leverage for Internet–mediated networks:

  • Where social actors have no access to the mass media, the Internet becomes a lever.

  • Accountability politics based on citizens’ legal claims.

  • Activists seek to hold their opponents accountable to
    established laws and the constitution

  • known as rights–based contention


by citing specific clauses or the spirit of law, “ordinary people are learning to speak the language of power
with skill, to make officials prisoners of their own rhetoric.”


This article has shown that they have also become players in national politics. This is the first major political impact of China’s Internet–
mediated networks.


China’s Internet–mediated networks have articulated new norms and given new
meanings to old norms.

Freedom of speech used to mean freedom of speech in the mass
media and through other alternative channels, such as wall posters. With the Internet, its
meaning has broadened. Indeed, the center stage of popular struggles for freedom of speech has
moved from conventional media to the Internet. The daily activities in online communities not
only happen under conditions of political control, but also contest control. Besides these
age–old ideals, new ones have been articulated. Information disclosure, the right to know, and
information right have entered the vocabulary of democratic struggles in China. These new
values have not been incorporated into China’s governance system in any institutional form.
They meet with resistance from agents of the state. Yet as my empirical cases show, state
actors are pressured into acknowledging or accepting these principles, at least in rhetoric. This
widens the space for accountability politics. Perhaps the most important impact on political
norms lies in the very process of political action. Transcending boundaries to engage in
information, symbolic, leverage, and accountability politics is not just a means to an end. It
is an end in itself. It is through practicing these politics that information right and freedom of
expression are affirmed.


The political activism in China’s Internet networks marks the rise of a new, informational politics
in China. This is informational politics because the central stakes and arenas of political
struggles are information access, information rights, and information technologies. All power
structures are based on the control and manipulation of information and China is no exception.
Yet never before has information occupied such a central and visible place in Chinese politics.
The creation in recent years of a Ministry of Information Industry, the extension of the
functions of the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Public Security into the governance of
information suppliers, information contents, and information users, the promulgation of
laws and regulations concerning the use of the Internet


Theoretical conclusion:

Castells (1996) argues that in an age of network society, power functions by
exclusion. To have power is to be in the networks, to be excluded from the networks is to be
powerless. Coming from a very different camp [22], Scott Lash reaches similar conclusions,
writing that to be powerless is to be left out “from the loops of information and
communication flows.”

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