Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 Our dependence on the Internet as an informational and social staple of our daily lives grows by the day. On July 16, 2009, the government-affiliated research organization, China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), released its “24th Report of China Internet Development”. The study indicated that at the end of June there were 338 million Internet users in China, a 13.4% increase since the end of 2008. This is remarkable, as China’s Internet user population is larger than the entire population of the United States, which stands at 307 million according to the US Census Bureau. While 94% (320 million) of the Chinese Internet population use broadband connection to access the web, the network speed lags far behind those of the more developed countries. With the launch of China’s 3G cellular-data service, the number of mobile Internet users also rose to around 46% (155 million) of the total population of Chinese Internet users.

Comment Icon0 While this much is known about the Internet population in China, the national web industry has started to dominate globally in terms of the sheer size of its user base. In February 2008, The Guardian reported that the world’s most popular blog, which boasts 137 million visitors, was “Lao Xu”. Chinese actor and director Xu Jinglei runs this blog. Trumping Youtube as distributor of online video was Tudou, which claims to have overtaken this popular American video-sharing service with over 1 billion megabytes of data transfers every day. In the Mandarin search engine market, there is Baidu, which has beaten Google in terms of Chinese traffic. Finally, Alibaba has humbled eBay and even taken over Yahoo’s operations in China (Watts, Feb 2008).

Comment Icon0 Based on potential global impact, China is on the verge of dominating the online space with the largest population of users on the Internet.  Understandably, Japan and Korea have been at the forefront of Internet connectivity with interesting uses of the Internet. Singapore, as a semi-democratic regime (Brooker, 2000), would be interesting to study as the island nation has been regarded by the Chinese Communist States and possibly the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) “as a laboratory for one possible future for the 21st century (Castells, 1998). However, given the increasingly recognized effectiveness of China’s Internet regulatory system and the country’s impending dominant online community, it would be worth studying China’s model of Internet governance and how it affects national as well as international media policies.

Comment Icon0 While there are numerous scholarly studies related to China’s media censorship practices, there is an apparent disconnect between the Western media’s view and Chinese netizen’s view of China’s Internet landscape. While most foreign media focus on the helplessness of the Chinese blogosphere, the Chinese netizens see something completely different altogether. This particular issue was raised in a panel discussion at the recent Chinese Blogger Conference 2007, where German observer Peter Wu shared his report entitled “The Chinese Blogosphere in the Eyes of Western Researchers, and Why They’re Wrong”. Peter remarked that amongst the “Western researchers”, quite a number of these people are, indeed, Chinese. He argued that if researchers focused too much on censorship, scholars would underestimate much of the Chinese blogosphere’s potential. Peter noted that Chinese blogs formed the “civilian” intelligentsia, the creation of the “different viewpoint” from Beijing, and the change in Chinese society (Feng, 2007).

Comment Icon0 This ‘missing’ Chinese perspective has been affirmed through a revealing luncheon talk by Michael Anti (Zhao Jing), a Nieman Fellow at Harvard and journalism researcher with the Beijing Bureau of New York Times, at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Anti discussed how the recent surge in blogging in China has changed the state-run media landscape of China and altered the centralized control the ruling party holds over free expression in the world’s most populous nation (Weinberger, 2007). Also, the Pew Internet & American Life Project released a recent report based on a series of longitudinal surveys, which showed that although many Americans assume that China’s Internet users are unhappy about their government’s control of the Internet, almost 85% say they think the government should be responsible for doing it (Fallows, 2008). According to the Pew Internet study, the apparent citizen request for Internet control stemmed from the increasing number of Chinese media reports linking the Internet to unfortunate events, often invasively personal, highly detailed and heavy on human interest.

Comment Icon0 Building on this is a developing and competing trend to traditional mass media, called citizen journalism. Citizen journalism represents an accessible practice of social discourse by civic-minded individuals, which could be analogous to the early print technology era of Thomas Paine as the pamphleteer. In the modern context, this form of independent media production has surged since the advent of participatory media such as forums, newsgroups and blogs. This form of citizen media production is known as “peer production”, which challenges the conventions of almost every nation’s established system of economics and politics (Benkler, 2006). Since almost any independently generated media on the Internet would be considered a form of peer production, it would be productive to examine citizen journalism in China, focusing on its unique features over traditional news media, and the motivations behind reading and producing content for media-sharing sites. With Chinese netizens engaging in numerous genres of discussion, knowledgeable on circumventing Internet-filtering technology and with the prevalence of participatory forms of media, an objective of this study would be to determine how Chinese netizens negotiate citizen journalism in the light of their government’s regulatory control of the Internet.

Comment Icon0 First, the Chinese government’s desired Internet use will be compared with the Chinese netizen’s actual use. Secondly, the study will focus on China’s Internet policy in the light of other Internet-connected countries in order to understand the phenomena of Internet regulation. Thirdly, how the Chinese government, as well as citizens, seek sovereignty over the Internet in the context of social discourse online will be discovered via public spaces such as chatrooms, discussions boards, blogs and news- sharing services. Using a comprehensive survey, the study will determine the degree to which the world’s dominant Internet population works within a regulated Internet. Finally, the study hopes to determine to what degree Internet regulation contributes to the development of China’s civil society, as well as the differences in motivations for Internet use by the Chinese government as well as Chinese citizens.

Chapter 1.3 – Significance of Study


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