Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 The goal of this dissertation has been to determine how the Chinese government’s Internet policy, particularly its regulations, has contributed to the development of China’s civil society. This broad insight is attained through a comprehensive literature review of how the China’s public sphere is mediated through the Internet using the lenses of politics, economics and culture. In addition, a comparison was made of the Internet policies of China and other Internet-connected nations, as well as a survey of how Chinese citizens actually use the Internet in their daily lives. What the paper aims to highlight is that the battle for Internet sovereignty in China is now beyond the mere control of any party, but rather it is made apparent through the constant online discourse between government, businesses and citizens.

Comment Icon0 While this study’s qualitative approach may restrict its potential for generalization, the study’s pragmatic approach reviews and identifies key motivations, attitudes, habits and reactions to Internet use by the Chinese government, Internet-related organizations, political dissidents, as well as the citizen youth. The significance of this work lies in how it synergizes existing reflections of Chinese society as mediated through the online environment, which has largely been fragmented across various research studies, news reports and divergent opinions from key stakeholders in modern Chinese society. While this identification, documentation and analysis may not be exhaustive, it offers heuristic value for future research.

Comment Icon0 Despite the breadth of literature review as well as qualitative survey, there may still be inadequate research to show how social factors shape audience motivation towards media use, particularly on the Internet. Being reliant on the Uses & Gratification (U&G) theory, Blumer once commented that the research depends entirely on prevailing gratifications models, most of which were heavily biased towards the television medium. More importantly, social factors have primarily been conceived as the initial background influences in the gratification process. Due to these problems, U&G could miss “certain social processes that significantly shape the media expectations of audience members” (Blumler & Katz, 1974).

Comment Icon0 In addition, official documents as well as survey responses were mostly translated from Chinese to English, where the subtle meanings may be lost due to the different cultural, social, political and historical settings between the two languages. While effort was made to clarify with the translator in Shanghai, this study also triangulates facts between various related news reports, opinions via blogs and discussion forums, as well as academic journal articles. Through these measures, it is hoped that this study would present a fairly accurate picture of China’s public sphere, which extends within and beyond the Internet.

Comment Icon0 As a qualitative study, validity comes from the authenticity of interpretation. Specifically, authenticity means giving a fair, honest and balanced account of the studied phenomenon “from the viewpoint of someone who lives in it everyday” (Neuman, 2000). While the purpose of qualitative research lies in the discovery of connections between pre-existing data as well as the thoughts of other scholars, much of the cognition lies in the mind of the observer. Brought up in equatorial Singapore, educated in an American university and studying Chinese conditions under the theme of Internet use in China, I have attempted in my role as a cross-cultural researcher to appreciate the philosophical space between Eastern and Western civilizations. While personally aware, biases could still come into the picture within qualitative research. The assumption of interpretations reminds us that there is no ultimate, defensible truth; there are only interpretations of it (Potter, 1996).

Comment Icon0 With China’s complex social processes constantly in a state of flux, this field has proven to be a rapidly-moving target, rendering reliability, accuracy and comprehensiveness of research findings somewhat tenuous. Still, the study has cast a wide net through an array of research methods in order to triangulate the possible patterns of social phenomena. Traditional social prospectors would consider technology as an artificial element in any social setting, seeing it as an enabler of specific change, such as being a determinant for democracy in China. This dissertation asserts that we cannot simply separate technology from society and all of its political and economic complexity. In fact, this study goes so far as to propose that communication scholars should “dethrone” technology.

Comment Icon0 Across countries of varying level of technological advancement, there is an apparent variety of materials that are consistently transmitted online. Since governments or corporations often determine the kinds of content permitted online, media technology could be argued as being a “dependent variable” in most cases (Schiller, 1989). Supporting this claim, law professor Jack Goldsmith (1999) had argued that online transactions were no different from “real-space” transnational transactions. They involve people in real space in one jurisdiction communicating with people in real space in other jurisdictions in a way that often does good but sometimes causes harm. Internet users have not been immune to territorial regulations, which governments can exercise as authorities of nations.

Comment Icon0 While the democratic potential for China is still largely dependent on the outcomes of its political system and media policies, the increasing phenomena of non-political freedom granted to citizens demonstrates how civil society and the Internet energize each other in modern China. Given the interrelations between the Internet and civil society, future research should focus on the societal dynamics from their combined evolution instead of treating each as independent elements of cause and effect. In a familiar departure from Lasswell’s problematic Hypodermic Needle model (Davis and Baron, 1981), such co-evolution questions would include: What are the dynamics and consequences towards online media regulations as negotiated between China’s government and the public sphere? How does China’s public sphere shape the Chinese government online? How does China’s nationalistic society shape the use of the Internet as democratic media? These pertinent questions serve to reflect the long-term consequences of an increasingly networked civil society in China.

Chapter 10.5 – Limitations and Future Research

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