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李华芳,毕业于浙江大学经济系,现为上海金融与法律研究院研究员。在经济分析中,用“看不见的手,内心的观众和体面生活”对抗反知反智的言行,重新磨练亚当·斯密传下来的手艺。

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Does Internet Matter in China?  

2009-10-16 22:00:55|  分类: 缓慢阅读 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Does Internet Matter in China?

Li Huafang


Does Internet Matter in China? - 李华芳 - 李华芳的博客

Hu Yong, 2008, The Rising Cacophony: Personalexpression_r_r and Public Discussion in the Internet Age, GuangxiNormal University Press. (胡泳,2008,《众声喧哗:网络时代的个人表达与公共讨论》,广西师范大学出版社。)

 

The paper, TheInternet and Civil Society in China: a preliminary assessment,is Guobin Yang’s pioneering study on the relationship betweenInternet and politics, which came up with a question that whetherInternet has boosted the development of civil society.[1] In anotherword, what is the relationship between Internet and civilsociety?

 

There are two explanations on this issue. At first, Yangemployed a contentious politics framework, which is the mostprevailing theory in Internet politics in China. According to thistheory, Internet has been used as a “tool” against politicalauthorities in China. Internet, as Yang claimed, provided a new wayof protesting. It offers opportunities to people to group together.These groups have been deemed as micro-political powers that maybring up democratic public sphere in the future, because people onthe Internet will be able to share information more convenient thanever before. Besides, Internet makes it easier for the public toget access to information which may increase the public’s interestsand enhance their capabilities to participate in politicalmovements.

 

James C. Mulvenon supported Yang’s arguments. Inhis testimony, Breaching the Great Firewall on “China’s State Control Mechanisms and Methods”2005, [2]Jamesbelieved that Internet in China would be able to reduce the controlpower of CCP, which has suggested a path that might lead China todemocracy. Although it is possible, it won’t be an easy mission. Tothose who want to use Internet to promote democracy in China, theyhave to break up not only the information censorship but also thetechnical barrier that the GFW has set up.

 

However, the second explanation, refuting Yang’s firsttheory, treated Internet as a tool of propagandizing rather than atool of protesting. This explanation may overstate the controlpower of CCP, although CCP does play the role of “big brother” inwatching other traditional media.

 

The second explanation has been challenged by the factsthat information censorship and GFW are the main issues discussedby those Chinese Internet users who are able to get through theGFW, or those who can know other languages, in addition to Chinese.So, Yang upgraded his theory from a co-evolution perspectivetowards the relationship between the protesters and thecontrollers.

 

In fact, the above two analyses share a common theoreticalbasis that Internet is only a tool. The major difference betweenthem is that who controls the tool: the protesters or thecontrollers. Hu Yong is not satisfied of these extremeexplanations. Although Hu Yong’s research is mainly aboutcommunication theory which has made him focus more on therelationship between individual expression_r_r and the publicdiscussion or public sphere in the Internet Age, he has analyzedthe role of Internet in China from the perspective of Internetpolitics.

 

Hu made two aspects of contribution to Internet politicstheories. First, Hu’s book was a challenge to those who have helddichotomy in political theories. Newsgroups, BBS, and onlinechatting through various IM tools such as QQ, MSN, Gtalk and Skyperhave facilitated citizen activities. However, the progresses ofE-government programs, launched in 1991, have also enhanced thepropaganda. “Is it the best framework for observing and analysingthe real situation,” Hu Yong questioned. He emphasized the publicdiscussion or the public sphere, and wanted to find out therelationships behind individuals, public sphere (which refers tocivil society), and the government authorities. This refuted twopopular theories in political research in China: the “individualvs. state” dichotomy, and “civil society vs. state” dichotomy. Hustressed that the real world of Internet is so complicated that asimple dichotomy theory fails to work out.

 

Second, Hu introduced an “individual-civil society”approach to examine Internet development. Internet with techniquesof hypertext, multimedia, and interactivity, has become a“common-shared media” (GongYou MeiTi, which is a core idea of HuYong’s work) that enable individual voices to form a public sphere.The development of Internet has spontaneously generated publicsphere. And the public sphere cannot be simply treated as aprotesting tool or a controlling tool. Hu, by using the term“common-shared media”, demonstrated that there were protesters andcontrollers in this particular public sphere. Both individuals andstate authorities contributed to the public sphere by using the“common-shared media”. So, it may be not a good idea, as Hu Yongpointed out, to insist on use of contentious political approach inthe area.

 

However, Hu didn’t pay much attention to Internet politics,perhaps because his main concern was communication rather thanpolitics. There were plenty of discussions about how “common-sharedmedia” had shaped the public sphere and how it had changed therelationship between private and public sphere, which werepresented in Chapters 3, 4 and 5. These three chapters, which Humight not realize, had actually demonstrated a vivid picture ofInternet politics by analysing the complexity of the relationshipsamong “individuals”, “public sphere”, and “state authorities ”. Inthis case, Internet does matter in China.



[1]Guobin Yang, 2003, The Internetand Civil Society in China: A Preliminary Assessment, Journal of Contemporary China,Vol. 12, No. 36, pp. 453-475.

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