Hu Yong: The Revolt of China’s Twittering Classes

Internet scholar Hu Yong writes about the power of microblogs in China, most recently after Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize was announced:

Despite this news blackout, China’s blogosphere and microblogs exploded after Liu was announced as the winner. For example, on Sina’s microblog site, bloggers used pictures, euphemisms, and English or traditional Chinese characters to avoid censorship.

Twitter-style microblogging is extremely popular in China. Twitter.com was officially blocked last year, following the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown and the riots in Xinjiang that summer. Soon afterwards, its most famous Chinese clone, Fanfou.com, also was closed down, leaving one million registered users homeless. Nevertheless, although Twitter can be accessed in China only via proxy servers, it still plays a vital role in Chinese Internet life because of its ability to connect different news sources and social activists.

Indeed, Twitter is the only place where people can talk freely about Liu‘s Nobel prize. A search of the hash tag “#Liuxiaobo” shows that relevant messages pop up hundreds of times per minute.

…Twitter political activism in China challenges the simplistic yet widespread assumption that social media in the hands of activists can lead swiftly to mass mobilization and social change. Instead, these information-sharing tools and channels promote more subtle social progress.

That subtlety reflects the distinction between macro-politics and micro-politics. Macro-politics is structural, whereas micro-politics is daily. Changes in the micro-political system do not necessarily lead to an adjustment in the macro structure, particularly in hyper-controlled political systems like China’s. But if small units are well organized, they can greatly improve the well-being of society as a whole, bit by bit, by working at the micro level. “Micro-information” and “micro-exchange” can push forward real change.

October 14, 2010 10:24 PM
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