The Chinese government’s censorship of the media and the Internet has been widely reported, and CDT has been closely tracking netizens’ resistance to such censorship. Intensified Internet controls have coincided with the Internet’s increasingly critical role in Chinese politics, a fact that the country’s leaders are well aware of. The “2010 Society Blue Paper,” published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on December 22, 2009, contained a paper titled, “2009 China Internet Public Opinion Analysis Report,” written by analysts Zhu Huaxin (祝华新), Shan Xuegang (单学刚) and Hu Jiangchun (胡江春) of the Public Opinion Monitoring and Measuring Unit of People’s Net. The following excerpts of the report have been translated by CDT’s E. Shih:
In the “2008 China Internet Public Opinion Analysis Report,” we have created the concept of “new opinion class”, to use it to describe those netizens who are concerned with news and current affairs, and express their opinions online. In recent years, they have leveraged the “All communicate to all” strength of the Internet, and expressed their views on all kinds of problems in China’s social development. They can gather consensus, transform emotions, induce action and influence society within a very short period of time. In 2009, the scale of the “new opinion class” has been expanded further. According to the survey of CNNIC, on June 30, 2009, the population of Chinese netizens reached 338 million. The online population has increased 40 million within 6 months. Internet users are more than 25% of the total population, above the world average.
In the background of the world financial crisis, all kinds of contradictions that accumulated during the economic growth and social transformation of the last thirty years have emerged, and sometimes, in some places, they have accelerated. Netizens’ willingness to express themselves and to participate [in public affairs] is increasing and their voices are dynamic. On a series of sudden events, “New Opinion Class” demonstrated their enormous energy to incite public opinion. The government both intensified Internet control, in order to manage overly-radical expressions, and accelerated their reaction to Internet public opinion. Both the central government and local governments have established monitoring and measuring, feedback and absorbing mechanisms for such online public opinion.
(2) Web 2.0 and Web 1.0 Show a Contrast in Opinion
In traditional media, the content producers have a “We write, you read,” or “We recite, you listen,” or “We perform, you watch” relationship with the audience. Portal sites with news pages also belong to this sort of one-way, web 1.0 communication pattern. They carried the burden of spreading the directives of the government and guiding public discussion. On the contrary, web communities, which specialize in interaction, belong to a pattern of netizen speech and the reversal of communication flows. On a Web 2.0 opinion platform, netizens speak freely about government, and certain official policies are always under scrutiny.
Let’s take the once officially promoted “Green Dam: Flowering Season Navigation Wizard,” a filtering software, as an example. On several websites, the official statement was posted: 92 percent of users feel the need to purchase the filtering software from the government. Over 70 percent of users are satisfied with the software. But according to some portal websites’ investigation, over 80 percent of netizens are strongly opposed to the forced installation of the software.
(3) The Combination of Internet and Mobile Technology Gives Web Discourse Teeth
The merging of wired (Internet) and wireless (cell phone) technology has allowed netizens to spread information even more quickly. This is not limited to words, but includes the live capture and upload of photographs and video. Microblogging, in particular, was very lively in 2009. Following microblogs online does not require the blogger’s permission. Some “opinion leaders” on Twitter have over 10,000 “followers,” and have a great amount of power to guide opinion or incite action. Unlike microblogs in the West, which often discuss the daily lives of bloggers, Chinese microblogs are strongly focused on current events. Through the link of “following,” tribes of microbloggers form, creating a sort of mini-platform for political discussion. Occasional reports from “citizen journalists” can be “reported live” via microblogs. For example, in the Shishou riot, an anonymous netizen logged over 200 tweets live from the streets on Fanfou, a Chinese microblogging website. The microblogs effectively broke through certain communication filters and were ahead of the traditional media—and the announcement of official news. It broadcast live information in large quantities as it occurred, and became the most powerful medium for discourse.
The second product of the marriage between the Internet and mobile technology is micro-videoblogging. Micro video-blogs are short videos from tens of seconds to at most half an hour long. They are taped at the sudden incidents using phones, digital video recorders and other non-professional equipment and then posted to the Web. For example, at around 9 pm on the night of the Lantern Festival in 2009, there was a fire at the new CCTV building. The first report was by a netizen called “Salted and Hand-Ground Coffee” at 9:04 on the Tianya web community website: “Is the CCTV building on fire on Lantern Festival Night???” The report included a photograph of the scene of the fire, taken on a cell phone. In the summer of 2009, Tudou.com and other sites published a web video titled “The Most Painful Sight on the Streets of Beijing,” showing a girl being severely injured by a bus in front of Xiehe Hospital, and not receiving help for 40 minutes and after 120 emergency telephone calls. One netizen commented: “When disasters happen to other people, it is just a story to us. But when disasters happen to ourselves, it is also a story to other people. We can’t be so cold in this world!” Netizens believe that “No Image, No Truth,” especially when it comes to issues of urban management. For example, confrontations between urban management and merchants, or between demolition teams and developers, are often posted online, easily inciting netizen dissatisfaction and igniting discourse.
(4) Synergy of the Internet and Traditional Media Magnifies Discourse
Web discourse has already deeply influenced traditional media. Newspaper reporters, editors and television hosts have become accustomed to going online to look for news leads; and online “opinion leaders” are happy to write columns for newspapers or to do guest spots on television. Breaking news online gains credibility after deeper investigation by traditional media, and garners more government attention. And social critiques published in traditional media become magnified online, swiftly gathering the momentum of popular opinion, and create an enormous pressure of discourse. The synergy of new and old media has solved many social problems. For example, the resolution of the Shanghai traffic management department’s “fishing law enforcement” was a combined result of advocacy on the Internet and in traditional media. Manager Zhang Jun was “fished” when he picked up a pedestrian who claimed he had a stomachache on his privately owned vehicle. By the 12th, he had laid out his complaint online as “Prince Yi” in the Tianya web community. “1980s generation” author Han Han retold this story and commented on a blog, which garnered more attention. After the National Holiday, traditional media jumped into the story in a big way, digging out more cases of “fishing” in Shanghai. They discovered that a certain precinct had successfully amassed a great amount of wealth using this method of fining “smuggler cars,” and that the courts had a previously arranged agreement with the traffic law enforcement, among other facts. The traditional media reported immediately on the “fished” driver Sun Zhongjie, who chopped off a finger to prove his innocence and indignation. This created the height of the media discourse frenzy.