Beyond Censorship in China’s Media and Cyberspace

Simon Fraser University professor Zhao Yuezhi has conducted in-depth research on the political economy of communication in China. In the most recent Asia Pacific Memo, Zhao focuses on the internal controversy over models of economic development and the Wang Lijun incidentputting them into a larger historical context of media control in China. In closing, she offers a warning against “one-dimensional” Western generalizations of in China:

[…]As China gears up for the 18th Party Congress, debate is apparent throughout the Chinese communication system, from official party organs, People’s Daily and CCTV, to micro blogs, personal email lists, and mass SMS messages via cell phone.

Covert and overt debates on the future of China in the media are not new. It was a highly philosophical debate on “truth criteria” that helped to dethrone Mao and legitimize Deng’s economic reforms over 30 years ago.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, media debates, often triggered by sensational media coverage of scandals, have played an instrumental role in shaping China’s reform path. With the explosion of the Internet and social media, the scope, ferocity, and stakes of these debates have intensified, creating intricate dynamics between elite, intellectual, and popular politics. Western media portrayals of Chinese media and Internet as plagued by “censorship” still ring true, and we will see more crackdowns. But one-dimensional portrayals miss much of what is going on inside China’s increasingly diverse, dynamic, and perhaps even decisive, media and cyberspace.

A visually-charged and multi-dimensional post on Al Jazeera’s The Stream describes the state of internet censorship in China. The post quotes official justification for censorship policies like real name registration, translates netizen responses to such policies, provides examples of activist campaigns, and illustrates the use of satire (or e’gao 恶搞) in getting information past censors:

Users of Sina Weibo, China’s most popular micro-blogging website, will soon have to register under their real names. Critics of the law say this is further increasing the government’s control over online freedom. Yet despite pouring more and more resources into policing the web, the country’s netizens are finding ways to beat the system.

In this episode of The Stream, we speak to Eva Galperin (@evacide), an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Michael Anti (@mranti), a journalist and blogger.

For more recent CDT coverage of censorship in China, see Bitter Jokes About Censorship and How to Control the Culture of 1.4 Billion People.



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