2011: Hu Yong Looks Back on the Year in Chinese Media (New and Old)

December 28th, 2011 by Susan Jakes

Hu Yong is one of China’s leading experts on new media.


This post is part of a series of year-end posts on Asia Blog written by Asia Society experts and Associate Fellows looking back on noteworthy events in 2011. You can read the entire series here.


Asia Society Arthur Ross Fellow Susan Jakes talked with Center on U.S-China Relations visiting fellow Hu Yong (Twitter) about internet trends, the Chinese media and what he learned on his visits to Zuccotti Park. Hu, a former print and television journalist, is a professor at Peking University’s School of Journalism and Communication and a leading authority on the Chinese Internet.  

are painting a somewhat positive picture of the way microblogs are
functioning as a channel for popular concerns to reach the leadership and
affect national policy …

I do
think it’s highly positive. But I haven’t mentioned the other side of the
story. I think weibo [similar to Twitter] plays a
large role in supplying the news. But, at the same time, I’m very doubtful
about the extent to which reports of these incidents can truly affect Chinese
politics. The leadership’s invoking of minsheng is a response
to what it’s hearing about popular concerns via channels like Sina weibo,
but it’s not a real response. It’s not a systemic response. Even in the case of
the train crash, we know some cadres got punished and the victims received a
lot of money by Chinese government standards, but still the State Council
promised Chinese netizens it would publish a thorough report on the
accident, and it hasn’t. So a lot of problems are just addressed at a
superficial level and people are still powerless whenever there are tragedies.
So I think it’s only the beginning. The weibo, and the Chinese
Internet play a very important role, but not a decisive role. I don’t think
they will transform Chinese politics. That’s only a fantasy.


about the traditional media in China? Everywhere else in the world tools like
Sina weibo have changed the way journalists work in traditional
media. What does that relationship look like in China?

first of all, the Chinese media industry is not a monolith. There are still the
hardcore media: party newspapers, most of the television stations and radio
stations, each province’s provincial newspaper. These are all under the tight
control of the propaganda departments. They comprise the traditional channel
for the government to try to push information down to the media. But in the
past roughly 20 years of the commercialization of the Chinese media there have
arisen quite a number of metropolitan newspapers or dushibao. These
papers have taken a radical attitude toward the market because they have to
compete with other media in terms of advertising revenue, subscriptions, etc.
They play to the market. So on a lot of occasions they content does reflect the
current transformations of Chinese society. By trying to be close to their
readers, these papers reflect much more reality than those of the Party media

we have new media. The commercial media have a very close relationship with new
media, not only because they are trying to migrate content online, they’re
trying to use new distribution channels, creating their own apps. But also
usually their editors and journalists are highly active in weibo and
social media. Some metropolitan newspapers have even made it a policy that
journalists and editors must have a weibo account. It’s related to
their job performance. They have to be saying something about the newspaper
itself or about society in general.

those journalists active on weibo gather a lot of information
from the internet. And people who are not working in the media who have
something they want to communicate can easily get direct messages to the
journalists. A lot of journalists use their real names and post their news
organizations. So there’s a close relationship between the audience and those
active journalists.


just spent around four months here in New York. Even given that you’re highly
connected to China via the internet, has being away changed anything about how
you see the media or society, has it had an effect on your views of things you
pay attention to?

been very fruitful to be in the U.S. Right after I arrived in New York, the
Occupy Wall Street movement began. So I went to see the protests and I also
read a lot of new media reports on this movement. I think I learned useful
lessons from this. In my work, I’m thinking about the different forms and
different ways of growing social movements in the Chinese context. So while
observing Occupy Wall Street, I was also thinking about how it’s relevant to
Chinese social movements in the Chinese context.


how is it relevant? Because to many observers it might seem the political
environments in the U.S. and China are different enough to make comparisons of
social movements in the two countries very difficult.

China, it’s very hard for social mobilization and social movements to be led or
organized by individuals, because the government is very heavy handed. Usually,
Chinese social mobilization is temporary, improvised and does not have any
support from organizations, like those that exist in the U.S., whose main
purpose is to organize advocacy, protests, etc. But Occupy Wall Street is not a
traditional U.S. social movement.

was on hand to observe the so-called general assemblies. Everybody could
participate, use the “people’s mike.” They take turns speaking, and it’s
chaotic. But this leaderless movement is relevant to the Chinese side. As I
mentioned just now, I think in China if you have a movement that is highly
concentrated on personal leadership, it would be crushed very quickly.

just been reported that the leader of the uprising in the village of Wukan in
Guangdong has been beaten to death, by the police.

I’m saying that the new kind of social movement, one characteristic is the
leaderless organization and the other thing I’m keen on observing how they’re
using social media like live streaming, the WePay platform for people to donate,
and the Tumblr thing is very emotional and
very moving.