Monthly Archives: February 2010

How internet changes the handling of social incidents in China

Today I want to begin with a pretty good summary of how internet change the way social incidents are treated in China.  It was from a speech intended to give at the 2008 Chinese blogger conference by Roland Soong, one of the most influential bloggers in the Greater China Area who translates daily news and updates from the Chinese blogsphere into English.  You can find his blog “EastSouthWestNorth” here.

There are two observations we can get from the pictures he gives: First, after the arrival of the internet, social grievances have many more channels to be heard and its more likely for them to be addressed.  Second, it seems like afte the internet boom in China, western media plays a much less influential role in shaping governments’ response to social incidents.  One reason is perhaps that they cannot be as updated as the p2p communication on net, and another is perhaps, after China’s rise, CCP honestly does not care that much about what foreign media says anymore.  It’s the opinion of the people that they take serious notice of.   And it’s arguably true that, foreign media in general lost their credibility to shape the opionion of Chinese people due to their hostilities – some perceived, some manisfested – towards China’s rise since the 2008 Olympic Games.

In Soong’s view, that’s how social incidents are treated in the pre-internet era:

1. A bad thing happens somewhere in China (such as police brutality, government malfeasance, a forced eviction, a coal mine disaster, etc).

2. The local government suppresses all information.

3. All media reports are censored.  [If it wasn’t reported, it didn’t happen as far as people are concerned.]

4. The victims begin a petitioning process up the hierarchy in order to seek justice.  The road is long and hard (see The Long Road To Petition) with dim prospects.

Yet things start to change around 2003 when Soong himself started blogging.

1. A bad thing happens somewhere in China (such as police brutality, government malfeasance, a forced eviction, a coal mine disaster, etc).

2. The local government suppresses all information.

3. All media reports are censored.  [But if it wasn’t reported in traditional media, there are other alternatives now on the Internet.]

4. The victims begin a petitioning process up the hierarchy in order to seek justice.  The road is long and hard, and nothing ever comes out of it.

5. The Internet forums/blogs rushed to report on the case.  But within approximately 48 hours, all traces of information are erased by order of the authorities.  [Thus, one of the excitements of my blogging activity was to find and translate that information before this window closes.]

6. Western media catch wind of the incident, and follow through.  This creates an international scandal.

7. Senior Chinese officials take notice, and corrective actions are taken.

And that’s how things are done now:

1. A bad thing happens somewhere in China (such as police brutality, government malfeasance, a forced eviction, a coal mine disaster, etc).

2. The local government suppresses all information.

3. All media reports are censored.

4. The victims begin a petitioning process up the hierarchy in order to seek justice.  The road is long and hard and nothing ever results.

5. The Internet forums/blogs rushed to report on the case.

6a. Within 48 hours, all traces of negative (i.e. against the authorities) information are erased by order of the authorities, or else by self-censorship at the portals/forums/blog service providers.

6b. Positive (i.e. on behalf of the authorities) information appear from Internet commentators who are paid by the authorities for their efforts.

6. Western media catch wind of the incident, and follow through with an international incident.

7.  But there are just too many portals/forums/blogs that important information will eventually seep through.

8. Senior Chinese officials take notice, and corrective actions are taken.

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About the Title…

Forgive me if I’m being cliche – yes, the dragon here refers to something about China.  Specifically the cybersphere in China.  It’s powerful, mighty, and full of mischievous funs, yet its strength is seriously limited.  It’s restrained, by one of the most notorious and paternalistic censorship in the world. Yet the dragon is recalcitrant, and it never gives up on fighting and finding its way out.  And that comes the charm of China’s internet.  You never lose the tension and excitement watching this two forces making their moves and combating each other.  This blog is intended to record the fun happenings along the battles.

But why wonderland?  Well, the wonderland to me refers to China.  Forgive me again that I could not settle for a better word to describe my feeling towards the country. China is a wonderland, because of its energy, adventure, and miracles, and its strange figures, extravagant endeavors and bizarre rules.  And to quote a saying about China popular among expats who are living there: its a land where nothing is permissible, yet everything is possible.

The stories of the recalcitrant dragon are set against the backdrop of this wonderland.   I welcome you to join my explorations.

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