Can the Internet Tame Governments? – Part II

(…..) Statistics on quantitative expansion of media in China are mind-boggling: more than 400 million internet users, 220 million blogs, 800 million mobile-phone subscribers, more than 2000 newspapers and 9000 magazines, some 2200 TV stations and more, increasingly commercialized. Still, the party remains in control. In qualitative terms, Lagerkvist and Shirk describe a situation of growing competition between established and emerging social norms and growing challenges to the party-state. Shirk, who has gained wide recognition for her book on China as a fragile superpower, goes further than Lagerkvist with her new volume in suggesting that the party is being forced to yield control and, as Xiao Qiang of China Digital Times puts it in his chapter, a power shift is happening in Chinese society. Lagerkvist expresses concern about the extent to which he finds Western analysis of China influenced by wishful thinking. He argues that the Chinese party state “is quite robust, confident and able to withstand short-term instability,” “pluralizing internet to its own advantage” and filling media with demobilizing “ideotainment.” In the same breath, however, he describes “an ongoing erosion of the Party-state’s power over civil society,” giving a vivid picture of increasing activism, formation of new social norms and values, online as well as offline. Lagerkvist analyzes transformation within the party among officials of the bureaucratic state, as they themselves spend hours on the internet off-duty, in front of screens at home. They, too, are netizens, and their norms are also changing. Lagerkvist writes that “the final blow to the Party-state’s expansive censorship regime will come as a result of these actors becoming more sensitive to issues of personal freedom, online privacy and need for a freer dissemination of opinion and information”. Censorship is an organic part of party-state and will no doubt remain a crucial weapon, but its usage is increasingly exposed as Chinese internet society becomes aware of the extent to which entrenched party interests determine their access to information. As a consequence, an idea of a “right to know” is taking shape in China’s rapidly growing online civil society and this could, in Shirk’s analysis, become “the rallying cry of the next Chinese revolution”. While internet freedom clearly is not about to be declared, civil society and new technology will over time push limits beyond the axiomatic boundaries of the party-state. A critical point will be, as Lagerkvist puts it, when the demands for changes offline will be sufficiently strong to change the game. The party’s control may be “lost” and tested, but it’s not about to crash and burn. The Fifth generation taking over in 2012 can be expected to try more deliberative forms of authoritarianism and new combinations of repression and responsiveness as it struggles to maintain its power monopoly in a society that changes faster than the party can.



Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional


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