In August 2016, on the heels of the summer heat surrounding the Olympics, a major celebrity family scandal gripped mainland China. The nation watched closely as a well-known actor struggled through revelations about his wife’s scandalous infidelities, her disgraceful possession over their family properties, and most dramatically, her unilateral decision to flee to America with their two children—all while their divorce unfolded in front of the nation’s gaze. Not a political affair, this scandal was able to attract as much publicity as the Chinese people were thirsty for. Sina Weibo (Microblogging) became one of the biggest winners of this storm, as its NASDAQ stock price rose 7.05% the day after the actor made his announcement on Sina Weibo about his plan to divorce, and Sina Weibo’s market value broke through 10 billion U.S. dollars for the first time (according to Sohu Business in 2016). Within 14 hours of that announcement, the actor’s original Sina Weibo post had been forwarded 520,000 times and commented on 1,240,000 times (according to Sohu Business in 2016). Like all other major news events, many of which are often more politically sensitive and civically relevant, ordinary citizens in mainland China have grown used to looking to their social media sites for information and guidance. As of December 2015, mainland China’s social media population reached 530 million, amounting to 77% of its total Internet users (according to CINNIC in 2016). A Western media invention, social media platforms have largely permeated the lives of regular Chinese users, although not without “Chinese characteristics.” This article reviews an important body of literature that takes keen interest in the civic implications of mainland China’s social media sites, which render themselves more relevant than ever in everyday life as well as amid high-profile public events. Following in the footsteps of many influential foreign Internet sites, including Google and the New York Times, such leading social media entities as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have all been blocked by the Great Firewall of China, officially known as the Golden Shield Project. This exclusive characteristic, along with other unique Chinese phenomena, has given rise to a separate social media universe that China calls its own. This article draws connections among explorations about the civic significance of China’s social media landscape for the world’s largest Internet population (according to CNNIC in 2008). While unique Chinese conditions do not necessarily disconnect China’s users from universal features of social media use, this article focuses specifically on works that examine how local social media platforms have shaped civic engagement in mainland China’s restrictive political environment. Like the spread of Internet technology to modern China, recent developments in social media have invited competing narratives about their democratic implications, which often echo Western academia’s evaluative position taking between utopian and pessimistic narratives of digital technology’s social impact. The former state that Chinese citizens have availed themselves of the unprecedented opportunities afforded by social media to keep governmental actions in check, whereas the latter voice the concern that social media simply provide new and more ready channels for governmental monitoring and manipulating of public opinion. In 2010, Deng and Jing suggested that although the concept of civil society originated in the West, we need to understand it as historically, culturally, and socially specific. The Chinese civil society, according to the two scholars, is both separate from and interdependent with the state. Its origin stemmed from China’s state-guided transition from a planned economy to marketization, leading China’s civil society to be more dependent on state policies, while the Western civil society gains more independence from private capital. Deng and Jing note that theories of state-society relations have primarily positioned the two as confrontational entities and instead propose a “Positive Interaction Theory (BIT)” for the case of China. Under this notion, the state allows for the civil society’s independent operation and protects it with laws and abstract legislation. While there is great diversity within the civil society and often conflicts of interest, the state should interfere and mediate in legal and economic terms, when members of the civil society fail to reconcile on contractual grounds. Under BIT as an ideal type, Deng and Jing asserted that the state should not intervene in the civil society’s political rights, and the latter should reserve the freedom to organize their political voices and push for democratization. The closer state-society relation can be to this ideal, the more robust a civil society will be. Once China’s civil society establishes its independence and autonomy, the scholars suggest, it will then participate in China’s politics and provide effective checks and balances on state decision making. However, these two stages are not neatly separate from each other. As can be seen in the cases reviewed in this article, the Chinese civil society in its current state is not a unitary and static entity. While limited in sensitive political and religious domains, it has achieved a strong voice in other social issues and positive interaction with the state at times. This investigation into a burgeoning literature on social media in mainland China finds that although the Chinese people’s use of social media does not strike one as immediately liberating in terms of new political freedom, it bears the potential of creating a civil society that may be particularly meaningful for the idiosyncratic political environment of China. In other words, there may be a lot left to desire, but researchers can look more closely into the various ways in which users in China actively, and often creatively, organize their voices and actions via new social media outlets. In the absence of a democracy, a civil society continues to emerge.
Jingsi Christina Wu and Kara S. Alaimo
Jianbin Jin, Xiaoxiao Cheng, Jing Yang, and Hui Wang
This century is marked by a burgeoning information society around the globe; accordingly, the adoption and use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in general and the Internet in particular have been one of the most fruitful domains in the broader field of communication sciences. The observed persistent academic interest can, to a large extent, be attributed to the polymorphic nature of ICTs of various modalities, functioning as ICTs technology clusters and/or meta operating systems that accommodate numerous technologies, functions and applications. Beyond that, ICTs or Internet adoption is reflective of a social process of development, during which the informational mode of development is interwoven with other social systems and varies across diverse social settings. Most existing empirical research and theoretical approaches have overwhelmingly focused on the Internet adoption in developed economies, but in-depth investigations on the developing economies such as China are scarce, if any. Compared to most developed countries, China’s informatization-urbanization model marks a unique path of modernization, which further provides a huge opportunity to build momentum for the rapid and large-scale Internet adoption in urban China. In order to present a whole-range holistic portrait of China’s Internet development, the intrinsic logics and social outcomes of China’s informatization-urbanization model necessitate in-depth investigations.
Internet addiction is a growing social issue in many societies worldwide. With the largest number of Internet users worldwide, China has witnessed the growth of the Internet along with the development and effects of Internet addiction, especially among the young. Originally reported anecdotally in mass media, Internet addiction has become an issue of great public concern after more than 20 years. The process of Internet addiction as an emerging risk in the Chinese context can be a showcase for risks related to information and communication technologies (ICTs), health, and everyday life. The term Internet addiction was first coined in the Western context and has since been recognized as a technology-driven social problem in China. Plenty of anecdotes, increasing academic research, and public awareness and concerns have put the threat of Internet addiction firmly on the policy agenda. Therefore, for prevention and intervention, research projects, rehab facilities, welfare services, and self-help programs have spread all over the country, and related regulations, policies, and laws have changed accordingly. Although controversies remain, through the staging of, and coping with, Internet addiction, people can better understand China’s digital natives and contemporary life.
For the past two decades, global television formats have received more attention in academia. Being theorized as mass-produced transnational cultural products, global TV formats have been articulated as dynamic junctures of cultural imperialism, media imperialism, and cultural homogenization in the realms of media and popular culture. These theoretical approaches, however, adopt a dualistic understanding of globality and locality, ignoring the multi-relational interactions between discourses of the global format and the local context constrained by specificities of global TV formats’ importing countries. Compared to the notion of globalization, glocalization attends more to the dialectical relationship between the global and the local, with its emphasis on postmodern understanding of local contents’ reproduction or repackaging within the framework delineated by global TV formats. With global TV formats’ transnational flow, these cultural commodities have gone through complex reproduction or adaptation in order to fit importing countries’ specific cultural, social, and even political milieus. Besides adaptation, global TV formats are inevitably subject to incompatible constraints in importing countries and thus exposed to disputes that may bring damages to their sustainability outside of their countries of origin. In order to present a comprehensive review of cross-border transaction and glocalization of global TV formats, it is necessary to examine this phenomenon’s origin and global expansion and explore its entrance into China. This can be done by analyzing the rise and fall of The Voice as a representative case and as one of the most successful global TV formats in the Chinese context within the framework of glocalization.