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The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online Essay (Book Review)


Introduction

This book is about the power of online activism. The author reveals how it is hard to contain a society that is not satisfied with the status quo.

With well elaborated illustrations, the book reveals how a society fights against corruption in government, abuse of employee rights and social inequalities among other hot button issues through the online platform.

The book reveals that the Chinese online audience is actually a society taking into consideration that it has more than 253 million users (Yang 2), whose ages and occupations are quite diverse (Yang 32).

This book simply shows how the Chinese people have resorted to cyberspace as a means of fighting against vices they view to be wrong in the society.

The author puts this more clearly “This book is about people’s power in the Internet age” (Yang 1). The author makes a number of arguments three of which are

  1. The cyberspace users form a society: The internet offers a platform where people grow stronger in the pursuit of their rights
  2. The civil society is taking an interest o societal affairs: As opposed in the past, there is a change in the manner of managing crisis to a bottom-up process.
  3. Grievances will always be aired irrespective of the obstacles confronted: It is not possible to completely censor the opinions of the society especially where injustice is involved.

How the Themes are related to Class Work

This section discusses the above listed arguments made by the author. References are made to the class lecture notes and articles used in the course syllabus. An attempt is made to relate the class work with the views expressed in the book especially in regard to the three arguments identified above in the introduction section.

The internet users form a society

Yang presents the cyberspace as a platform where people grow stronger in the pursuit of their rights. Internet users have grown explosively in numbers. Yang puts the figure, as at 2008, at 253 million users (Yang 2). He also illustrates that the internet users are of various ages and occupational backgrounds (Yang 32).

This online society is quite heterogeneous with groups like “homeowners, pensioners, migrants, hepatitis-B carriers, ant farmers, consumers, computer gamers and pet owners” (Yang 27).

He further notes that there is participation by ordinary people in issues that affect them: “Ordinary people engage in a broad range of political actions and find a new sense of self, community, and empowerment” (Yang 2). The author therefore shows that indeed the Chinese cyberspace users form a society.

What is covered above by Yang is directly related to what has already been covered in class. This trend whereby people form groups of association is common with the Chinese. Lecture 16 shows how members of the society attempt to form groups which will fight for their own rights.1

In the class work, the willingness of the Chinese society to fight policies which are harmful was also discussed. It was shown that students have been very vocal in fighting for the rights of various members in the society. The social evils against which public demonstrations have been carried out were discussed well and mainly touch of disrespect of civil rights by government agencies.2

As one may expect in societies, public events receive response. Some events receive praise while others are condemned. The internet users are very quick to apportion praise or condemnation to any public events as the need arises. Yang shows how the Chinese cyberspace is active in reacting to unjust actions which affect the public.

In some cases, the internet society has forced the central government to spring into action on issues it had previously ignored. The story of illegal brick kilns in the province of Shamxi and many more others are just illustrations of the effectiveness of the internet society in China as illustrated in the book.

Articles used in class showed that the Chinese society has evolved to fight for its members. These articles showed students being at the fore front especially in championing the rights of the marginalized in the society.3 It was also shown that during national calamities, the Chinese people have a strong will to stand by each other.4

Therefore, the willingness of the online community to stand by each other as Yang depicts is well reconciled. The last lecture we had in the month of March touched on how some environmental Non Government Organizations have found reinforcement from online communities.5

The civil society is taking an interest in societal affairs

As opposed to the past, there is a change in the manner of managing crisis to a bottom-up process. This is expressed in the class article by Shawn Shieh and Guosheng Deng. The people made a great demonstration of a bottom-up strategy in dealing with the crisis that confronted the people of Sichuan.

We learned that the Chinese society is growing more cohesive and members of the society are learning to help each other without necessarily being pushed by the government.6 Class lectures also showed that Chinese society is becoming more used to engaging the government through public demonstrations.

Again students were shown to be very active in this area. This can be said to be a trend which has been gradually growing within the Chinese civil society.7 This is clearly shown throughout the book as the civil society uses the internet to air their grievances against actions they view as being unfair.

Evidence in the book that the civil society is taking more interest in affairs concerning the society comes out well when the determination of the internet users against bad policies is reviewed. The chapter titled Civic Association Online shows how civic associations are actively encouraging the online communities to join hands for the common good of the Chinese people. The author shows that the internet is playing a leading role in creating informed citizenry.

This trend of the civil society trying to emerge amid suffocation from government suppression was well discussed in the lectures. A historical snapshot shows that after what seemed to be a rapid growth of civil society organs, the violent Tiananmen Square demonstration suppression slowed these organs. However, afterwards there was a renewed growth of these organs.8

Lecture 16 also highlighted the efforts of civic bodies to push the government for reforms. It was shown that the civic bodies believe that reforms in the governments were required. The interference of the party in government was pointed out as an obstacle to these reforms.

The kind of issues that raises responses from online communities are varied but all of them affect the people. According to Yang, the issues that the online community has responded to are “popular nationalism, rights defence, corruption and power abuse, environment, cultural contention, muckraking, and online charity” (55).

As already noted from lecture notes and articles, these are issues that the Chinese society has been fighting against. Through the article ‘Popular Protests’ various issues that the Chinese society has been pushing for were discussed. These issues are very similar to the ones that the author has listed above.9

The lectures showed, for instance, how the household responsibility system was adopted by the people secretly and later openly despite the government dragging its feet to give it a full support.10

Grievances will always be aired irrespective of the obstacles confronted

The author also argues that the society will always air their grievances no matter what obstacles are on the way. This determination has been demonstrated several times in class through various articles. One good illustration is the 1989 Tiananmen protest by students.11 It is not possible to completely censor the opinions of the society especially where injustice is involved.

The author argues that despite the constant effort by the authorities to censor the internet, the Chinese online community has always found ways of going round this obstacle. He notes that “state power constrains the forms and issues of contention, but instead of preventing it from happening it forces activists to be more creative and artful” (Yang 7).

This has been well illustrated through the class work. Being creative and artful in the expression of opinion in the face of stern opposition from the state and state organs seem to the way of the Chinese society as was illustrated in the use of the ‘democratic wall’ by students.12

From the articles used in class, it was also shown that the members of the society quickly learn from each other. And if what they learn is important but somehow suppressed by the government, it is adopted and applied in secrecy. The people also have a way of defending themselves if they are taken to task on why they adopt such actions.13

Under the chapter Politics of Digital Contention the author gives details of how the state has engaged internet activism specifically to ensure that it is under control. The state is always watchful and applies different techniques to ensure that the internet community is censored. It has already been shown in the class that the Chinese government has that tendency to control the public.14

The book also raises a lot of concerns that censoring the Internet might be slowing the economy of the nation. Free access to information and exchanging of such information freely greatly determines economic growth of a nation. It also empowers people as there is exchange of information with the world.

The censorship of the internet however hampers this free flow of information and therefore does not encourage transparency.

In class, the effect of the high handedness of the government was shown. It was discussed that this control by the government negatively affects the economy of China – lack of transparency in state function fosters corruption and therefore affects the economy.15

Hampering free flow of information by the state is an old trend in China. The Mao era was strongly opposed to free expression of views by writers and those who were suspected to be against the government were subjected to harsh conditions and as a result literary work in China suffered a great blow.16

Conclusion

Guobin Yang makes a compelling argument that the internet has become a force to reckon with in China. He systematically shows how the internet use has affected the civil society in very great ways.

In this article, the arguments made by Yang are discussed in three themes: the cyberspace users form a society, the civil society is taking an interest in societal affairs, and grievances always get aired no matter what kind of obstacles are faced.

These themes are discussed as Yang presents them in the book with special reference to the lecture notes and articles used in the coursework.

The arguments made by author were part of the issues that were discussed in class. The first argument by the author was that the Chinese tend to form a society through the internet platform.

Several of the articles that were covered in class showed that Chinese people have adopted the spirit of working together as a society. This is especially the case when they need to help each other or when they are fighting against government brutality or high handedness.

The class work had also covered the second argument by the Yang. Civil bodies are continuously teaching the citizens on their rights. Part of the 16th lecture covered in class discussed how various bodies are pushing for reforms in the government.

The class work also covered the attempts by students to launch public demonstrations some of which were ended fatally. All these illustrate that the society has become more sensitized to issues affecting them than they were in the past.

Lastly, class work also showed that the society is dynamic and adopts various ways of expressing their grievances. It was also shown that when the government becomes too restrictive, the society resorts to secret measures as is discussed in the article Calamity and Reform in China by Dali L. Yang on page 159.

Works Cited

Yang, Guobin. The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Print.

Footnotes

1 Lecture 16 on Political Reforms, slide number 16.

2 Popular Protest in China’ by Kevin J. O’Brien.

3 ‘Civil Society and political Change in Asia’ edited by Muthiah Alagappa on page 441. Also refer to lecture 16 slide number 6.

4 Article ‘An Emerging Society: The Impact of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake on Grass-roots Associations in China’ by Shawn Shieh and Guosheng Deng.

5 Page 147 of the article ‘Popular Protest in China’ by Kevin J. O’Brien

6 ‘An Emerging Society: The Impact of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake on Grass-roots Associations in China’ by Shawn Shieh and Guosheng Deng

7 ‘Popular Protest in China’ by Kevin J. O’Brien

8 ‘Civil Society and Political Change in Asia’ specifically chapter 13.

9 ‘Popular Protest in China’ by Kevin J. O’Brien

10 Chapter six (The Political Struggle over Reform) of the book Calamity and Reform in China by Dali Yang examines this trend

11 ‘China Politics 20 years later’ by Joseph Fewsmith.

12 Refer to Dennis J Doolin, Communist China: The Politics of Student Opposition, p. 15.

13 Calamity and Reform in China by Dali L. Yang on page 159

14 ‘China Politics 20 years later’ by Yang.

15 Ibid

16 Communist China: The Politics of Student Opposition by Dennis J Doolin on p. 16.

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IvyPanda. (2019, April 23). The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-power-of-the-internet-in-china-citizen-activism-online-book-review/

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"The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online." IvyPanda, 23 Apr. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/the-power-of-the-internet-in-china-citizen-activism-online-book-review/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online." April 23, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-power-of-the-internet-in-china-citizen-activism-online-book-review/.


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IvyPanda. "The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online." April 23, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-power-of-the-internet-in-china-citizen-activism-online-book-review/.

References

IvyPanda. 2019. "The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online." April 23, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-power-of-the-internet-in-china-citizen-activism-online-book-review/.

References

IvyPanda. (2019) 'The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online'. 23 April.

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