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The Chinese Internet Age
Dynamic Processes in Regime Changes
3th December 2012

CHAU, Pak Hong (3035002825)

POLI0094 Political Participation: Why and how? Department of Politics and Public Administration Faculty of Social Sciences The University of Hong Kong

The Chinese Internet Age: Dynamic Processes in Regime Changes “Internet will bring freedom to China.” - George W. Bush Internet has played a vital role in China’s contentious politics said by Yang (2009). The inter-relationship between internet and social movements have long been discussed in the field. However, related researches have been largely accumulating within democratic regimes or bounded by generalized arguments over decades. Therefore, this paper is to examine empirically the importance of internet in nurturing social protests in China, and thus provide empirical results for further analysis of changes in the authoritarian regime. In the following, the concentration will be on the opportunity structure proposed by Gamson and Meyer (1996) to illustrate how internet generates new opportunities for protests. After that, the state declining capability to carry out sufficient repressions will be explored. In the third section, a emerging collective identity among Chinese netizens will be examined. Discussions of how online contentions transformed into social protests in China (see Yang, 2009), as well as how collective identities mobilize people in social movements (see Polletta & Jasper, 2001) are omitted in this short essay. An attempt will be made to highlight and address the crucial changes in China’s contentious politics which are contributing to the long revolution of regime changes rather than to cover all important tasks in the domain. Lastly, I will conclude by suggesting radically how these vital moves will potentially contribute to regime changes in China, and pointing out the major threat, the Chinese government - the largest player in cyberspace, to the whole process.

New Opportunities for Protests: A Partially Opened System
Internet creates new opportunities for protests in China as it further opens up the Chinese system, inevitably exposing the 538 million Chinese netizens, which surged from 22.5 millions in 2000 (CNNIC, 2012), to the outside world despite "The Great Firewall of China". 1 According to a study done by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University (Roberts et al., 2010), 3% of web users in countries like China engaging in online censorship were using circumvention tools2 to bypass government blocks and get access to western sites. Similar tools have been increasingly prevalent among Chinese netizens in recent years, for instance, an unconventional tool - “host file”3 , developed last year and was searched on Baidu by 430,000 times in October this year (WSJ, 2012). Mr. Hsu, who is the founder added that: “We started helping to provide the service in October 2011 because lots of netizens are eager to get to know what’s happening behind the wall, but it’s not easy for them.” With netizens’ curiosity, there are over 63 millions Facebook and 35 millions Twitter registered users in 2012, representing 15% and 8% of the web population respectively (Global Web Index, 2012). All of these proves a more partially-opened China system with the Internet. In such a system, protests are greatest according to the curvilinear model, (Eisinger, 1973). It was also suggested that such opening is more likely to create new opportunities for protests in authoritarian regimes where the pre-existing avenues for expressing contentions

1 A firewall 2

employed to disable selected western sites, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. in China

blocking-resistant tools, simple web proxies and VPN services advancement which allow Chinese people to surf western websites even without VPN

3 A technological

services

are narrow (Yan, 2012). The Jasmine Revolution in 2011 is the best case for illustration of how...
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