Opening Thesis statement:
The Chinese central government uses censorship to run one of the world’s largest digital empires. Although the state uses the Great Firewall, which is a system limiting access to foreign websites, and the Golden Shield, a system for domestic surveillance set up in 1998 by the Ministry of Public Security (The Economist. April 21 2013. How does China censor the internet? Retrieved from: http://www.economist.com/blogs/economistexplains/2013/04/economist-explains-how-china-censors-internet) Employing over 2 million people to monitor the internet. (BBC news China. 4 October 2013. China employs two million microblog monitors state media say. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-24396957)
More and more Chinese citizens are expressing themselves online. We will argue that the internet is making China a more open society because of three reasons. Firstly, internet is giving rise to online activism and social contention contributing to citizens coming together and voicing their opinion. (Cai, Chen, and O'Brien, Kevin J. 2008:126) Secondly, the very network structure of the internet channels the diffusion of contention helping Chinese society to open up regardless of all the controls. (Cai, Chen, and O'Brien, Kevin J. 2008:133)
Lastly, being able to take pictures or shoot video clips with cellphones connected to internet, allows citizens to expose abusive power within seconds. (Diamond 2010:76) For these reasons, while china has a sophisticated internet censorship program, we argue that internet has facilitated in opening up the Chinese society.
Supporting Argument 1: Internet giving rise to online activism
A. Social injustice triggers internet contention or online activism:
- Internet contention can be about any issue, but in reality, three types of issues have surfaced. First is neo-nationalism. Examples include protests against the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy. (Cai, Chen, and O'Brien, Kevin J. 2008:129)
- Second; the rights of disempowered social groups. Examples are the protests concerning the rights of workers, women, migrants, and students. (Cai, Chen, and O'Brien, Kevin J. 2008:129)
- Third; the social injustices committed by the powerful and the rich. (Cai, Chen, and O'Brien, Kevin J. 2008:129)
B. Internet contention thrives despite repression:
- Chinese citizens are becoming more and more aware of their citizenship rights and increasingly active to defend them. This situation provides the conditions for protest. (Cai, Chen, and O'Brien, Kevin J. 2008:130)
Example: death of Sun Zhigang is a case in point. Sun had been detained three days earlier for lack of a temporary residency permit. After the news broke of his death following a beating while in custody, an outraged public filled the internet with debates and protests. (Cai, Chen, and O'Brien, Kevin J. 2008:130)
- Street protests often spill over into cyberspace. In this respect, the internet has become an important channel for publicizing information. (Cai, Chen, and O'Brien, Kevin J. 2008:131)
- Chinese state authorities believe in the power of the internet too; otherwise, they would not try to control it. (Cai, Chen, and O'Brien, Kevin J. 2008:132)
Supporting Argument 2: the network structure of the internet helps open up Chinese society
A. The internet is not just another mass medium, but as Manuel Castells explains, a galaxy of networks:
- Regulating internet activism means regulating the internet galaxy. The networks can reduce the chances of political repression, because although some nodes may be destroyed, others may survive. Control is most effective when it penetrates entire networks. Resistance, however, can emerge at any entry point to the network. Not possible for state to censor it all. (Cai, Chen, and O'Brien, Kevin J. 2008:132)
- Often, an insightful or well-written message will be crossposted in many bulletin boards. In addition, internet users can use search engines to find linkages among different websites. (Cai, Chen, and O'Brien, Kevin J. 2008:133)
- In May 2000, Chinese online protesters developed new ways of linking up through creative use of the internet. Eg; messages originally on online billboards were posted on campus walls, or protest event dates posted online, or live broadcast of events. (Cai, Chen, and O'Brien, Kevin J. 2008:138)
B. There are millions still interested in political affairs (out of 560 million) and such net users cleverly elude the censors:
- By employing everything from technical use of proxy servers or internet censorship circumvention: is the process used by technologically savvy Internet users to bypass the technical aspects of Internet filtering and gain access to otherwise censored material. (Blum, 2012:184,185)
- By deliberate misspellings to more subtle uses of sarcasm parody and humour. (Blum, 2012:184)
- In 2007 the government shut down 18, 401 websites while countless others popped up.(Blum, 2012:184)
Supporting argument 3: technology accountability
A. Microblogging has transformed Chinese society and the way it is ruled
- It has fundamentally altered the relationship between people and the state, allowing the public to demand more accountability from officials (A Curse Disguised as a Blessing? 2013).
- In 2011, high-speed train crash has been a big moment for social media.
- Microblogs quickly spread the news, along with lots of photographs. If official spokesman failed to provide convincing answers, he was pummeled online and will lose his job
- Internet is not just a forum where citizens can vent their concerns, it is also a place where the party can listen to them and take part in the discussion.
B. Text messaging has been a key factor for grassroots protests” (Diamond, 2010:P.79).
- In 2007, an eruption of hundreds of thousands of cellphone text messages in Xiamen, generated public dismay at the building of an environmentally hazardous chemical plant that authorities suspended the project (Diamond, 2010: 79).
- The impact of the text messages were magnified and spread nationally as bloggers in other Chinese cities received them and quickly fanned the outrage. The technology is even seeping into North Korea, the world most closed society, as North Korean defectors and South Korean human rights activists entice North Koreans to carry the phones back home with them from China and then use them to report what is happening through the Chinese mobile network (Diamond, 2010: 79).
It is for the above three reasons that we argue internet is making China a more open society. While our opponents may argue that the sophisticated censorship program of the state is no match for the citizens, we argue that internet is still giving rise to online activism, also, the very network structure of the internet contributes to a more open society because it is impossible to censor the galaxy of networks, and lastly as mentioned with many examples, internet helps citizens to demand accountability from the state regardless of all the controls. Moreover our research shows that contrary to our opponents claims that Chinese citizens are more concerned about paying bills, not losing job or scholarship, there are still millions who are interested in political affairs, who elude the censors to speak their mind. Lastly , our opponents may suggest that the state is a big cat, and we are the mice, and that things will never change, but the past is not a good predictor for the future. Yes the state is very good at maintaining control, but for how long? There are over 560 million internet users in China, and the power of number alone can go a long way. The government knows the power of increasing net users, or else it would never try to control it. In short, internet does help China become a more open society and the more the state tries to tighten the control, it may cause more netizens to defy the rules.