The Internet in China is well known by the fact that nobody can access to Facebook, Twitter, Youtube or even other services from Google. It is also well known that there is a constant censorship that struggle any sort of activism or opinion which are too lousy for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). For example there was the rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang case. He has over 280 law firm staff, he was a human rights activist and a family members. But I has been targeted by the government. It was forbidden for him to leave the country, he has been under surveillance 24/7 and house arrest. He was an opinion leader in China. His account on Sina Weibo (The Chinese Twitter) has been banned and all his publications since 2013 has been deleted also (since his first indendiary posts about the Ex-leader of the CCP, Zhou Yonkang).
The CCP has also decided to keep an eye on every people using social media in China. So anyone can be charged of defamation against the CCP. The Chinese Government has access to Social Media and the Internet Development with the help of a key background. Yes, the CCP is « watching » digital users in China.
However in order to understand how it works in China, some information about the context and where China came are crucial to have an idea.
The Chinese people and Internet, a development that need time
China, a 1.3 billion people country which is nowadays the first economy of the world above the United States.
The implantation of the World Wide Web in China took several years to become the Internet China knows today. Since 1987 it took three main steps to make it real. The first cable which established the connection between China and the Global Internet was installed between 1987 and 1994. So it took seven years to be connected and send email with Europe and North America.
In 1995 the domain « .cn » was registered and set up for China. During the same year, the second step was when Peking University, the Chinese Academy and the Tshinghua University build a super highway dedicated for information in China that increase the Internet speed by 64 kbps (Kilo Bits Per Second).
1995 is also the year when Internet was opened for commercial use and to the Chinese people. Since 1995 the Internet was more and more accessible to the population and at the end of the 90s there were more than 4 millions online users in China. Less than 30 years later there were 668 million online users, so the number of users has grown by 168 times and it still increase today.
In consequence, more and more Chinese people has access to the online world and especially the social media which is the most active in China. According to a Statista study on the Chinese Social Media, in 2017 there should be more than half billion users of social media like blogs, microblog, social networking and online shopping. This large amount of people will represent by its own the online users of of the entier European Union.
China has developed its own social media instead of accepting outsiders to be in China’s Internet. China did so with the great firewall of 2014. In fact, China has social media which purpose the same service as the outsiders.
For example Fanfou a famous one offer the same service as Twitter, Renren looks like Facebook. They have also Wechat (said « Weicin » in Chinese) which is a text messaging application and more (Booking tickets, ordered a taxi, pay the electricity bill…) is almost the same as Whatsapp. This particular app became so famous in China and in the World also, it is translate and available en 18 different countries.
It is right that the CCP has his hands on almost everything in China however the Chinese Government can not be everywhere and anytime especially with the Chinese population who have access to Internet.
An omnipotent State with Internet, does it work ?
China is a huge country, and the population of China is also as huge and diverse as the country.
The importance of social media in China become every year more and more powerful and has an impact on the CCP. This new era permit to push forward and engage democratic and institutional changes. So different king of subjects began to appear on the social network especially on Sina Weibo. Users with similar hobbies, interests and ideas can now be connected to each other without problem even if their location are far different. Air pollution are one of this subjects which are popular on the national level. So in few minutes a message can be read by million of people and they can all interact with it and respond.
What can be said is the Chinese social media are really important, useful and powerful. Many themes of conversation can be treated online by Chinese without the government threat.
Tianya The number one discussion forums in China
Is there a place for political discussion online ?
It is a question that many non-Chinese ask and want to know the answer. However the politic topics are not so popular in China. Not because of the government pressure, it is much more about the Chinese people directly.
They do their research, look for information, ask question on microblogs and blogs (Sina Blog, Tencent Dajia), social networking (Kaixin, QZone), bulletin boards (Maopu), media sharing (Tudou, Meipai), online shopping (Jingdong) or question-and-answer forums (Guokr, Zhibu) and many more.
In order to understand China it is important to differentiate political topics and all the rest or private interest Vs nation interest. Chinese people can talk about politics but it is not the main subject of conversation. Most of the discusion and all the research deal with different lifestyle, celebrity gossip, fashion and many more but political ones stay behind. For example the 3 main topics on Wechat are Funny video, Life Helper and Care for Gossip. Three popular but none are about politics.
Politic is an important topic for China but not the main one because the engagement of Chinese people for this is smaller than others. The tendance of people who are not from China is to overestimate the importance of Chinese politics on the social network. People of China use internet for private interest like every American, European or some other foreign country. Chinese are Cyber optimist and that is important.
Chinese people & CCP adaption
As there are Cybre-optimist, there are cyber-pessimist also. With time Chinese know that the Gouvernment are behind the screen and the state can know everything what happen online.
So in order to thwart the CPP, some Chineses developped measures by using their creativity and counter the state. Even if the state is trying to manage more than dominate and Chinese people get sometimes its way. Chinese users use creativity as a weapon and sarcasm, metaphors or euphemism are the bullets. By this process they circumvent the constant surveillance. They also use images in order to bypass the real-time control and prevent their message to be deleted. To do so they hide text in image files or they use pictures to simply refer to something politically sensitive.
However the CCP is also creative like the Chinese people. They developped a passive keyword filter which filter the traffic. They also build several techniques for propaganda and managing the masses. And according to the China Radio International, between 2014 and 2015 there were around 280 000 Weibo accounts which were controlled by the CCP (Police departments, China’s Supreme Court and individual governments). This is a good way to send messages to the people and to receive messages also.
Well, big changes happened in China since the beginning of Internet there. Chinese deals with it, they enjoy the fashion, lifestyles and celebrity gossip but they also know they have the power to change if it is not working.