Making connections: Online activism gains momentum in China

By Xu Peixi
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, June 11, 2011
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From laid-off worker Liu Ping to whistleblower Li Chengpeng, Chinese citizens who label themselves as independents and are well-known dissenters online are now making use of the reshuffling of local legislative bodies and campaigning for support to be elected into the next People's Congress. Their actions linking online activism with real-life politics are resonating not just on the Internet, but are being heard and supported by a wider public community.

This new trend signals a change of mentality in online activism, from grassroots social actors to political players. Before, people were satisfied with maintaining social justice online. Their efforts covered a wide spectrum of activities ranging from school security and civil servants corruption to waste treatments and food contamination. Some of their efforts met fruitful results.

But others did not. In the Li Gang scandal, a disclosure of Li's properties [online rumors that later proved to be false said he owned five properties worth several million yuan—ed.] would have significantly reduced public anger against the arrogance of power. But the local power structure has become so entangled that government officials were reluctant to make such a slight move. In a deficit of democracy, netizens can only uncover one scandal after another, but often they just become lost in the dizzying injustices.

People's renewed interest in politics was born in such a background. It reveals that they have been awakened by a vital weakness of online symbolic power: the lack of institutional protection. It appeared in their earlier online activism that democratic procedures and solutions were based on a condition of media attention – not the regular practice of the rule of law. The maintenance of social justice must be mediated through a media spectacle in which the media cast a spotlight on a recognizable decay in the social organ. The media lift the transgression in question high into the air by capturing it into a virtual glass house that can be observed by the public. Without the intervention of the media, the rule of law does not apply well.

It is not surprising that government officials feel uneasy about this new trend. Liu was found to be unqualified to be a candidate for the local People's Congress because she did not get enough recommendations from the local electorate. Chinese election laws require candidates to obtain recommendations from at least 10 voters, but three of Liu's supporters withdrew their recommendations under the pressure from the local government. But unlike the terms of law in other fields, the election law is crystal clear and simple: 10 valid recommendations and you are in. This makes it difficult for ambiguous interpretation and easy for online mobilization. In the following months, miracles are expected to happen.

The author is an associate professor with the Communication University of China.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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