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Internet Activism and Trans-national Public Sphere: Internet as State Activation Apparatus in the Anti-Japanese Protests Paper Presented to the 47th Annual ICA Convention, San Diego, USA, March 22-25 2006
(Draft: Please do not quote or cite without author’s permission) Chow Pui Ha (Ph.D student) School of Journalism &Communication, The Chinese University of Hong Kong [email protected] Impacts of the Internet on political communication in Mainland China have received wide scholastic concerns since its first introduction into the territory at the end of 1995, amongst which two themes are most frequently addressed: the forging of nationalism in the presupposed boundary-less Internet world (e.g Gries 2005, Qiu 2001) and the contribution of Internet to the formation of civil society (e.g. Yang 2003, 2003b), whereas the latter includes sideline but essential discussions on state’s regulations and control of the Internet usage (e.g Hachigian 2001; Harwit & Duncan 2001; Lachrite 2002; Qiu 1999/2000; Sohmen 2001) as well as implementations of egovernment (e.g. Holiday I & Yep R. 2005; Zhang 2002) that variably influence the effectiveness of the Internet as a public sphere mediating the state and the people. Examining the course of on-line and off-line anti-Japanese protests purported to oppose Japan’s ascension into the United Nation Security Council (hereinafter UNSC) occurred in China in 2005, this paper brings the themes of nationalism and civil society together, and attempts to interrogate the role Internet played in the domestic civil society yet goes beyond it to the mobilization of what Olesen (2005) calls “transnational publics”– a “temporal phenomenon compared with global civil society, the transnational public sphere and national public sphere”(424).1 This paper argues, the Internet has forged a transnational public sphere without contributing to the growth of domestic civil society in Mainland China in the case of anti-Japanese demonstrations occurred in 2005. The result implicates that the a scalar analysis which help unfolding the complex interplay between new media, politics, people and the state as well as the dynamism between the national and the global is needed for the study of online political communication in the neo-authoritarian regime of China.
Briefly speaking, Olesen opposes the idea of a global civil society as the notion downplays the roles played by the states in its attainment. Therefore, he proposes the idea of “transnational public sphere” to refer to the arena containing all the contentious and political activities concerning the national but nevertheless beyond this level within the global civil society. He further explains that the transnational public sphere consists of national public spheres and structured around national and international institutions and medias. 1
In the first part of the presentation that follows, I would address the transformation of civil society in the age of globalization and give a brief literature review on how the Internet relates, contributes and responses to its developments. Then I would give a brief literature review on the political impact of the Internet use in China. After that I would illustrate how the Internet has helped the formation of a transnational public sphere in the Internet initiated anti-Japanese uprisings. Lastly, I would give account why the constitution of a transnational public sphere does not necessarily mean the promotion of civil society in domestic PRC.
Complex Civil Society in the age of Globalization In the past, the idea of civil society is associated with and defined by the nationstate. However, the meaning and the content of the concept change, evolve, and expand over time. With the coming of globalization, the concept has evolved to include what is known as global civil society.2 Supranational institutions such as World Trade Organization (WTO), World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations (UN), trans-national organizations, social actors and activists collaborate or contest to regulate and resolve problems pertinent to global interests including fair trade, environmental protection, human as well as animal rights, social justice, the maintenance of global order and peace, etc., generating a picture that a global democratic structure exists somewhere for global civil society to be enacted. Yet not all global and supra-national institutions and actors promote and enact global civil society disinterestedly of their own interests. As Olesen (2005) notes, many of these global institutions are in fact the creation of states; and the global democratic structure is always undergirded by the powerful interests of dominant classes and states. A distinction of “globalization from below” from other global institutions can help us to identify more clearly the constitutions, the players and the contestations in what seemingly a coherent, unitary global civil society. “Globalization from below” (Appadurai 2001, 2003) takes usually the forms of transnational social movements; they question the legitimacy of international political and economic actors, and counterbalance the globalizing economic, political and cultural spheres that escape the sovereignty of the nation state (Cammaerts & 2
Keane (2003) remarks that the concept of ‘global civil society’ is better to be understood as an ideal type as “a dynamic non-governmental systems of interconnected socio-economic institutions that straddle the whole earth, and that has complex effects that are felt in its four corners. Global civil society is neither a static object nor a fait accompli. It is an unfinished project that sometimes consists of thick, sometimes thinly stretched networks, pyramids, hubs and spoke clusters of socio-economic institutions and actors who organize themselves across borders, with the deliberation aim of drawing the world together in new ways. The non-government institutions and actors tend to pluralize power and problematize violence; consequently, their peaceful of ‘civil’ effects are felt everywhere, here and there, far and wide, to and from local areas, through wider regions, to the planetary itself” (p. 8). 2
Audenhove 2005). In all transnational social movements, ‘transnational publics’, which Olesen defines as the various ‘social spaces for activism’ (2005: 435), are crucial constituents that materialize and actualize the claims they fought for in not only the abstract global civil society but also the nation-states in which people lead their real life. ‘Transnational publics’ implies and recognizes the persisting prominence of nation-state in the era of globalization. It is still a focal point for political and social movements and individuals seeking changes (Tilly 2004). The accelerating mobility of technologies, capital, labors, images, products, information, albeit have flattened the world (Friedman 2005), does not thereby erode all the boundaries between nationstates. As Sassen (2001, 2003) contends, national institutions, infrastructures and legal systems are set up to coordinate, regulate the transnational flows, therefore, conditioning the process of globalization and creating a time-space specificity for each nation-state. A more appropriate understanding of globalization is to acknowledge the increasing overlapping and interesting dimensions of the global and the national at work. In reality, nation-states are still engaging themselves tremendously with the formulation of foreign policy and the intricate inter-national relationships everyday. Competitions for global resources, the advancement of national economy, the strengthening of military armaments and missile power, building strategies to seize sovereignty over disputed territories and issues alike remain salient policy agendas of nation-states, albeit the very presence of supra and global institutions established to resolve the distribution of wealth, the establishment of a fair world trade system, the maintenance of global peace, the promotion of health and order, etc. Interests are shared yet conflicted amongst the states over all the so-called global concerns; and this predicates the necessity of negotiations between states. In short, world politics is not simplified in the global regime but are entangling in a more complex mix of institutions and states with national, trans-national and supra-national levels. Such a ‘complexity turn’ of the world systems (Urry 2005) urges a reconsideration of the organizing principles and mechanisms of civil society. The overlapping and intersections of different scales within a nation-state, the inexorable entanglement of the state in the global economic and political sphere governed by various supranational and international institutions indicate, oppositions between ‘transnational publics’, ‘globalization from below’ on the one hand and international economic and political institutions on the other all indicate that civil society is not merely going global but is layered, complex and composed of multiples scales. Associated with the acknowledgement of complexity turn of civil society is the necessity of a re-examination on the interplay between transnational public and the 3
states in the making of inter-national relations and global civil society, which are not exclusive but encompassing of each other.
Internet activism and Civil Society Habermas (1989) contends, media has been a key component of a mature civil society by serving as a public sphere for citizens to access to and exchange information freely, discuss political issues in rational deliberation and form public opinions to which political actors and authorities reflect, represent and respond in their policy making; yet commercialization has eroded this public sector as the state and the media become intertwined, hence resulted in a distortion of the construction of public opinion since the flow of information is dominated by the media institutions and the politicians for the advancement of their own interests and their ability to set agenda (Savigny 2002). A ‘renaissance’ of the public sphere seems to have come to light with the introduction and the development of the technology of the Internet. Its characteristic of hyper-interactivity and the lack of filtering offer potentials to revolutionize political communication and public opinion formation by decentralizing the power in information dissemination and agenda setting to the masses (Savigny 2002). Its sprawling feature also extends, pluralizes the public sphere and contributes to dispersion and ‘destablization’ of political communication systems (Dahlgren 2005).3 A more compelling role the Internet played in today’s complex civil society, however, is the advocacy/activist function in the context of new extra-parlimentarian politics (Dahlgren 2005), or what Langman (2005) calls cyberactivism. Dahlgren argues, whilst political discussion strives for internal consensus and political mobilization within these organizations, stimulating public opinion and affecting policy are what their political address ultimately target. In resonance with Dahlgren whilst putting an additional emphasis on the cultural perspective, Scott and Street (2000) comprehend the Internet as a powerful tool for the organization of social movements and outline for factors to account for its strength: 1) it facilitates what Gerhards and Rucht (1992: 231) call ‘mesomobilization’ which refers to a high degree of coordination between movement networks across a wide geographical range without creating a fixed hierarchical organizational forms; 2) the creation of high impact with little resource; 3) the possibility of counter mainstream media reports because the net provides activists with ‘editorial control’; 4) the relative lack of regulation allows the bypassing of the state. These all contribute to flexibility, speedy response and the possibility of cellular organizational form of social movements. 3
Please read Blumber & Gurevitch (2000) for a discussion on destabliziation of political communication. 4
Providing unprecedented opportunity to transmission and exchange of information across national frontiers with relatively low cost make the Internet an especially powerful tool in enacting global and grassroots activism (Bennett 2003; Langman 2005). The net-work based movements of the Zapatista Movement in the of the early 1990s (Best and Kellner 2001), the anti-corporate globalization demonstrations in the ‘Battle for Seattle’ (Kahn & Kellner 2004), and the anti-Iraq War movements (Kaldor et. al. 2003) are all exemplary cases of cyberactivism . These cases significantly illustrate the power of Internet in the making of global civil society via the orchestration of social movements, nonetheless the complexity of civil society, which refers to an overlapping of domestic and transnational scale in its constitution, is inadequately addressed; albeit Olesen’s (2005) suggestion of transnational publics that readdresses the salience of nation-states in even global movements. More specifically, if the intention of Internet activisms is what Dahlgren notes as to affect the policy, how does this come to happen when the states and authorities instead of the activists and the transnational publics are the players in the national, inter-national and supra-national organizations, and that the issues at hand are entwined with both national interest and global concern? A satisfactory under to this question would be more complicated when these are happened in Mainland China, which is running under a neo-authoritarian political system distinct from the western democratic model, where the media sector including the Internet is strictly controlled by the State. An understanding of the relationship between Internet and civil society in Mainland China requires an investigation into the role of the state, and this is particularly important when the issue concerned is a mixed of internal and external concern. Analyzing the case of online and offline anti-Japanese protests in 2005, I am attempting to find an answer for these questions and see how the citizens collaborate or contest with the medium of the Internet.
Internet and Political Communication in China: the Domestic Dimension China is experiencing a digital revolution, with the Internet pioneering the course and leading its progress. By Dec 2005, China’s online population reached 111 million and the number of computer hosts is 49.5 million (CNNIC 2006). The number of websites is 677, 500; the total bandwidth of leased international connections to countries such as the United States, Russia, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Korea, and Singapore is 136,106M. The vast Internet population and the unprecedented exposure to worldwide information inevitably have a profound implication on the political communication pattern in Mainland China which communication model since the Communist regime is that of propaganda. 5
Internet technology has challenged the communist propaganda model in several ways. In the past, all media institutions were owned by the state and therefore the central government was the sole agent controlling the production and the circulation of information. Despite a commercialization process has been undergoing in China’s traditional media sector since 1994 and brought some transformations to the China’s mediascape, the room of media’s function as a public sphere is still limited as the media institutions still need to play along the party line (Zhao 1998). However, without ignoring the state’s control over the Internet, scholars (e.g Kalathil 2003; Xiao 2003, 2004; Yang, 2003, 2003b) maintain that by diversifying potential sources of information, and providing new spaces such as bulletin boards and real time chat rooms for the mass to discuss and debate on public and even taboo affairs, the Internet facilitates as a virtual public sphere within which new associational forms of virtual communities can form, alternative views can produce and public opinion can generate. In some occasions, on line discussions even create ripple effects by setting agendas of official or traditional media, which in turn, elicit even larger scale debates amongst the public and responses from the government.4 In addition, the emergence of journalist Weblogs also helps blur the boundaries between the traditional and online media. In spite of the presence of censorship and filtering system imposed from the state, the Internet is still ‘co-evolutionizng’ (Yang 2003) with China’s civil society by enabling a bottom-up force to negotiate with the old style, top-down censorship and propaganda regime. Even more significant about the Internet on political communication in the complexity turn of civil society, nonetheless, is the introduction of new elements into the dynamics of protest (Yang 2003a). Yang contends, popular protest is an important component to citizens to resist political power and protect their rights. The high speed, openness and relative anonymity of the Internet has made it an especially powerful tool for organization, coordination of on-line as well as off-line protests. 5 Contra to the period of Cultural Revolution in which demonstrations were always initiated by the state, the rise of on-line protest indicates not only a changing dynamics of popular protest but also a transformation of the state-society relation. Yet it is also this changing state-society relationship that complicates the issues when the protests are related to China’s international relations and concerning nationalism, in which the interest of the people and the state overlap yet may contradict in other perspectives. 4
Please Kalathil (2003) for the story of Jiangxi schoolhouse explosion which is marked by the author as “the first time a high-level government official was forced to respond to a partly Internet-facilitated outburst of public opinion”. Please see Xiao (2004) for another widely noticeable case of Sun Zhigang. 5 Please see Yang (2003b) for the discussion of the Internet initiated protest surrounding the rape and the murder of Qiu Qingfeng, a Beijing University student, in late May 2000. 6
Internet and Political Comamunication in China: the Inter-National Dimension The threat of an erosion of border heralded by the Internet and other Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is a common concern amongst the states, since the free flow of information is not only a matter of human right but also about national security (Hughes 2002). However, in China, the Internet is an arena for the breeding of nationalism and a tool for the mobilization nationalist movements. Noticeable cases demonstrating on-line nationalism include cyber-protests against Japan’s claim of territorial sovereignty on the Diaoyu Islands in 1996 (Gries 2004) 6; the on-line protest against atrocities committed against the ethnic Chinese community in Indonesia following the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998 (Hughes 2002, Yang 2003a), hacking activities on NATO governments and organization of off-line protests after the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was hit by NATO missiles in May 1999 (Gries 2004; Hughes 2002); on-line uprising and hacking against the US sites after the midair collision of a US reconnaissance aircraft/ spy-plane with a Chinese jet fighter over the South China Sea in April 2001 (Hughes 2002), and a series of anti-Japanese movements (Gries 2005). The worldwide connectivity of the Internet enables the expression of nationalism beyond the national borders to form transnational public sphere in which international or global issues that affect national interests can be discussed. With a detail description of the transnational protest against ethnic violence in Indonesia, Gang (2003a) has demonstrated how transnational public sphere may influence politics in the world arena. In fact, whilst nationalism has been inculcated to its people by the CCP to fill the ideology vacuum after the Cultural Revolution so as to maintain its political legitimacy, it also plays a key role in the shaping of foreign policy (Gries 2005a; Whiting 1995; Zheng 1999, Zhao 2004); yet tensions between popular nationalism and state nationalism sometimes result in destabilizations of foreign relations which the CCP hardly desires (Hughes 2002). As Gries claims, the China authority is always engaging itself between co-optation and control of popular nationalism (Gries 2004). Albeit the contradictions, the fact that a transnational public, even orchestrated by national sentiments, links the two concept of nationalism and civil society in way different from the traditional understanding of the relationship between the state and the people in a civil society. This civil society made up by actors of the states and transnational publics, together with supranational/global/ transnational institutions and organizations, is at one global, transnational and global. The nature and the role of the Internet in this kind of on-line 6
Gries (2004) remarks, popular Diaoyu activism appeared in print and cyberspace in 1996 were usually written in Chinese and therefore may be a reason for the tendency of Western journalists and academics to discount their significance. Gries stresses this episode, however, is important to reveal the existence of a dynamic discourse that challenged the CCP’s control over nationalism. 7
communication involving the complex civil society is, however, under-researched. Therefore, in this paper, I am attempting to address this question with the series of anti-Japanese on-line and offline protests occurred in the spring of 2005 in Mainland China.
SAY NO To Japan ‘Say No to Japan’ is the central theme of the anti-Japanese protests in the spring of 2005. Since March, waves of anti-Japanese online protests against Japan’s UNSC accession, Japanese whitewash of its wartime atrocities in history textbooks, Japanese President Junichiro Koizumi’s worship to the Shinto Shrine, where 14 convicted war criminals along with many other war dead are honored, and other long-term disputes incluing between the Taiwan question and the sovereignty claims on South Sea and Diaoyu Island were provoked in the Internet of Mainland China. Netizens called for the boycott of Japanese goods and the signing of the web-based petition to stop Japan’s UNSC bid. The on-line protests soon extended to the physical space, whereas the Internet, together with cellphones, has significantly facilitated the mobilization. Waves of protests were mushrooming in mainland cities Chengdu and Changsha, Shenzhen and Xiamen, Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Haikou, Suzhou and Zhuhai since the end of March. The protests reached the climax when 100, 000 Shanghai citizens took to the street on 16 April despite the authority’s issues of warning against unauthorized protests,7 and a dozen cities geared up for a nation-wide protest on 17 April. Call for protests could still be heard after 16 and 17 April, yet the State reined in after serious vandalism was made in the protests including the city of Shanghai, where hosts the greatest concentration of Japanese investment and expatriate executives in China. The government issued a warning about the illegality of unsanctioned marches on April 22. Some websites such as www.gd918.org; www.cfdd.org.cn and www.china918.cn/forum.asp were shut down. The official run discussion forum, Strong Country Forum, was also temporarily suspended. It is only after then that the protests began to die down. In all these uprisings, the rallies chanted slogans such as “boycott Japanese goods”, “restore Chinese glory”, “Japanese pigs get out”, “condemning Japanese militarism”, and carried banners with words like “Say No to Japan in the Security Council”, “be vicious towards Japanese devils”, “never forget history”, “use blood to defend the country”, etc. Caricatures of the Japanese President Koizumi and Japanese national flags could also be seen in the march. The slogans, the banners and the satires 7
Different sources cited a different number of protesters in Shanghai. Whilst 100, 000 is the number reported in the media of Hong Kong, foreign news always reported a number of 10,000 or 20,000. 8
all demonstrate the fervent national sentiments amongst the PRC citizens. In view of Chinese government’s capability to direct public opinion, control the production and circulation of information that instilled the protests, many Japanese and foreign media reported the popular demonstrations, both on-line and off-line as maneuvered by the CCP (e.g. Norris & Siegel; 2005; Yamamoto 2005; Yardley 2005). One report even uses “manipulations reminiscent of mass march during the Cultural Revolution” (French 2005) to describe Beijing authority’s role in the protests. Yet how shall we understand a shifting of position of the government from acquiescence of protests to crack down? Is it another event indicating the PRC ’s co-opt and control of popular nationalism? What is the role of the Internet in these on-line and offline protests? Shall the Internet be understood as what Hughes (2002) perceives the role of Internet in other on-line nationalistic uprisings as ideological state apparatus? Back to this paper’s concern, how shall we understand all these questions in relation to nationalism and complex global civil society in the specific context of Mainland China? In the following, I am going to argue that whilst the Internet has facilitated the formation of a transnational public that poses an effect on the global/transnational civil society in this particular incident, it is neither an “opinion apparatus” (Ma & Chan 2006) that allows a free production of public opinion nor an ideological state apparatus (Althusser 1978) with which the government employs as a propaganda tool. Rather, it is what I would like to propose as “state activation apparatus”, a device that enables the government to activate the public opinion or to use what is activated by the netizens, to advance the national interest in the international arena, whereas the subject being activated is always nationalism. Internet activism and Trans-national Public Sphere in Anti-Japanese Protest “The thousands of people who poured onto the streets of China this month for this anti-Japanese protests that shook Asia were bound by nationalist anger but also by a mundane fact: they are China’s cellphone and computer generation,” the New York Times reported (Yardley, April 24th 2005). Undoubtedly, cellphone is a useful device for the transmission of protest message, yet the interactive, openness and hyperconnectivity feature of the Internet has certainly made it a more significant medium than the one-way transmitter in the mobilization anti-Japanese nationalistic movements. In the anti-Japanese protest, the Internet did not only function to circulate information about the protests such as the time and places of gather and rally routes via emails, chain letters and bulletin boards, it also performed a more important role of serving as a public sphere with which netizens accessed and shared information, discussed the issues, collected opinion polls and formed public opinions. 9
As mentioned before, the Internet enables a diversification of knowledge production in the PRC. The anti-Japanese protests evidenced that the Internet portals and the netizens could both serve as information providers apart from the central government. Popular portals such as portals, Sina, Sohu, NetEase, QQ, TOM, 21cn, China Net, Yahoo, POPTANG set web-pages to collect commentaries, analysis and reports in relation to Japan’s UNSC bid.8 Individual netizens also discussed the rationales of their oppositions in the blogs, chatrooms, instant on-line messangers and bulletin boards, albeit the Internet was also used as a space to vent their angers and emotions. Two issues were ardently discussed: Japanese President’s visit to Shinto Shrine and the glorification of wartime atrocities in the latest version of history textbook. Detail historical facts and pictures on anti-Japanese war were posted in the webs. German government’s attitude on WWII was compared to that of Japan. These information and discussions have reminded Chinese people’s wartime suffering, strengthened their nationalistic sentiment, and reinforced the collective identity. Frames essential for the mobilization of political movements were constructed in the discussions, which in this case are, to defeat the revival of Japanese militarism and imperialism and to build a strong China. It is also important to note that multi-vocal voices instead of a univocal view on China-Japan relationships could be found in the Internet. Whether boycott Japanese goods and street demonstrations were beneficial or detrimental to the long-term development of the country were debated, although opponents of imposing reactionary measures s to Japan were sometimes accused as traitors or perceived as “Internet spy” (wang te). Nonetheless, the presence of oppositional views evinces the existence of pluralistic discourses which is central to a healthy public sphere. Besides the decentralization, pluralization and massification of information production, web-based signature petition campaign against Japan’s bid for a UNSC permanent was circulated in all the major popular portals in Mainland China including Sina.com, Sohu.com, Netease.com and other patriotic websites such as the Patriot’s Alliance Web. By April 1, more than 22 million on-line signatures have already been collected. The huge number of signature is a vivid expression of public opinion. In short, the Internet has helped spread nationalism in the anti-Japanese movements and it become the momentum for popular orchestrations of on-line and offline-protests. Moreover, providing a space of information distribution, knowledge 8
The web addresses set up by Sina, Sohu, Netease, QQ, TOM, 21cn China Net, Yahoo, POPTANG were http://news.sina.com.cn/z/unnation/index.shtml, http://news.sohu.com/s2005/lianheguogaige.shtml, http://news.163.com/special/j/00011DTP/japan050323.html, http://news.qq.com/zt/2005/japanuni/index.htm, http://new.tom.com/hot/zhongri/ http://news.21cn.com/zhuanti/world/fdrb/index.shtml, http://new.china.com/zh_cn/focus/UN-japan/, http://cn.news.yahoo.com/japan_membership05/index.html, and http://kr.poptang.com/. Some of these sites, however, were no longer accessible now. 10
production and public opinion formation, the Internet can be construed as public sphere in the course of anti-Japanese protests, yet its scope should be understood beyond the scale of national to transnational. The transnational nature should be examined from two perspectives: the nature of the issues concerned and the scale of connectivity. First of all, the issue in concern – Japan’s bid of a permanent member seat in the UNSC, has defined the case as a transnational one. As written in the Wikipedia, “The United Nations Security Council is the most powerful organ of the United Nations (UN). It is charged with maintaining peace and security between nations. While other organs of the United Nations only make recommendations to member governments, the Security Council has the power to make decisions which member governments must carry out under the United Nations Charter.”9
The constitution, composition and the function of the institution UNSC itself herald every issue it concerns at one global, transnational and national, as it is the nationstates with concrete territorial borders that constitute the basic units of this supranational institution. Any decisions made by the UNSC would imply a re-distribution of power amongst the nations, thus posing effects to the inter-national order and relationship. In this regard, the anti-Japanese sentiments, the oppositions to Japan government’s approval of the right-ring version history textbooks and the claims to defeat the resurgence of Japanese militarism and imperialism in both the Internet and the offline protests should not be conceived as only expressions of Chinese nationalism and xenophobia, rather, this outburst of nationalism should be noted as premised at a global or transnational concern – the concern of equal opportunities for development, security, and human rights. Such universal concerns are shared amongst nations and their citizens other than China and the Chinese people. In fact, oppositions against Japan’s UNSC bid and condemnation of its whitewashing of wartime atrocities occurred in countries other than China such as Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia; amongst which South Korean’s anti-Japanese sentiments were the most feverish and their protests the most radical. Thus, the public opinion expressed about Japan’s UNSC bid in the cyberspace monitored by the “Great Fire Wall” of the PRC has turned the national sphere into a transnational one. The scales of connectivity also underpin the public sphere as a transnational one. A ‘transnational public’ is formed through the connection of the Internet. In the reports on anti-Japanese movements in Mainland China, most of them focus on the PRC China alone without mentioning the connectivity between the Chinese all over the world. The web-based petition nonetheless is a preeminent exemplar of the transnational Chinese connection. According to a liberal mainland magazine Southern 9
People Weekly, the internet petition did not start in Mainland China but was initiated by “Association for Preserving the Historical Accuracy of Foreign Invasions in China” (APHAFIC), a nonprofit, nonpartisan worldwide federation of over 40 grassroots organizations founded in 1994 to preserve the historical truth of the AsiaPacific War (1931-1945).10 The organization set up the website for petition on 28 February 2005 and held a press conference in Washington and Los Angeles to call for a joint petition of Chinese from all over the world. The Internet petition letter writes, We, the undersigned, strongly urge you to speak out and vote against any motion or procedure to grant Japan the status as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. As the aggressor in World War II, Japan committed numerous atrocities in its neighboring countries, and destroyed and looted an astronomical amount of properties. Historical records have revealed its systematic slaughtering of prisoners of war and tens of millions of innocent civilians, from newborn to elderly, during those years. Its government and parliament have never formally acknowledged its wrongdoing, offered official apologies to those who suffered immensely, or provided adequate reparation to compensate its victims, including the hundreds of thousands women forced into sexual slavery, nearly a million died in its biochemical experimentations and battlefield deployments in violation of the Geneva Convention, or the Allied prisoners of war butchered, brutalized and enslaved. Japan thus far shows no remorse of its past misdeeds, refuses to repent, and appears to be untrustworthy. The international community can not and must not designate such state to seat on the Security Council which is chartered to safeguard and maintain regional and world peace and justice.11
When the petition website was first set up, only a small number of signatures were collected from the American Chinese from overseas website. Yet in a few days the number of signatures began to increase with a rate of 100 to 150 per hour. One of the organizers responsible for global connections started to establish websites outside the territory of America. Beijing was the first place where connections set up. Nonetheless, owing to a different decoding system in China, APHAFIC has spent a lot of time to solve the technical problems on editing, collection and statistical analysis of the signatures. When Ng Cho Hong, the web host of an anti-Japanese website 918 Patriotic Alliance, acknowledged the campaign, he promised to take the responsibility for the collection of signatures in Mainland China.12 The anti-Japanese 10
http://www.global-alliance.net/mission.html http://www.alpha-la.org/petition.asp 12 According to a feature on sohu.com entitled “918 Lao Ng: Popular patriotism”, the 54 years old Mr. Ng coming from the grassroots set up 918 website in 2000 to remind people the history of antiJapanese war after he was anguished by Japanese rightists holding of a conference “the Biggest Lie in 11
campaign for UN permanent seat Chinese website (china918.net/qm) was first circulated on March 19, at around the time the APHAFIC petition website was hacked. On 23 March, sina.com, the portal with the highest hit rate in Mainland China, joined the signature petition campaign. Two other popular portals Sohu and NetEase followed soon. Sina.com has even set up signature sites in Hong Kong, Taiwan and North America, making it the website with the highest number of signatures. The number of signatures increased rapidly. In the midnight of March 27, 10 million signatures were already collected (SPW 2005). A number of over 42 millions signatures was even collected ultimately before the UNSC held its meeting in which the reform proposal was discussed in September 2005. Initiated from an American-based Chinese organization and extended to Mainland, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, the Internet has facilitated the formation of what Yang (2003a) calls the “transnational Chinese cultural sphere” formed in other Internet based nationalistic movements amongst Chinese connected by ethnicity but not by physical territoriality. Street demonstrations in different countries as well as APHAFIC’s handing in of the on-line petition signatures in a rally to the UN headquarter in September, together makes the virtual transnational public even extended beyond the cyberspace to the physical spaces. Connections with media outside Mainland China also contribute to the transnational scale of the public sphere. Both the online uprisings and the street demonstrations were widely reported in foreign media. When 10,000 youth took to the street on April 9, the protests had even made international headlines (Johnson 2005). Media representations of the rallies a petition campaigns in media outlet other than the PRC purport to create more attentions and debate from other countries. In fact, CNN.com has held an opinion poll on Japan’s UNSC bid in the Internet after the fierce outburst of anti-Japanese movements in the Asian countries. Despite some Mainland netizens called for interventions to the CNN poll, the inclusion of a poll in a worldwide popular media organization has increased greatly the opportunity for nonChinese citizens to give a vote and express their opinions, thus further enhances the global scale of the issue, although the representativeness and the validity should be questioned as a result of disruption from the irrational voting behavior and exclusion of a large non-English speaking population. Reversal flow of media reports of Mainland street protests to the cyberspace is another phenomenon that illustrates the transnational connectivity. The PRC government banned any reports on the street protests in both the traditional media and the 20th Century: Examining the Nanjian Massacre” (my translation) in the Osaka Peace International Center in Jan 2000. In addition to the establishment of the website, Mr. Ng has also organized many offline anti-Japanese protests against issues such as the sovereignty claim of Diaoyu Island. The sohu feature is retrievable from IP http://news.sohu.com/s2005/rwlaowu.shtml 13
the Internet, therefore, no news about the demonstrations were reported in traditional media as well as webspaces outside the private domains. By private domains, I refer to the Internet space where the netizens can produce and circulate information, i.e., qq, emails, bbs, blogs and instant messengers. In these private domains, hyperlinks were established to foreign websites that reported the demonstrations. News clips either in the format of moving image or text was also uploaded. According to my own “virtual ethnography” (Hine 2000) experience, clips from a Hong Kong TV broadcast company TVB and the Japanese national broadcast NHK were frequently uploaded. The images provided Mainland netizens with more information not only on what were going on within the home country, they also allowed the netizens to know and evaluate international responses on their movements, which in turn, aided in their adjustments of strategies. For instance, when the vandalism in protests led to negative evaluations of Chinese protests and warning from UNSC General Secretary Kofi Annnan towards Beijing and Tokyo governments to claim their flare-up,13 rational patriotism become one of the central discourses in the Mainland Chinese web-sphere, although the rational call was also an effect of Beijing authority, who found a urgent need to rein in the protests when it was accused of tacitly support the protests and a severe spoil of its foreign relationships. Nonetheless, the rational claim has contributed to countervail the irrational element of the discussions that hamper the emergence of a desirable public sphere. In sum, the high speed, openness and interconnectivity quality of Internet has facilitated the stimulation of public opinion, the ‘mesoboilization’ (Gerhards & Rucht 1992) of on-line and offline protest and the formation of a transnational public in the campaign against Japan’s UNSC bid in the PRC. Nationalism is central to the production of public opinion and the protests in the anti-Japanese movements, but its resurgence points towards a higher order claim of universal justice and peace, and this linkage subtly ties nationalism to the global or transnational civil society. It is transnational, as Olesen (2005) always emphasizes, nation-state still constitutes the basic unit in global or supranational institution such as UNSC. Annan’s comment on the deteriorating China-Japan relationships also connotes the meanings of unavoidable competitions between states, he said, "I think the two countries (China and Japan), I hope, will maintain their contacts, and they have a whole series of contests -- commercial, financial, political, and all this," Annan said on Thursday.” The primacy of nation-state defines the public sphere constituted for the discussions of global issues necessarily transnational instead of purely global. The purpose of stimulating public opinion in social movements is not to arrive consensus but to affect policy (Dahlgren 2005). Whilst a scientific proof on the casual 13
After the outbreak of protest in Shanghai on 16 April, Annan took seriously the escalation of antiJapanese sentiment in China and classed for Beijing and Tokyo to calm their flare-up. 14
relationships between popular opinions and the ultimate failure of Japan’s bid of a permanent member seat in 2005 can hardly obtain, some threads still supported the influences of public opinions on the policy making of UNSC, albeit the failure of a reform is a result of a set of complicated inter-national relationships. For instance, Annan has urged Japan to handle its historical questions which inflamed discontents from other nations with serious concern after the eruption of anti-Japanese protests in the Mainland, Hong Kong, Canada, Korea and other countries. Another important point about the Internet initiated transnational activism is the relationship between the people, the states and the supranational institutions. The Internet facilitates cross-border connections and organization of transnational publics, yet as Dahlgren’s (2005) remarks, the public sphere has three constitutive dimensions: structure, representation and interaction, whereas the structure dimension refers to the formal institutional features including ‘media organizations, their political economy, ownership, control, regulation and issues of their financing, as well as the legal framework defining the freedoms of – and constraints on communication’ (p. 148-9). As mentioned in the very early beginning, the media system in the neo-authoritarian PRC is substantially different from the rest of the world. Lots of regulations are set up to control the production and circulation of information not only in the traditional mediascape but also the cyberspace. A strong Internet police force, together with a powerful filtering system, is employed to police the cyber order. With regard to these structural constraints, how shall we understand the transnational public sphere articulated around the anti-Japanese nationalist movements? Does the transnational public sphere imply the existence of a domestic civil society? Or, is the public sphere a pseudo one tacitly manipulated by the state? How does the Internet mediate the public opinion of the people, the state and supra-national institutions? The Beijing government reined in the anti-Japanese activities in its latter stage and cracked down web discussions on the issue. Does it evidence that the Internet is an ideological state apparatus, whereas the ideology produced in the anti-Japanese movements is nationalism? Answers to these questions shall shed light on the exploration of on-line political communication is China whose cyberspace is built up with a different structural constitution. Internet as State Activation Apparatus in the Transnational Public Sphere In this part, I would argue that although the Internet has facilitated the emergence of a transnational public sphere in Mainland China, it does not necessarily imply a promotion of the domestic civil society. Nevertheless, it is neither an ideological state apparatus with which the rulers and the power disseminate the ideologies that stabilize their rule from top-town. Rather, the Internet functions as what I would like to call a 15
“state activation apparatus” in the production of information concerning inter-national relations. By state activation apparatus, I mean that the Internet is a device by which the PRC government can employ to activate or make use of what is activated by the citizens through the medium of the internet to advance national interest in the international arena, and what the state aims to activate or be activated by the netizens is usually, nationalism. Previous incidents such as the Belgrade Embassy bombing have shown how the PRC government could use the Internet to activate netizens’ patriotic sentiment and mobilize them to participate in nationalist movement which served its diplomatic purpose. Similarly, in the series of anti-Japanese movements, the Beijing authority would like to use the public sentiments to attain its diplomatic advantages. The key issue instilling in the online and offline uprisings in the waves of anti-Japanese protests is Japan’s campaign for a UNSC permanent member seat. It is certain that UNSC serves for a global purpose; however, as mentioned before, each country has its own concern within a supranational institution. The ascension of Japan in the UNSC would mean a stronger American-Japanese Alliance to China, whilst the stronger alliance in turn implied a more unfavorable position of China in especially the Taiwan Strait issue. Therefore, the Chinese government would not desire a successful bid from Japan; yet neither did the Chinese government want to confront directly with the US, who supported Japan’s move also because of its own interest in the Pacific region. In consequence, the PRC government did not give an immediate response on Japan’s bid campaign. The public opinion represented in on-line and offline political uprisings, albeit expressed in a mixed of rational discussions and emotional outburst of patriotic sentiments, served as a powerful diplomacy token for the Beijing authority to state its will in the name of its people.14 A series of cases can demonstrate how the public opinion expressed in terms of nationalist movements, on line and offline, related to Beijing government’s diplomatic strategies. For instance, on April 12, when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was asked to remark on the discord broke out in Beijing on 10 April and Japan’s UNSC bid campaign after Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura lodged a formal protest with China and requested an official apology, Wen said, “Only a country that respects history, takes responsibility for history and wins over the trust of peoples in Asia and the world at large can take greater responsibilities in the international community” (World News Digest 2005). Though implicitly, Wen’s speech was the first official view Beijing authority made on Japanese government’s move into “the international community”. A week latter when Japan’s Foreign Ministry protested to the Chinese government and denounced the protesters’ “destructive and violent 14
Please see Wright (2005) for a diagnosis of the national interests of the US, Japan and China towards the move of Japan’s entry into the UNSC as a permanent member. 16
actions” after the demonstration in Shanghai, Shanghai official responded by saying that the protests was prompted by “Japan’s wrong attitudes and actions on as series of issues such as its history of aggression” (Bodeen, 2005). In April 17 when Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaku Machimura and Li Zhaoxing had a talk, Li similarly contended that issues of Taiwan, human rights and the history textbooks were the causes that had inflamed Chinese people’s grievances against Japan. To a great extent, a direct link of disputes on history books and the UN can be made possible, legitimate and powerful only because it was initiated by the people instead of the state, who has always manipulated its national history education in which selective inclusions and different stresses of the anti-Japanese war are used to fulfill the interest not merely of the state but also of the CCP party that rules the regime (see Reilly 2004). The fact that the Internet as a facilitator of public opinion which was instilled by nationalism and endorsed the national policy does not however turn it into an ideological state apparatus as Hughes (2000) claimed, although latter interventions on the production and circulation of information about anti-Japanese movements from the government has supported both Zhao’s (2004) identification of nationalism in China as pragmatic, state-led, instrumental and reactive, and my argument that the a promotion of transnational public sphere does not mean a promotion of the domestic civil society. Internet is not an ideological state apparatus, because the notion discards the decentralization capacity the Internet had allowed in the production of circulation of anti-Japanese information and the bottom-up initiation of the on-line and offline uprisings. However, the latter official crack down on the web discussions and organizations of anti-Japanese movements also indicates, a mature domestic civil society in China is yet to come. The incipient quality of the civil society the Internet engenders in the PRC will be more apparent if the reasons for the shifting position of the government from acquiescence to suppression are accounted for. Two major reasons can explain the Beijing authority’s changing attitudes on the popular nationalist movements: first, the fear of a liberal or civic turn of the originally ethnic nationalism and second, the economic concern over the China-Japan trade relationships. Civic or liberal nationalism refers to the kind of nationalism building upon a democratic political system with which people nurture their sense of belongings through political participations. The PRC is a neo-authoritarian country ruled by one party of the CCP, a civic turn of nationalism would therefore imply a potential threat to its regime. Hence, any signs and potentials of a civic turn of nationalism would be quickly noticed by the PRC government and the seeds would soon be crackdown. There is no doubt that the nationalism originally invoked the waves of anti-Japanese movements is ethnic oriented; this can be proved by the centrality role history played 17
in the inflaming of the national sentiments amongst the protests in all the on-line and offline protests. Nonetheless, as May Fourth approached, the anti-Japanese movements become a potential challenge to the government, since the day embedded another meaning of popular nationalism not pointing to the oppositions of foreign threats alone but the also the histories of internal struggle to reform the country from within. May 4 movements in 1931 and 1937 were uprisings that ultimately turned against the government. Besides, the pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989, the most serious domestic political uprising during the CCP rule regime, had also gained its momentum exactly from May 4. These diversified meanings of nationalism and student movements implicit in May 4 therefore would certainly draw special concern from the government, as any anti-foreign nationalistic movement and sentiments can easily change into anti-government uprisings. Thus, when the waves of anti-Japanese on-line and offline uprisings have evolved to an orchestration of rallies on May 1 and May 4, the government stepped in and cracked down first the Internet discussions on anti-Japanese movements. The websites suspended by the government in late April such as www.gd918.org; www.cfdd.org.cn and www.china918.cn/forum.asp were all websites that had called for large-scale demonstration on May 1 and May 4. Words such as “anti-Japanese protests” and “government” were also filtered and appeared as monsters codes in the private domains of the Internet. Some “dissidents” who had organized protests via the Internet were also detained. In fact, one of the “dissidents” arrested was Xu Wanping, who had been imprisoned for eight years for his role in the 1989 Tiananmen incident; and Xu was convicted of "incitement to subvert state power” and sentenced to a 12 years imprisonment in December 2005.15 These facts all substantially prove the worry of the government on a civic turn of nationalism, which in turn imply an authentic and mature civil society does not yet appear in China. Economic concern is another major factor behind the PRC government’s cracked down of protests. A successful entry of Japan in the UNSC is undesirable to China, nonetheless, China would not like to risk or deteriorate China-Japan relations to the extent that ruins its surging economy too. As Chinese State Council Vice-Premier Wu Yi said, China has become Japan’s biggest trade partner. The bilateral trade volume reached 167.8 billion US dollars in 2005, accounting for 15 percent of the total foreign trade volumes of both sides. The accumulated total of Japan’s investment in China also reached 46.8 billion US dollars by the end of 2005. Close economic ties between the two countries means neither China nor Japan would like to see a continue worsening of the diplomatic relationships. Therefore, when an unprecedented mass protest erupted in Shanghai, the city that hosts a large portion of Japanese investment, 15
“China sentences dissident to 12 years in prison for anti-Japanese protests”, AFP, December 25, 2005 18
the government was fear that further anti-Japanese movements would ultimately deteriorate the domestic economy of China, and therefore started a brutal suppression on all popular online and offline anti-Japanese movements, which are, representations of popular nationalism that may both cohere with or contradicts to the state-led nationalism. On the one hand, such manipulation of popular nationalism on the basis of a set of economic and political factors proves that the nationalism the government desired is instrumental, reactive and pragmatic; on the other hand, trade relationship as a central consideration of the PRC government diplomatic strategy shows that the overlapping and intersections of varied scales within a country – at least Shanghai protest as a transition point of the spring Japanese movements is a significant illustration of the intersections of local, national and global scales at a place. In conclusion, what all these mean to the understanding of the nature of the Internet and political communication in the specific context of China is that, although the Internet has enabled the netizens to form public opinions on political issues, their survivability is always subjected to the desirability and acceptability of the neoauthoritarian government or more specifically the CCP, who judges the desirability and acceptability of the public opinions according to a multiple set of factors but pay a primordial concern on its own interest – the preservation of its rule. When the public opinions are related to nationalism, the desirability and acceptability of the government towards them are even more complicated, as nationalism is always a double-edged sword that could stabilize or destabilize the CCP regime, advance or spoil the national interests, increase yet may also weaken the bargaining power in the state’s foreign policy making. It is this double-edged nature of nationalism in China that requires a reconsideration of the composition of civil society and the impact of the Internet in its making. Analyzing the on-line and offline anti-Japanese protests in 2005, this study has shown that the Internet has helped to instill nationalism, orchestrate nationalist movements and form a transnational public which has created an effect in the policy making of the global/transnational civil society from bottom down. Nonetheless, an engendering of a transnational public sphere shall not be construed as a growth of the domestic civil society in China, as such successful construction of a transnational public is possible only because the frame that used in the mobilization of movements – nationalism – is aligned with the state’s interests. The intolerance of a contradicting frame – the civic nationalism – and the crack down of its development in the Internet world only proves that the Internet is a state activation apparatus with which the state can make use but not produce the public opinions for the sake of its interest. Despite this, the new technology of the Internet still succeeds to empower the PRC citizens as global citizens as Internet provides a space for them to participate in global politics in 19
the transnational public sphere.
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