About the Project

We are five students from American University School of International Service and George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development. This site is our group project on the Social Media and Civil Society in China. We will draw from the approaches taken by Chinese civilian grassroots groups  in order to study and understand the power of social media tools in the social reforms. We will closely follow and examine several different movements in Sina WeiBo (新浪微博) through the Spring semester.

In 2010 at an event at the Woodrow Wilson Institute, Dr. Wu Junhua, a China scholar, discussed the growing number of Chinese netizens (internet users) and their impact on the movement towards social democratization [1].  With the growing number of users the government is facing increased pressure from netizens, and a period of information control through censorship speckled with moments of transparency has erupted. With the party leadership changes in 2012, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is noticing growing pressures resulting from netizens using social media platforms.  After the CCP censored facebook and Twitter, a Chinese version of Twitter arose, called “WeiBo” (微博, literally translated as “micro-blog”), which has over 50 million users monthly and more than 200 million visits a month [2]. Dr. Wu discussed how the growing number of netizens created difficulties for the CCP to find “dissenters.” Wu discussed several examples of government cover-ups and the netizen response of publishing criticisms, protests and reporting uncensored news [1].

The Great Firewall of China is actually called the Golden Shield Project (金盾工程), launched in November of 2000. The Golden Shield was launched to strengthen police control by adopting information and communication technology.  Ultimately the Golden Shield is to a sustainable database-driven remote surveillance system, which offers immediate access to extensive citizen records, while linking networks of camera.  Another goal of the Golden Shield was to increase internet censorship and prevent virtual organizing [3].

The Great Firewall allows the government not not only block keywords from search engines, entire website, but it can also block IP addresses from both within the country and abroad. Take for example WeiBo, the government can delete accounts and actively remove posts in real time. By blocking popular Western social media and networking sites, such as Twitter and facebook, the Chinese Government has forced netizens to use domestic alternatives allowing for ease in government moderation and control [1, 3].

Our research will focus on not only how netizens are evading censorship rules but will also focus on the evolution of social movements propelled/supported by micro-blogging. A key factor of our research is to determine if the publications are opinions of a few dissenters or if they is a representation of the majority. Chinese netizens continue to push the limitations of unobjectionable online speech. One way in which netizens avoid removal of posts is by altering speech and using representative lexemes.

[1]  Wu, J. H. (2012, January). Wilson center experts: Junhua Wu. Retrieved from http://www.wilsoncenter.org/staff/junhua-wu
[2] China microblogging (WeiBo) statistics. (2011 March). Retrieved from http://slideshare.net/RockyFu/China-microblogging-weibo-statistics-Feb-2011
[3] Walton, G. (2001). China’s golden shield: corporations and the development of surveillance technology in the People’s Republic of China. Canada: International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development. Retrieved from http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/fr/582542/posts

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