The fol¬≠low¬≠ing post is an unedited essay I pre¬≠pared for a sub¬≠ject on glob¬≠al¬≠i¬≠sa¬≠tion and China last semes¬≠ter, and inves¬≠ti¬≠gates the role of the Inter¬≠net par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠larly as an instru¬≠ment of social change. Per¬≠haps sur¬≠pris¬≠ingly, I argue that it is a reflec¬≠tive, rather than dis¬≠rup¬≠tive, util¬≠ity in this par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠lar social context.
The new tech¬≠nolo¬≠gies will bring ‚Äúevery indi¬≠vid¬≠ual ‚Ä¶ into imme¬≠di¬≠ate and effort¬≠less com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ca¬≠tion with every other,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúprac¬≠ti¬≠cally oblit¬≠er¬≠ate‚ÄĚ polit¬≠i¬≠cal geog¬≠ra¬≠phy, and make free trade uni¬≠ver¬≠sal. Thanks to tech¬≠no¬≠log¬≠i¬≠cal advance, ‚Äúthere [are] no longer any for¬≠eign¬≠ers,‚ÄĚ and we can look for¬≠ward to ‚Äúthe grad¬≠ual adop¬≠tion of a com¬≠mon language‚ÄĚ.
Com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ca¬≠tion tech¬≠nolo¬≠gies have long been per¬≠ceived as har¬≠bin¬≠gers of sig¬≠nif¬≠i¬≠cant trans¬≠for¬≠ma¬≠tion in soci¬≠ety, from the tumult of 15th C. Europe in the wake of reli¬≠gious and polit¬≠i¬≠cal rev¬≠o¬≠lu¬≠tion enabled by Gutenberg‚Äôs inven¬≠tion to the domes¬≠tic tele¬≠graphic and tele¬≠phonic inno¬≠va¬≠tions of the 1800s. As bound¬≠aries between coun¬≠tries have, with increased access to Infor¬≠ma¬≠tion and Com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ca¬≠tions Tech¬≠nol¬≠ogy (ICT) beyond the elite, begun to blur, pro¬≠le¬≠tar¬≠ian access to such tech¬≠nolo¬≠gies has com¬≠men¬≠su¬≠rately grown apace. Despite com¬≠mon access to such tech¬≠nolo¬≠gies, how¬≠ever, their util¬≠ity for grass¬≠roots activism, the devo¬≠lu¬≠tion of state bound¬≠aries, devel¬≠op¬≠ing global com¬≠merce, and advanc¬≠ing polit¬≠i¬≠cal auton¬≠omy remains in ques¬≠tion. Con¬≠sid¬≠er¬≠ing China, par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠larly, with over one-fifth of its pop¬≠u¬≠la¬≠tion hav¬≠ing access to such tech¬≠nolo¬≠gies based on offi¬≠cial esti¬≠mates, the ques¬≠tion of the util¬≠ity of these tech¬≠nolo¬≠gies, par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠larly in the realm of their impact upon the social and polit¬≠i¬≠cal psy¬≠che of China, is an impor¬≠tant¬†one.
Most com¬≠monly lev¬≠elled cri¬≠tiques against the Chi¬≠nese Gov¬≠ern¬≠ment in the field of Inter¬≠net pol¬≠i¬≠tics grav¬≠i¬≠tate around the issue of Inter¬≠net cen¬≠sor¬≠ship. In a global con¬≠text, this has ram¬≠i¬≠fi¬≠ca¬≠tions for a vari¬≠ety of organ¬≠i¬≠sa¬≠tions, both TNC/MNCs and gov¬≠ern¬≠ments. The Golden Shield Project (ťáĎÁõĺŚ∑•Á®č), it is often argued, is both facil¬≠i¬≠tated by the com¬≠plic¬≠ity of and pro¬≠vides ben¬≠e¬≠fit to a vari¬≠ety of ICT ven¬≠dors in west¬≠ern democ¬≠ra¬≠cies. In the United States par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠larly, ven¬≠dors includ¬≠ing Cisco Net¬≠works, Microsoft and ser¬≠vice providers Google and Yahoo! have all been dragged before var¬≠i¬≠ous inquiries into the for¬≠eign prac¬≠tices of the global sub¬≠sidiaries and branches of such busi¬≠nesses. Although var¬≠i¬≠ous US export restric¬≠tions on some secu¬≠rity prod¬≠ucts (high grade encryp¬≠tion being fore¬≠most amongst these) remain, export con¬≠straints apply prin¬≠ci¬≠pally to coun¬≠tries with which the US does not have diplo¬≠matic rela¬≠tions or where it is presently engaged in mil¬≠i¬≠tary con¬≠flict. China fits nei¬≠ther cri¬≠te¬≠ria, and her inter¬≠net prac¬≠tices, although con¬≠sid¬≠ered oppres¬≠sive by some, do not even depend par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠larly upon any advanced encryp¬≠tion tech¬≠nolo¬≠gies: indeed, such tech¬≠nolo¬≠gies are often used for the cir¬≠cum¬≠ven¬≠tion of controls.
For all its faults, con¬≠trol of the Chi¬≠nese inter¬≠net is an impre¬≠cise sci¬≠ence, exem¬≠pli¬≠fied in former-US Pres¬≠i¬≠dent Clinton‚Äôs descrip¬≠tion of such attempts as like ‚Äútry¬≠ing to nail Jello to a wall‚ÄĚ. Other media, lim¬≠ited by a raft of con¬≠trols imposed by the State Admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion of Radio, Film, and Tele¬≠vi¬≠sion (SARFT) and the Gen¬≠eral Admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion of Press and Pub¬≠li¬≠ca¬≠tion (GAPP), are par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠larly con¬≠trol¬≠lable in a man¬≠ner the Inter¬≠net is not. While both SARFT and GAPP have attempted to assert con¬≠trol over the Inter¬≠net in a vari¬≠ety of forms, GAPP‚Äôs online author¬≠ity is lim¬≠ited in scope com¬≠pared to the tight con¬≠trol it retains over peri¬≠od¬≠i¬≠cals and book pub¬≠lish¬≠ing through ISSN/ISBN issuance, while SARFT‚Äôs March 30 notice, ‚ÄúŚĻŅÁĒĶśÄĽŚĪÄŚÖ≥šļéŚä†ŚľļšļíŤĀĒÁĹĎŤßÜŚź¨ŤäāÁõģŚÜÖŚģĻÁģ°ÁźÜÁöĄťÄöÁü•‚ÄĚ, is con¬≠cerned only with ‚Äėaudio-visual pro¬≠grams‚Äô pub¬≠lished through Chi¬≠nese video shar¬≠ing web¬≠sites. While the SARFT notice sin¬≠gles out videos pub¬≠lished by śčćŚģĘ (‚Äėvod¬≠caster‚Äô, or video neti¬≠zen reporter), it does not tar¬≠get blog¬≠gers or any non-visual report¬≠ing. Par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠larly the per¬≠mit sys¬≠tem in part 4 of the notice, essen¬≠tially an exten¬≠sion of exist¬≠ing SARFT reg¬≠u¬≠la¬≠tions over film/TV seri¬≠alised con¬≠tent, raised the ire of a num¬≠ber of video-on-demand web¬≠sites. For the aver¬≠age user, how¬≠ever, this appears to have had lit¬≠tle impact. While var¬≠i¬≠ous admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tions may attempt to chal¬≠lenge or even change the nature of Inter¬≠net inter¬≠ac¬≠tions, the Inter¬≠net shows equal resilience and, indeed, presents an inverse chal¬≠lenge to such estab¬≠lished bod¬≠ies. Despite this, how¬≠ever, the pro¬≠longed cen¬≠sor¬≠ship of the inter¬≠net under the direc¬≠tion of the Min¬≠istry of Pub¬≠lic Security‚Äôs Golden Shield Project, par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠larly in con¬≠junc¬≠tion with var¬≠i¬≠ous MIIT direc¬≠tives to ser¬≠vice providers, has resulted in what is effec¬≠tively a cul¬≠ture of self-censorship of the Chi¬≠nese Internet.
How¬≠ever, there are many issues, often neglected in the wake of clam¬≠orous dis¬≠cus¬≠sion sur¬≠round¬≠ing the cen¬≠sor¬≠ship issue, besides that of access. Par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠larly, when con¬≠sid¬≠er¬≠ing the Inter¬≠net as an instru¬≠ment for dis¬≠rupt¬≠ing the offi¬≠cial dis¬≠course and chal¬≠leng¬≠ing or trans¬≠form¬≠ing soci¬≠etal con¬≠ven¬≠tions, it is impor¬≠tant to con¬≠sider usage pat¬≠terns in online activ¬≠i¬≠ties. China is pre¬≠dom¬≠i¬≠nantly inter¬≠ested in very dif¬≠fer¬≠ent activ¬≠i¬≠ties to a wider sam¬≠ple of the online com¬≠mu¬≠nity. While con¬≠sid¬≠er¬≠ing the issue of util¬≠ity, it is worth not¬≠ing that the top Inter¬≠net appli¬≠ca¬≠tions in China, namely Music, News and Instant Mes¬≠sag¬≠ing (IM) activ¬≠i¬≠ties, con¬≠sti¬≠tute enter¬≠tain¬≠ment related pur¬≠suits, as opposed to more com¬≠mer¬≠cially moti¬≠vated Inter¬≠net activ¬≠i¬≠ties of much of the rest of the¬†world.
This usage dis¬≠par¬≠ity is reflec¬≠tive of other con¬≠sumer atti¬≠tudes within China. It does not shape them. The depen¬≠dence of global online com¬≠merce upon a consumer-credit based sys¬≠tems, specif¬≠i¬≠cally, third party bro¬≠kers with broad net¬≠works and the capac¬≠ity to instan¬≠ta¬≠neously autho¬≠rise and/or decline trans¬≠ac¬≠tions based on ver¬≠i¬≠fi¬≠ca¬≠tion of avail¬≠able credit (in Main¬≠land PRC, the only domes¬≠tic inter¬≠bank net¬≠work facil¬≠i¬≠tat¬≠ing this is China Union¬≠Pay (šł≠ŚõĹťäÄŤĀĒ), though affil¬≠i¬≠a¬≠tions with global VISA and Mas¬≠ter¬≠Card net¬≠works of course per¬≠sist), is obvi¬≠ously prob¬≠lem¬≠atic in a coun¬≠try that has only begun to embrace credit sys¬≠tems, with high sav¬≠ing rates. Accord¬≠ingly, ser¬≠vices such as Ali¬≠Pay have emerged, with agree¬≠ments span¬≠ning exist¬≠ing bank¬≠ing insti¬≠tu¬≠tions as well as larger exist¬≠ing credit net¬≠works, Union¬≠Pay and the global VISA/MC net¬≠works amongst these, in order to facil¬≠i¬≠tate trust-based inter¬≠net transactions.
The emer¬≠gence of such insti¬≠tu¬≠tions is a recent devel¬≠op¬≠ment in Chi¬≠nese soci¬≠ety. As Nie Jin observes in a 2007 paper con¬≠cern¬≠ing cur¬≠rent e-payment solu¬≠tions in China, one of the virtues of a cen¬≠trally planned econ¬≠omy pro¬≠hibit¬≠ing indi¬≠vid¬≠ual and pri¬≠vate trans¬≠ac¬≠tions is that there is no need for any trust/credibility sys¬≠tem to enable such trans¬≠ac¬≠tions. As these have emerged in the wake of eco¬≠nomic reform, so too has demand for escrow and trust-based trans¬≠ac¬≠tion ser¬≠vices devel¬≠oped. The paper con¬≠tin¬≠ues to note that, out¬≠side of China and planned econ¬≠omy states, accrued data sug¬≠gests as much as 90% of busi¬≠ness trans¬≠ac¬≠tions are set¬≠tled on the basis of integrity (i.e. with¬≠out resort¬≠ing to third party escrow ser¬≠vices, etc., though pos¬≠si¬≠bly involv¬≠ing a pay¬≠ment net¬≠work medi¬≠a¬≠tor with¬≠out a trust¬†layer).
In this, the Inter¬≠net func¬≠tions not as an instru¬≠ment act¬≠ing upon China to change it, but merely another man¬≠i¬≠fes¬≠ta¬≠tion of an already-changing eco¬≠nomic real¬≠ity. As pri¬≠vate enter¬≠prise grows, it is log¬≠i¬≠cal to pur¬≠sue the Inter¬≠net as yet another sales and/or mar¬≠ket¬≠ing chan¬≠nel, and, in doing so, the same issues already iden¬≠ti¬≠fied will be faced regard¬≠ing trust online as in per¬≠son. There are of course par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠lar chal¬≠lenges to online busi¬≠ness (fraud/verification of iden¬≠tity, logistics/delivery, etc.), but at the level of chang¬≠ing social land¬≠scapes it is clear the most press¬≠ing issue, that of integrity, is derived not from the emer¬≠gence of a dis¬≠trib¬≠uted, glob¬≠ally inter-connected net¬≠work of prospec¬≠tive clients and ven¬≠dors, but rather as a result of eco¬≠nomic reforms imple¬≠mented over the course of thirty years.
What, then, of trans¬≠ac¬≠tions that tran¬≠scend national bor¬≠ders and geo¬≠graphic bound¬≠aries? Tra¬≠di¬≠tion¬≠ally China‚Äôs largest trad¬≠ing part¬≠ners have con¬≠sisted of Asian neigh¬≠bours whose socio-cultural and per¬≠sonal ties com¬≠mend them as such. In an era of global trade facil¬≠i¬≠tated by buyer/seller pro¬≠tect¬≠ing trust net¬≠works, is there any rea¬≠son for this priv¬≠i¬≠leged trad¬≠ing sta¬≠tus to con¬≠tinue? Of course there is. Guanxi can only account for so much: there are log¬≠i¬≠cal, prac¬≠ti¬≠cal rea¬≠sons beyond this for bar¬≠ri¬≠ers the Inter¬≠net can¬≠not (yet) alle¬≠vi¬≠ate. The so-called ‚Äėdig¬≠i¬≠tal divide‚Äô is often spo¬≠ken of in terms of access to tech¬≠nol¬≠ogy. It is clear, how¬≠ever, that phys¬≠i¬≠cal access to tech¬≠nol¬≠ogy is not suf¬≠fi¬≠cient. Edu¬≠ca¬≠tion is often addressed as an issue affect¬≠ing access, but it is gen¬≠er¬≠ally raised only at the level of com¬≠puter lit¬≠er¬≠acy. With China rapidly embrac¬≠ing the Inter¬≠net through both PC and mobile tech¬≠nolo¬≠gies, and par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠larly with the recent approval of licenses for TD-SCDMA/TD-LTE net¬≠works (3G/4G net¬≠work tech¬≠nolo¬≠gies that will dra¬≠mat¬≠i¬≠cally improve net¬≠work access speeds), the issue of phys¬≠i¬≠cal access is decreas¬≠ingly rel¬≠e¬≠vant. Addi¬≠tion¬≠ally, as mobile access improves and touch-capable hand¬≠sets increase in preva¬≠lence, bar¬≠ri¬≠ers to usabil¬≠ity also decrease.
What, then, is the prob¬≠lem? The net¬≠works are in place, users can access them, and yet trade bar¬≠ri¬≠ers per¬≠sist. There are sev¬≠eral issues at play here. Firstly, the dom¬≠i¬≠nance of the Anglo¬≠phone Inter¬≠net com¬≠pared to Eng¬≠lish lit¬≠er¬≠acy in China. While China is one of the largest English-speaking coun¬≠tries, as a pro¬≠por¬≠tion of its own pop¬≠u¬≠la¬≠tion this is not a dom¬≠i¬≠nant lan¬≠guage, and access to much Inter¬≠net media and tech¬≠nol¬≠ogy requires Eng¬≠lish lit¬≠er¬≠acy in order to com¬≠pre¬≠hend or use ser¬≠vices. This is a con¬≠tribut¬≠ing fac¬≠tor behind the adop¬≠tion of social net¬≠work¬≠ing ser¬≠vices such as Kaixin and Xiaonei over their antecedent equiv¬≠a¬≠lents in the wider Inter¬≠net: Face¬≠book par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠larly has offered for some time now an Chi¬≠nese lan¬≠guage ver¬≠sion, but its fail¬≠ure to suf¬≠fi¬≠ciently localise con¬≠tent from the begin¬≠ning (it is, by default, served in Eng¬≠lish) granted Chi¬≠nese clones advan¬≠tage required to cap¬≠ture the main¬≠land mar¬≠ket¬†first.
Sec¬≠ondly, there are cul¬≠tural bar¬≠ri¬≠ers. China has an envi¬≠able adop¬≠tion of blog¬≠ging and ‚Äėinde¬≠pen¬≠dent‚Äô pub¬≠lish¬≠ing tech¬≠nol¬≠ogy. On CNNIC sta¬≠tis¬≠tics, there are over 162 mil¬≠lion blogs in China: rep¬≠re¬≠sent¬≠ing half of China‚Äôs Inter¬≠net pop¬≠u¬≠la¬≠tion, on the assump¬≠tion of only one blog per user. Yet, despite such dra¬≠matic adop¬≠tion of this medium, expres¬≠sion is tem¬≠pered by var¬≠i¬≠ous reg¬≠u¬≠la¬≠tions imposed upon pub¬≠lish¬≠ers by ser¬≠vice providers. Ser¬≠vice providers who fail to con¬≠form to such reg¬≠u¬≠la¬≠tions face unpre¬≠dictable ser¬≠vice denials facil¬≠i¬≠tated by Golden Shield Project prox¬≠ies and fire¬≠walls: Blog¬≠ger and WordPress.com rep¬≠re¬≠sent two promi¬≠nent exam¬≠ples of such providers. Tech¬≠ni¬≠cal con¬≠sid¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tions aside, the effect of this con¬≠for¬≠mity is a homogeni¬≠sa¬≠tion of blog con¬≠tent that is pro¬≠hib¬≠ited from fea¬≠tur¬≠ing con¬≠tro¬≠ver¬≠sial mate¬≠r¬≠ial. The video neti¬≠zen reporters tar¬≠geted under the March 30 SARFT direc¬≠tive are par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠larly addressed on account of the dif¬≠fi¬≠culty of auto¬≠mat¬≠i¬≠cally pro¬≠tect¬≠ing against video con¬≠tent: scan¬≠ning blog posts for banned key¬≠words is much more achiev¬≠able. Thus, this (imposed) self-censorship stymies the devel¬≠op¬≠ment of an inde¬≠pen¬≠dent Chi¬≠nese blog¬≠ging com¬≠mu¬≠nity within eth¬≠nic media: iron¬≠i¬≠cally, the depen¬≠dence of dis¬≠si¬≠dent blog¬≠gers upon non-conformist ser¬≠vice providers reduces the effects of their dis¬≠si¬≠dence and, com¬≠men¬≠su¬≠rately, their rel¬≠e¬≠vance and impact upon the wider Inter¬≠net. The entertainment-oriented activ¬≠i¬≠ties of Chi¬≠nese Inter¬≠net users are pri¬≠mar¬≠ily con¬≠sump¬≠tive in nature, and the gen¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tive activ¬≠ity of con¬≠tent cre¬≠ation is accord¬≠ingly mar¬≠gin¬≠alised while so much atten¬≠tion con¬≠tin¬≠ues to be paid to offi¬≠cially reg¬≠u¬≠lated media. One hun¬≠dred and sixty two mil¬≠lion blog¬≠gers can‚Äôt be silenced, but they can be (mostly) irrelevant.
Thirdly, the eco¬≠nomic bar¬≠ri¬≠ers to global par¬≠tic¬≠i¬≠pa¬≠tion are sig¬≠nif¬≠i¬≠cant. In a pos¬≠i¬≠tive reflec¬≠tion upon China‚Äôs inter¬≠net pen¬≠e¬≠tra¬≠tion, for the past sev¬≠eral years CNNIC‚Äôs annual reports have iden¬≠ti¬≠fied approx¬≠i¬≠mately one quar¬≠ter of inter¬≠net users as hav¬≠ing monthly income of less than 500¬†RMB.
This has an obvi¬≠ous impact upon the will¬≠ing¬≠ness of neti¬≠zens to engage in financially-related online activ¬≠i¬≠ties, as dis¬≠pos¬≠able income is neg¬≠li¬≠gi¬≠ble for many of them. This is borne out in another CNNIC report par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠larly con¬≠cerned with adop¬≠tion of secu¬≠rity soft¬≠ware (ŚģČŚÖ®ŤĹĮšĽ∂) in per¬≠sonal com¬≠put¬≠ing, par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠larly a sec¬≠tion iden¬≠ti¬≠fy¬≠ing indi¬≠vid¬≠u¬≠als‚Äô great¬≠est con¬≠cerns where com¬≠puter secu¬≠rity prob¬≠lems are encoun¬≠tered. The great¬≠est con¬≠cern is loss of com¬≠puter files and any virus that will affect the oper¬≠a¬≠tion of the com¬≠puter: these two com¬≠prise over 50% of respon¬≠dents‚Äô great¬≠est con¬≠cern. Nei¬≠ther sit¬≠u¬≠a¬≠tion involves the theft of files, only the dis¬≠abling of the user‚Äôs com¬≠puter.¬† This reflects rel¬≠a¬≠tively lethar¬≠gic adop¬≠tion of e-commerce and inter¬≠net bank¬≠ing in China, and is not a cause of it. Gen¬≠eral con¬≠sumer atti¬≠tudes beyond Internet-specific secu¬≠rity con¬≠cerns rep¬≠re¬≠sent the great¬≠est threat to Internet-based finan¬≠cial ser¬≠vices growth.
The Inter¬≠net has not, here, changed China. Indeed the ques¬≠tion of income equal¬≠ity is in need of res¬≠o¬≠lu¬≠tion before the Inter¬≠net can be used to any great eco¬≠nomic effect: it cer¬≠tainly does not presently ful¬≠fil that role for many users. Despite these qual¬≠i¬≠fi¬≠ca¬≠tions, it is unde¬≠ni¬≠able that China is of advanced global stand¬≠ing in pur¬≠chase of cer¬≠tain dig¬≠i¬≠tal goods con¬≠nected to dig¬≠i¬≠tal social con¬≠texts. QQ/Tencent is one promi¬≠nent exam¬≠ple of an effec¬≠tive dig¬≠i¬≠tal goods busi¬≠ness model not really repli¬≠cated with great suc¬≠cess in the west. Sim¬≠i¬≠lar to this in a game envi¬≠ron¬≠ment are mas¬≠sively mul¬≠ti¬≠player games that allow con¬≠ver¬≠sion of cash to in-game cur¬≠rency. This form of dig¬≠i¬≠tal econ¬≠omy is unessen¬≠tial and recre¬≠ational in nature. Inter¬≠net devel¬≠op¬≠ment prac¬≠tice here is unique and at the fore¬≠front of global indus¬≠try, yet it con¬≠tin¬≠ues to reflect real-world par¬≠a¬≠digms: Nike shoes, Gucci bags, and other lux¬≠ury brand items func¬≠tion as signs of sta¬≠tus in the same way web¬≠page dec¬≠o¬≠ra¬≠tions or vir¬≠tual dec¬≠o¬≠ra¬≠tive armour does. Thus here, too, the Inter¬≠net ful¬≠fils an emu¬≠la¬≠tive, rather than trans¬≠for¬≠ma¬≠tive, social role.
The Inter¬≠net has been lauded and demonised as a chal¬≠lenger to the estab¬≠lish¬≠ment. This is evi¬≠dently the party view of the mat¬≠ter: its Golden Shield Project report¬≠edly accrued 6.4BN RMB in costs in its pre¬≠lim¬≠i¬≠nary phases, and count¬≠less more since. How¬≠ever, as a result of reg¬≠u¬≠la¬≠tion and con¬≠trol, the Inter¬≠net in China rep¬≠re¬≠sents not a threat, but a mech¬≠a¬≠nism for the effec¬≠tive con¬≠sol¬≠i¬≠da¬≠tion of party power. Far from func¬≠tion¬≠ing as a broadly trans¬≠for¬≠ma¬≠tive social mech¬≠a¬≠nism, the Inter¬≠net chiefly embod¬≠ies the atti¬≠tudes and val¬≠ues of the com¬≠mu¬≠nity in which it is set. Addi¬≠tion¬≠ally, the bound¬≠aries imposed by lin¬≠guis¬≠tic, cul¬≠tural, hyper¬≠tex¬≠tual, polit¬≠i¬≠cal and tech¬≠no¬≠log¬≠i¬≠cal mech¬≠a¬≠nisms func¬≠tion in effect to pro¬≠duce a ‚Äėlocalised‚Äô form of the Inter¬≠net. As Gold¬≠smith and Wu note in their book Who Con¬≠trols the Inter¬≠net, one of the virtues of a ‚Äėbor¬≠dered Inter¬≠net‚Äô is that domes¬≠ti¬≠cally held val¬≠ues and stan¬≠dards can be pre¬≠served in a form that per¬≠mits peace¬≠ful co-existence in online con¬≠texts ‚ÄĒcer¬≠tainly there must be many within the Chi¬≠nese admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion who have wished this to be true as issues of inter¬≠na¬≠tional diplo¬≠macy have spilt over in nation¬≠al¬≠is¬≠tic fer¬≠vour on BBS and forums across the Chi¬≠nese Internet.
All these bound¬≠aries are, of course, fluid. This is one of the great virtues of the Inter¬≠net, and one of the enabling forces that will per¬≠haps one day enable sig¬≠nif¬≠i¬≠cant change, offer¬≠ing more than a reflec¬≠tion of soci¬≠ety. For now, how¬≠ever, China is cap¬≠tive to broader soci¬≠etal forces that impact upon its Inter¬≠net usage. The decline of cen¬≠sor¬≠ship does not appear immi¬≠nent: media reforms in recent years have been dri¬≠ven largely by eco¬≠nom¬≠ics rather than social dis¬≠con¬≠tent. If the ben¬≠e¬≠fits of open infor¬≠ma¬≠tion exchange even¬≠tu¬≠ally out¬≠weigh the CCP‚Äôs desire for con¬≠trol, it is likely that the frame¬≠work of con¬≠trol estab¬≠lished over the Inter¬≠net over the past 13 years since pub¬≠lic BBS access was first offered will per¬≠sist: if ensur¬≠ing a sta¬≠ble and ‚Äėhar¬≠mo¬≠nious soci¬≠ety‚Äô is the goal, what¬≠ever crit¬≠ics may say of oppres¬≠sive Inter¬≠net regimes, the pro¬≠mo¬≠tion of a cul¬≠ture of con¬≠sump¬≠tion and self‚ÄĎcensorship promises, at least in the short term, to reduce imme¬≠di¬≠ate chal¬≠lenges to the admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion. The Chi¬≠nese Inter¬≠net has changed China‚Äôs atti¬≠tude to the Inter¬≠net, cer¬≠tainly, but the spec¬≠u¬≠la¬≠tions made over 100 years ago con¬≠cern¬≠ing uni¬≠ver¬≠sal free trade and com¬≠mon lan¬≠guage are as close to ful¬≠fil¬≠ment by the Inter¬≠net as by the tele¬≠graph. A glob¬≠alised cul¬≠ture, enabled more by force of adver¬≠tis¬≠ing and mass media than by the Inter¬≠net, is dri¬≠ving these fac¬≠tors. Tech¬≠nol¬≠ogy, whilst pro¬≠vid¬≠ing a chan¬≠nel for the expres¬≠sion of such cul¬≠ture, remains sto¬≠ically neu¬≠tral in impart¬≠ing val¬≠ues and attitudes.
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