From Online Mass Incidents to Defiant Enclaves: Online Activism in China

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This study examines political criticism and oppositional discourses on China's Internet from 2012, near the end of Hu Jintao's era, up through the current Xi Jinping administration. We focus on two main types of Internet activity in which criticism and discourses emerge—online mass incidents and defiant enclaves—and compare their discursive elements. The findings show that both types of political dissent are alive and persist, but the potential for them to connect various social grievances has declined in recent years, as state control over the Internet and digital spaces has significantly tightened. The occurrence of online mass incidents has dropped significantly, and the discursive enclaves can be expected to turn into smaller "bubbles" in the years to come. Meaningful political criticisms can be expected to be restricted to relatively small, semiclosed, and mostly "underground" circles, while beyond these circles the spread of political dissent risks the possibility of a game of labeling and blaming. Moreover, with the explicit and implicit support of the state, pro-regime Internet users can mobilize to inflict severe punishment on others who use the memes and keywords attached to identifiable oppositional discourses. In this sense, social control under Xi is effective and has pushed Chinese society back to a deeply cellularized stage. with dissenting discursive activities confined to marginal digital spaces.
Period22 Mar 2022
Held atCentre for Contemporary Chinese Studies, The University of Melbourne , Australia
Degree of RecognitionInternational