Internet Use and Governance in China

Internet Use and Governance in China

Kaifeng Yang (Florida State University, USA), Chengfu Zhang (Renmin University of China, China) and Jun Tang (Renmin University of China, China)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-753-1.ch017


As Internet use increases rapidly in China, its governance implications have been debated among researchers. This chapter provides a brief discussion of the complex relationship between Chinese Internet use and Chinese governance regarding the development of the Internet infrastructure, the level and form of Internet use, the “dark” side of the Internet and its control, and the provision of electronic government services. We argue that Internet use in China has been shaped by China’s governance structure, but at the same time it is changing, albeit slowly, that structure.
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Theoretical Background

Internet use has gained significant attention from policy makers and researchers because of its potentially huge impact on economic development, social structure, information flow, political dynamics, and democratization. This is not only true for internet use in the political and administrative arenas, such as online political participation and the use of e-government services, but also true for internet use in civic and personal arenas, such as reading online news, publishing blogs, using emails, and visiting social networking sites. The impact of the latter on the economy, social interactions, and information flow is more immediate than on politics and democratization (e.g., via the change of social structure, the rise of social movements, and the improvement of citizenship, etc.), which requires a long-term incremental perspective.

A long-term perspective is required in thinking about the impact of Internet use on governance (social and political) also because the relationship between the two is not one-way but two-way. Governance can be viewed as a set of institutions that regulate or enable actors who interact with one another in social and political relationships. Democratic governance, ultimately, is a set of democratic institutions that define the actions and interactions between citizens and their representatives (or those who make decisions for the state). Therefore, the relationship between governance and internet use can be explained with the general theory about the relationship between institutions and technology, which depicts institutions and technology as shaping each other (Fountain 2001; Singh, 2002; Yang, K., 2003). If the effects of the Internet are affected by the past or current governing institutions, then its potential in leading to a transformed governance cannot be realized overnight. What we observe will be a long-term co-evolution of the Internet and governance.

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