Language as Social Practice on the Chinese Internet

Language as Social Practice on the Chinese Internet

Elaine J. Yuan (University of Illinois at Chicago, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-833-0.ch018
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This chapter presents a discourse analysis of two bulletin board systems (BBS). The analysis was done to identify online linguistic practices within the contextualized parameters of online communities and ongoing sociopolitical development in China. Chinese Internet users employ various discourse strategies to establish community identities, organize online interactions, and defy censorship. These practices demarcate an emergent, public, non-official discourse universe apart from but responsive to the official discourse universe of Chinese political communication.
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The Chinese Internet

Since its inception in 1994, the Internet has diffused rapidly in China. Today, with over 384 million users (a group that constitutes 28.9% of the country’s total population), China has surpassed the United States as the world’s largest Internet market. Over 90% of Chinese Internet users connect to the online environment via broadband, and another 8% can do so through mobile phones. As of 2009, there were 3.23 million Websites registered in China, and the overwhelming majority of these sites were in Chinese (China Internet Network Information Center, CNNIC, 2010).

Like elsewhere in the world, the Internet in China abounds with various user applications ranging from email, news portals, and videocasts to blogs and social networking sites. Online bulletin board systems (BBSs), however, are among the most popular online communication platforms available to Internet users in China. 80% of Chinese Websites, for example, run BBS forums (iResearch, 2007), and BBS-based online activities are popular among 40% of Chinese Internet users in comparison to only 17% of Internet users in the U.S. and 17.1% of Internet users in Japan (Tai, 2006). The total number of daily BBS page views in China, moreover, is over 1.6 billion, with 10 million posts published daily (Lu, 2008). Given their enormous reach and popularity, it is perhaps no surprise that BBS forums have effectively become “mass media” for disseminating formation and crystallizing public opinion among Chinese netizens (Xiao, 2008).

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