Will Microblogs Shape China's Civil Society Under President's Xi's Surveillance State?: The Case of Anti-Extradition Law Protests in Hong Kong

Will Microblogs Shape China's Civil Society Under President's Xi's Surveillance State?: The Case of Anti-Extradition Law Protests in Hong Kong

Kenneth C. C. Yang (The University of Texas at El Paso, USA) and Yowei Kang (National Taiwan Ocean University, Taiwan)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1791-8.ch007
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Western scholars have previously predicted Weibo and social media will provide Chinese netizens with an opportunity to foster its nascent civil society. However, the growing applications of surveillance technologies have challenged this rosy, yet deterministic prediction. This chapter argues that Jürgen Habermas's concept of public sphere is less likely to function properly, given the pervasive applications of surveillance technologies in China, which has fundamentally challenge its many assumptions. Using Habermas's analytical framework that is used to better comprehend the role of social media in Chinese politics, the authors argue that information technologies turn out to deteriorate the formation and maintenance of a public sphere for Chinese civil society. The authors employ a case study to examine the interrelations among social media, surveillance technologies, civil society, state power, economic development, political process, and democratization in China as demonstrated in Hong Kong's Anti-Extradition Law Protests.
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Introduction -

China is an emerging power with 1.35 billion people that are composed of over 50 different ethnicities (including the largest Han ethnic group, Hui, Manchu, Miao, Korean, Mongol etc.) (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2013). Many political leaders around the world have acknowledged the rise of China in recent decades (Graham-Harrison, 2007; Shambaugh, 2013). China’s rapid rise in the world politics has created widespread geo-political schisms in South China Sea (Center for Preventive Action, 2019) and other parts of the world. Former U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, had argued that China’s rise in politics and economics is irreversible, and advocated close collaborations between two superpowers to avoid potential conflicts and wars (Graham-Harrison, 2007).

Economic indices have undoubtedly already confirmed China’s status as a global economic powerhouse after its GDP of $5.87 trillion surpassed Japan as the second-largest economy (Jacquez, 2012; Shambaugh, 2013). China’s economic growth is expected to slow down between 2014 and 2019 to 6.8% (IBIS World, 2014) and recently published GDP figure in the 2nd Quarter of 2019 has shown its economic growth was hit hard by the trade war to slow down to 6.2% (He, 2019), the lowest figure in the past 27 years. Nevertheless, China remains to be one of the most robust economies in the world (Yao, 2014), given that the Chinese government still has a lot of incentive measures to promote its domestic growth, despite the current trade war with the U.S. (Chan, Kwan, & Thomsen, 2019). With its growing political and economic prominence (Graham-Harrison, 2007), China has been cultivating its soft power to expand its influence in international politics through its Confucius Institute and mass media out-reach as far as Africa (Lee & Melissen, 2011; Li, 2009; Shambaugh, 2013).

Nevertheless, increasing social unrest and rights defense movement have occurred across China (Biao, 2012; The Economist, 2012). These protests have grown more organized, according to a report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) (The Economist, 2012). It is estimated in a report by J.P. Morgan and Chase that trade war continues with the U.S. will cost China 700,000 or more jobs (Bloomberg News, 2018). The worst case scenario means China will lose 5.5 million jobs and 1.3% of its GDP growth (Bloomberg News, 2018). The sudden rise of unemployment rate will cost the ruling Chinese Communist Party (henceforth CCP) regime its legitimacy (Richards, 2018). Losing “the Mandate of Heaven” can cause the CCP regime to collapse rapidly when social unrests occur and spread rapidly across China (Richards, 2018)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Weibo (Microblog): The Chinese micro-blog and social networking website, equivalent to Twitter that is banned in China. Weibo , meaning microblog in Chinese, is a Chinese version of Twitter . Weibo services in China include Well-known Weibo companies include Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo to offer retweeting, social sharing, and many social media functions.

Chinese Jasmine Revolution: The civil society movement is also known as The 2011 Chinese Pro-democracy Protests . Chinese Jasmine Revolution was a social movement organized and mobilized through China’s popular social media, Weibo , to launch protests simultaneously in 13 major cities in China on the date of February 20, 2011. Despite national and international attention, the Chinese Jasmine Revolution did not lead to wide-spread protests in China. After the mass incident, a large number of dissidents had been arrested and detained by the Chinese Communist Party government.

Facial Recognition Technology: This term refers to a set of technology capable of identifying or verifying a person on the basis of his/her digital image or video. The technology has been advanced to recognize a person’s posture to accurately identify an individual. The technology has been widely used by China for surveillance purposes of its citizens.

Social Credit System: A surveillance system that was implemented in China to standardize each citizen’s social and economic reputation. A system that imitates the credit rating system in the advanced countries such as the U.S., each individual will be assigned a point on the basis of his/her past social, economic, and political behaviors. Individuals with lower ratings will be penalized for travel ban, difficulty in obtaining loan or mortgage, ostracism in society, etc.

Public Sphere: Habermas (1962 AU86: The in-text citation "Habermas (1962" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. , 1984) defined the concept of public sphere as “a realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed” (p. 49). Habermas’s (1962 AU87: The in-text citation "Habermas’s (1962" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. , 1984) conceptualization of public sphere stresses the important of access to all citizens to enable them to transform from private individuals into a public body.

Civil Society: The term, civil society, refers to a variety of not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations that enable the expression of the interests and values of the public as well as their members for cultural, ethical, political, philanthropic, scientific, and religious considerations.

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