The Effects of the Internet on Collective Democratic Action in China

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Focusing on the effects of the Internet on collective democratic action in China, this research seeks to understand the ways in which the Internet may promote civic participation and the public sphere in China. It is concerned with the rich experiences and enduring human spirits of Chinese citizens trying to facilitate social change.

The research attempts to contribute to both constructing a theoretical framework for studying powers in collective democratic action in digital China, and exploring ways of conducting an indepth empirical examination of Chinese Internet culture. To do so, an event-triggered framework is proposed, focusing on a public sphere ‘in formation’ in China. A public sphere ‘in formation’ is examined in the context of the long-term social transformation in China where this formation may always be invoked and refused at the same time. The study of this formation focuses on the mechanisms of social mobilisation of events, highlighting the interplay between powers of politics, the market, technology, and civil society in China. A case study of the 2013 Southern Weekly Incident is adopted to explore this framework.

In the investigation of the 2013 Southern Weekly Incident, I conducted 45 in-depth interviews. I examine the ways in which the Internet benefited journalists and citizens' information acquisition and communication, as well as the ways in which journalists and citizens adopted the Internet to facilitate online contention. I examine the radicalisation of action on the street in this case in order to understand who, in the sensitive protesting environment in China, is still mobilised to protest, and why. For both online and offline action, I analyse the mechanisms of embodiment and emotions, a framework of connective action, and the form of online and offline action being seemingly segmented in the Southern Weekly Incident. My investigation of the negotiation taking place within media organisations and people’s self-restriction during the incident further accelerates discussion of the interplay and conflicts between powers in Chinese society. Through this case study, the public sphere ‘in formation’ in China is examined.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorTim Jordan (Supervisor) & Paolo Gerbaudo (Supervisor)

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