Civil society and Internet revolutions in China
This dissertation is an examination of the evolving interplay between the Internet and civil society in China. Deeply rooted in Western social thoughts, the idea of civil society, as a fluid concept, has been adapted to different cultural, political and economic conditions throughout the trajectory of its historical evolution. Triggered by the resurgence of the idea of civil society in the West in the late 1980s, China scholars have applied the notion of civil society to understand the interactions between the state and society in the Chinese context. There is a general consensus that economic openness and prosperity in China's reform era have weakened the state's dominance over society and have created a favorable condition for the nurturing of Chinese civil society.
The explosive growth of the Internet in China in the past decade has opened up a new milieu for the growth of civil society. The enthusiastic embrace of the Internet by the Chinese state has been a two-step process: while the government has afforded the development of the Internet and other new information technologies a central place in its national economic strategies, it has also implemented a regulative mechanism to keep politically incendiary and socially offensive content out of Chinese cyberspace.
Yet the Internet, invented as a technology to defy central control, has fundamentally transformed every aspect of Chinese society. Findings in this research have demonstrated that the Internet has emerged as a brand-new social space and has become an emancipatory and empowering tool for Chinese civil society. First, the Internet has created a totally new information environment in which monopoly of communication by the state is no longer possible. Second, the Internet has provided a public platform on which social and political issues are debated and through which official responsiveness and accountability can be extracted. Third, the Internet has made it possible for a growing body of autonomous individuals to shape public discourse and for various social groups to engage in collective action. Finally, the Internet has transformed the role of conventional media and has made them more responsive to market forces.