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The Internet in China: Rumour and memes


Ross, K, The Internet in China: Rumour and memes, Australia Asia Pacific Research Network Research Seminar, 30 September, 2011, Henry Jones Art Hotel, Hobart, pp. KR. (2011) [Conference Extract]


The internet in China is a heterogeneous space despite being subject to intensive government control through technological means such as specialist blocking and filtering software (the so-called ‘Great Firewall’), tracking and surveillance software, as well as real time monitoring. As is the case outside of China, the Internet offers a multitude of sources of information, marketing, publicity and propaganda, as well as space for debate and dissent. This wide diversity of engagement with the Internet and the strategies employed by Chinese ‘netizens’ (wangmin or online citizens, in Chinese) online is only now starting to be acknowledged in scholarly literature. (Yang, 2009; Tai, 2006; Shirk, 2011). In 2011, the impact of rumour in cyberspace has come to the fore. In March, iodised salt sold out in shops across China as the fear of nuclear radiation led people to panic buy anything they thought would protect them. Throughout February and March, an anonymous attempt by Chinese netizens (probably based overseas) to extend the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution and subsequent ‘Arab Spring’ to China through calls on the Internet to ‘stroll’ around key city intersections on Sunday afternoons resulted in a tightening of loopholes on the Internet in China such as the closure of some Virtual Private Networks (VPN), and the slowing of Gmail. Despite fizzling out after a few weeks, the Chinese ‘Jasmine revolution’ led to a serious wave of disappearances, detentions, and arrests of those accused of spreading rumours and fostering dissent especially online. The word ‘Jasmine’ was blocked on the Internet, inadvertently causing financial distress for growers and sellers of Jasmine tea. In July, the Chinese government’s clumsy media effort to deal with the fatal high-speed train crash in Wenzhou was extensively commented upon in both the print media as well as via the newer social media. Censorship regulations were quickly imposed on the print media but social media especially Twitter-like microblogs (weibo in Chinese) continue to share images of the train carriages being smashed and buried within hours of the crash thus fuelling netizen anger about a government cover-up. By August the Chinese government has responded by publicising harsh penalties for anyone accused of rumour spreading on the Internet and also by highlighting reports of visits by top government officials to the office of the key weibo company, Sina, in which the importance of keeping the blogosphere free from rumour was prominently featured. The clear message is that rumour needs to be taken seriously. This paper brings subaltern studies theories of the rumour to an analysis of the operation of rumour and memes on the Chinese Internet.

Item Details

Item Type:Conference Extract
Research Division:Language, Communication and Culture
Research Group:Cultural studies
Research Field:Asian cultural studies
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in language, communication and culture
UTAS Author:Ross, K (Dr Kaz Ross)
ID Code:79104
Year Published:2011
Deposited By:Asian Languages and Studies
Deposited On:2012-08-17
Last Modified:2012-08-17

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