Volunteers mobilized themselves to join rescue efforts following the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, an example of the way the internet is changing Chinese society. (Photo/Xinhua)
After the collapse of several dictatorial regimes in North Africa and the Middle East last year, the Communist Party government in China is taking the power of the internet all the more seriously after seeing the role that "cyber politics" played in the Arab Spring, according to Duowei News, an outlet operated by overseas Chinese.
An article in the People's Tribune, a magazine published under the auspices of the CCP mouthpiece People's Daily, on Aug. 6 said that the internet had changed the geopolitics of the Arab world since the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia sparked the wave of popular movements across the region. It is no longer necessary for young revolutionaries in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen to risk their own lives to form secret organizations when they can simply use the internet to call for rallies on the streets. Also citing the example of the Occupy movement which started in New York and spread to other parts of the developed world, the article said the internet has already become a powerful tool for ordinary members of the public to express their political views.
The political life of people in China today has also been changed by the trend, according to the article. The authoritarian leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is facing at least five major challenges brought about by the rise of the internet. First, members of the public are able to organize "individual media" with their own Weibo (microblogging) accounts even though television, newspapers and radio are still controlled by the government. Though Twitter is blocked in China, in the last two to three years 300 million internet users in the country have registered their own accounts with equivalent local social networking sites, taking a toll on the monopoly of state broadcasters and publications in controlling the flow of information.
Second, young internet users in China are able to organize their own activities without the direction of the authorities. Following the earthquake in Sichuan in 2008, volunteers from the entire country were organized and mobilized by internet users to join rescue operations without the help of the government. This occurred again after the Wenzhou train crash last year when volunteers organized blood donations when the government was still trying to hide the full truth of the incident. This can be considered an important rise in civil society, a transfer of power from the government to the people in an early stage.
The third challenge to the government is the rise of individualism, as every person who owns his or her own microblog can be considered a private journalist, in opposition to the socialist principle of collectivism. The focus of internet on cases of social injustice has led to a growing belief that the only way to create a better society for every individual in China is through political reforms. To defend the rights of the individual against those with power and privilege, many netizens feel they need a different political system. This is the fourth challenge faced by the Communist Party.
Finally, the article stated that a pluralistic society will emerge sooner or later in China among internet users with an informed and different perspective to the party's ideology and agenda. To maintain the rule of the Communist Party, the article suggested the country's leadership adapt itself to the change taking place in Chinese society instead of trying to suppress it. This is the only way for the party to win the public support to remain at the helm, it said.