Internet and Political Participation in China

Qin Guo

Abstract

Two decades ago, some scholars predicted that information technology would lead to political participatory democracy (Masuda 1985). Today this prediction remains largely as an ideal, even in technologically developed societies. However, this does not mean that technology has no role to play in participatory democracy. This article reported a case study on the role of internet in promoting political participation in China. It was observed that the rapid development of internet technology and application in China and the government’s enthusiasm for advocating political communication via internet shone a gleam on the country’s path towards political democracy, yet the democratising journey did not appear to be smooth at all. The study showed a constellation of issues crying for resolution, including enormous inter-regional and intra-regional digital divides, lack of interest in participation amongst the majority of internet users, and strict media regulation system. It was concluded that the ultimate functioning of internet as a political participation platform is determined not by the technology, but by human, including the authority and the citizenry, who use the technology and act as actors on the platform. Internet is no better than any other information technology, therefore should not be given undue weight regarding its impact on political participation. Finally the article suggested that for successful political democratisation, China must, on the one hand, lift further its control over the media system to allow more open and free political debates. On the other hand, there is a need for public media education to encourage and empower Chinese public to take part in political democracy.

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