In a country such as China, which is excessively wary of foreign media; the entry of Google as one of the primary search engines for scouring local news; was always looked at with suspicious eyes by the Chinese government. It was therefore no surprise that Google pulled out its Chinese operations. Now, though Google is back on track with its search operations in China, one cannot ignore the fact that the Chinese government also looked at other popular social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube in the same light, persuading others to believe that even these sites would be having a short tenure in the Chinese virtual turf. Eventually they were also given the official marching orders.
However, there is a sharp contradiction in the internet media of China. While on one hand, the Chinese government is attempting to tighten the noose of censorship on the internet community of China, on the other hand there are a growing number of Chinese internet users, which exceeds 400 million, who are extremely proactive on the internet, thus helping the private sector dot com companies to rake in billions of dollars. The market capitalisation of the top 30 listed companies make US $100 in revenue, with three of them operating from China, namely Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu. Hence there is clear evidence that the internet is growing at a swift pace in China. On the contrary, the state is trying to suppress the internet. So what exactly explains this dichotomy?
In China, the new media of the internet is an emerging one, which is gradually changing the tastes and preferences of the Chinese people, rather the netizens of China. One of the core areas of internet is gaming, wherein several Chinese gamers are thronging the gaming portals for a piece of the action. Additionally, instant messaging is a rage in China. Bulletin boards and forum threads are now overtaking emails as a preferred communication medium between friends and like-minded people. Besides, countless Chinese net savvy people are using the net for staying abreast with the latest news roundup, watching movie trailers and listening to music previews, which sometimes is also leading to media piracy.
As mentioned, popular social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is officially banned in China. However, the ban has propelled certain clones of the sites, which are increasingly being used by the Chinese to carry out discourses such as campaigning or exchanging information. Then again, these local sites which substitute their famous counterparts, cannot offer the same cosmopolitan flavour or international reach that global networking sites offer.
The internet scenario in China is not very bright, according to a report from the New York Times by Gills Sabrie. The internet business in China needs to function in close accord with governmental authorities, which indirectly means that the political and business agendas would be mired. Secondly, these local online businesses cannot think about competing with the global brands because the scope is localised in nature. Moreover, the barrier that international websites encounter in China, allow the local websites to have monopolistic characteristics.
This subsequently leads to a lopsided price structure, which consumers eventually don’t gain from. Therefore, the ‘Great Firewall’ of China is actually hindering the growth of local websites, preventing small companies to survive in the web space for a long time. The strict monitoring by the Chinese government since 2007 has stagnated progress of World Wide Web in the country.
Thus, it can thus be concluded that there has been no drastic changes that new media has brought about in China, as compared to the other corners of the world. For instance, controversies such as the blown up Beijing Olympics 2008 television coverage or the Tibet riots have not been comprehensively covered in the Chinese websites, nor have they garnered much support from online communities to campaign against the events. This is a testimony to the firm control the government has over the internet media. Unfortunately, the government has stifled any scope that social media sites behemoths such as Twitter, YouTube or Facebook might have had to expose the despicable acts which ensue on Chinese soil. Hence all these events would be virtually curtailed by the Great Wall of China. A whitepaper which was published by the state stated ‘that the internet must serve the interests of both the economy and state’. This implies that the internet should always assist the government in furthering the welfare of the Chinese economy; if and when there is a tussle in the state and businesses, the state will always have the upper hand. The Chinese people have adapted to the censored version of the World Wide Web, which is reflected in the phenomenal growth in areas of internet businesses which are independent of such political ideologies. This also explains the contradiction which prevails in the Chinese internet space today.