Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Three Faces/Phases of Chinese Civil Society

Yesterday I attended a lecture at Hong Kong Baptist University. The speaker was Professor Shi anbin from the School of Journalism and Communciation of Tsinghua University, which was my old school.

Here is a brief introduction about his lecture: 
In Chinese, the term "civil society" has been translated to "gongmin shehui" (i.e., citizen's society), "shimin society”(i.e., urban residents' society) and "minjiian shehui" (i.e. folks' society). These three "faces" or "phases" of "civil society" serve as the prism to help understand how the concept is reinvented and reconstructed in a totally different socio-political and cultural context. The present study aims to recontextualize "civil society" against the backdrop of the emergent "internet politics" in contemporary China. This research will also delineate the emergence of the Western-imported concept of "civil society" via the Internet in contemporary China, and analyze the implication of "internet politics" by way of reconstructing the interrelationship between the Party-state and the Chinese people.
This is not the first time I hear the idea of three phases of Chinese civil society. In fact, sholars in this field like Professor Wang Ming of Tsinghua University claimed that the main body of Chinese civil society was NGOs. Since 1980s, the development of NGOs in China can be divided into three decades, which led Chinses civil society go through three phases.

The new idea of this lecture is the notion of three faces of Chinese civil society. Faces here refer to mass media like BBS, blogs, microblogs that people use in three phases. Professor Shi mentioned that mass media functioned differently in each phase, according to the distinct civic needs of each stage. The evolvement of media function followed the way : self-protection --- social surveillance --- social reform. Although I may not agree with him on specific media functions, I approve his warrant that there is a interaction between civil society and media function. But how to specify the interaction needs to be further discussed.

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