Cyberactivism in China

Technology and community

Despite state censorship and commercial manipulation, the growth of social media in China has expanded the boundaries of public debates and participation, and in some ways has reconfigured the relationship between the state and its citizens. Yingqin Zheng is conducting research to understand how Chinese Web 2.0 technologies, such as the Twitter-like platform Weibo, are affecting the development of civil society. One area of Yingqin’s research is concerned with emerging ICT-enabled practices and collective actions which could be of significance to the emergence of cyberactivism in China. One of her studies examines the role of social media in citizen participation in public affairs, which ranges from expanding information channels, voicing public concerns, to exposing social injustice and holding authority accountable. Underlined by a Deleuzian approach of “rhyzomatic becoming”, Yingqin proposes a conceptualisation of “collective agency” to understand the heterogeneity and complexity of civil activism in China mediated by Web 2.0 technologies. Another project, conducted in collaboration with Dr. Ai Yu from the University of Bedfordshire, is a case study of the online campaign for Free Lunch for Children (FL4C) which has established school kitchens in over two hundred rural schools. The campaign in an example of a new form of organizing in China: a charitable campaign based on social media. FL4C is one of the earliest and most successful Web 2.0 campaigns and was launched with few resources and little government support. Started in April 2011 by a group of journalists, FL4C has raised more than £5.7 million in 2 years, and supports over 30,000 pupils. The organization utilizes Weibo and other social media to launch and promote the campaign, interact with donors and the public, recruit and co-ordinate volunteers across China, and to take in donations using e-commerce transaction applications. The project works to enhance transparency by constantly updating financial information and even requires sponsored schools to self-report itemised daily expenditure on school lunches through the Weibo platform as part of the monitoring process. These practices enabled FL4C to quickly establish trust and legitimacy with the public, enrolling a wide range of alliances and offer support both online and offline. FL4C mobilized significant public participation and resources within a short period of time. “New social media practices contribute to the bottom-up, distributed, and fluid processes of organizing citizens,” says Yingqin. “Through bricolage – the creative assembly of resources to hand – non-state actors can mobilize support more quickly than they would otherwise be able to."