Communication and Class Divide in China, Vol. 19 - 2012, No. 2
This introduction aims to accomplish two tasks. It first addresses the most important recent development in Chinese political communication by analysing the domestic and transnational dimensions of a multifaceted and high-stake communication war over the unfolding political drama centring on the explosive downfall of CCP Politburo member Bo Xilai and the crackdown on his “Chongqing Model” of development. It then uses this analysis as a backdrop to contextualise and introduce some of the main insights of the articles in this special issue on the one hand, and mobilises these insights to shed new light on the communication politics surrounding the Bo saga on the other. Communication, social consciousness, and class conflict over the future directions of China’s transformation during the current turbulent period of globalised informational capitalism lies at the centre of this article and the entire special issue.
This paper illustrates the process of class formation depicted in and through the popular 2009 television drama series Dwelling Narrowness against the backdrop of spectacular accumulation in neo-liberalising urban China. The article points out the lines of tension and affinity that are emerging out of the processes of class formation inside China’s “society of spectacle”: the divide between the aspiring middle class and the working class, and the alliance between the urban middle class, the ruling political class, as well as the domestic and transnational capitalist classes. On the one hand, one witnesses a reified class interestsbased hegemonic unity of party-state power holders, domestic private capitalists and transnational capitalists, and the emerging middle class. On the other hand, profound economic divisions and social injustices continue to arouse resistance amongst the working class, which are largely mediated by the Chinese state’s socialist ideological legacies.
This article explores the impetus, processes, as well as discursive dispositions through which members of the Chinese middle class mounted a challenge against the state-owned railway system and the entire Chinese political structure in the blogsphere in the aftermath of a devastating train accident on July 23, 2011. The analysis underscored the pivotal “organic intellectual” role of journalists, lawyers, and public intellectuals in helping to construct the “class consciousness” and subjectivity of an anxious, ambivalent and insecure networked middle class in China’s rapidly polarising social formation. However, not only this “stand out” collective action of the Chinese middle class was the result of many contingencies but also the apparent uniformity of their speech acts concealed deep fissures. Moreover, the naïve liberalism and anti-statist sloganeering that underpins the dominant micro-blog discourse eventually displaced and blocked any possibility for discussing and advancing the concrete processes of reforming China’s state-owned system and democratising Chinese politics.
China’s state-controlled and commercialised media and Internet ecology has inherent limitations in representing the interests of workers as industrial citizens. Drawing upon Western scholars’ theoretical critiques of “the public sphere” and historical literature on workers’ struggle for autonomous communication in post-revolutionary China, this paper uses an extended case study to establish a two-pronged analysis that demonstrates the progressively exclusionary and pro-capitalist nature of China’s existing public sphere on the one hand and workers’ appropriation of available technological means for autonomous communicative practice on the other. It points to the potential constitution of Chinese labour as counter-publics in China’s deeply divided class society.
Subalternity with Chinese Characteristics: Rural Migrants, Cultural Activism, and Digital Video Filmmaking
Like the indigenous media activists elsewhere, rural migrant individuals in China are now using digital DV camera to produce work to document the lives and work of rural migrants in the Chinese city. In doing so, rural migrant filmmakers provide perspectives which may be alternative to, and critical of, dominant culture. So what kind of political and cultural socialisation is necessary in turning a rural migrant into a cultural activist? What kind of activist imaginary has emerged from this kind of cultural activism? What is the role of NGOs and cultural elites in the development of this cultural phenomenon, and, finally, what challenges and possibility lie ahead for this development? This paper seeks to address these broad questions through two extended case studies of activist initiatives: a rural migrant’s journey of becoming an activist filmmaker, and the aspiration and frustrations of a domestic worker film project.
This paper examines the increasingly important communication politics between the media and intellectual fields in China’s brave new media world. It starts by outlining key factors that have shaped the evolving post-1989 politics of intellectual publicity in China. It then describes a deep “liberal versus new left” division within the Chinese intellectual field and the ascending power of the Nanfang Weekend and liberal intellectual alliance within China’s CCP-controlled media system. In a subsequent case study, I analyse how the destructive logics of media sensationalism, academic corruption, ideological polarisation, and “liberal media instrumentalism” have intersected to spectacularise intellectual in-fights and distract both the media and the academy from engaging the public around the urgent political economic and social issues of the day.