Hail the Independent Thinker: The Emergence of Public Debate Culture on the Chinese Internet

Angela Xiao Wu


Investigating the Internet’s political consequences in China, current scholarship focuses predominantly on some individuals’ ready contention against state apparatuses and unjustifiably ignores how Internet use may bring about cultural changes with political implications among a larger population. This study examines the emerging Chinese online debate culture from early 2006 to mid–2011. Taking the sociology of knowledge approach to discourse, it is based on online ethnography and discourse analysis. It presents a trajectory of the “independent thinking”–centered normative discourses on debate in Chinese cyberspace and how varied social actors interacted with these discourses. The findings suggest that the indigenous public debate culture that has arisen from Internet communication in China entailed certain behavioral and attitudinal changes supportive of democratic governing.

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