(Un)civil Society in Digital China| Withering Gongzhi: Cyber Criticism of Chinese Public Intellectuals

Rongbin Han


This article explores why the term public intellectual has turned into a disgraceful label in Chinese cyberspace. By examining how netizens have constructed the negative perception of public intellectuals, it shows that the Internet has not only empowered regime critics but also promoted the pluralization of expression by bringing different values, beliefs, and identities into contact with unprecedented frequency and intensity. The denigration of public intellectuals illustrates the contest between digitally expressed civility and incivility, which has yet to be sufficiently discussed. Findings in this study also suggest that authoritarian resilience depends on the regime’s adaptability and the dynamics between its supporters and challengers.


cyber politics, public intellectuals, discourse competition, China, authoritarian resilience

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