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China and the Internet: a fake participation?

Open Panel

Abstract

Information and communication technologies are encouraging participatory practices in China, creating a subaltern public sphere and fostering involvement and expression. A sort of communitas is growing around the nation and abroad, encouraged by mass participation in facing obstacles. In this paper I’ll analyze visual productions as meanings of social and cultural processes of reproduction and self representation, in creating and consuming shared imagines. I’d show the case of egao, online spoof videos spreading in China since few years, peculiar mainly as a global phenomenon with “Chinese characteristics”: huge in scale and participation, deep in its social and political inferences. What I find interesting are the fictional and discursive practices implied in videos productions and fruition. The research is primarily based on web sources (Chinese social networks and blogs), on field interviews to active egaoers and viewers, and on Chinese and Western media studies. Massive participation and claims for a different information challenging the status quo flow on the Internet, through images and twits, maybe masked with what Zizek calls “a fake participation”. Economic, technological and institutional structures are constantly being employed and then turned invisible by a discourse of new media liberation, and although egao are published (even if for a short time before being blocked) it doesn’t mean the communication is free, but that the central government is controlling its contents. Anyway, according to Stephanie Hemeryk Donald, «there is a strong argument to be made for crisis as a metaphor to understand China’s media environment in the first decade of the new millennium. “Disruptive” technologies such as the The Internet challenge the inflexibility of bureaucratic administration and allow information to be set free» (Stephanie Hemeryk Donald 2002: 201).