Overlapping Cities— Writing
Overlapping Cities is a writing piece.
"Netizens", what an interesting word. We coined this word from the word “citizen". Since ancient Greece began to have towns with scale and planning, the concept of citizens has emerged. For the Internet, when a certain scale of the Internet with plans and standards is established and popularized, we have derived the concept of netizens. Although netizens and citizens have completely different existing characteristics and powers in terms of natural physical properties and legal protection. But in most cases today, the boundaries of what they can do almost overlap. Many things you can accomplish with your citizenship in real life, in the Internet society, you can also accomplish with your identity as a netizen.
Today's Internet is a huge digital city in a virtual world. Users, nodes, terminals, and data transmission are just like citizens, apartments, transportation hubs, and vehicles in cities. Imagine that we actually live in a dual city where virtual and reality overlap. What we see are cars passing through the city. What we don't see is the data that is being transmitted at 5G speed faster than the car. Everyone has a dual identity in this overlapping city. One is recorded on your driver’s license, and one is stored on your phone. Then everything that happens in a real city can happen in a virtual city in completely different ways and media, whether it is conflicts, transactions, protests, rallies, black markets or even wars.
This is no longer an alarmist story. We are experiencing and witnessing many overlapping events. For example, the Facebook scandal in the U.S. election in 2020, the Hong Kong protest in 2019, and the BLM in 2020. While these events are realizing fermentation in life, they are also happening on the Internet platform with amazing power. In many cases, the direction of events in the Internet world directly determines or guides the direction of real events. Digital Activism has quietly entered each of us’s Internet life without paying attention, and is even inciting or educating our perceptions and opinions.
And as a participant in this overlapping world, I also participated directly or indirectly in these events. At the same time, as a netizen from China, I want to share some of my views on the Digital Activism of the Chinese Internet.
中国特色 Chinese Characteristics
Today China has the largest group of Internet users in the world. Data from Google and Statista show that by 2020, 70.6% of China's population is using the Internet, which is close to 1 billion users. Take Wechat, the most popular social software in China, for example. This social software developed by Tencent has 1.2 billion daily active users in China. This is an astronomical number for many Internet companies. However, what is interesting is that even if China sits on the largest group of Internet users, in fact, China does not enjoy the same Internet as the world.
I remember the first time I explained China’s network regulation and surveillance to friends in other countries, many people could not believe the fact that we are not enjoying the same Internet. Since the 1980s, China’s process of gradually establishing a network monitoring system and the development of the Internet have basically proceeded at the same speed in two opposite directions. In other words, the more open the Internet in a broad sense, the stricter China's monitoring and control will be.
This has made it very difficult for many Internet companies and their products to localize in the Chinese market. This does not only require these domineering companies to adjust their content and censorship strategies to meet Chinese standards. And they need to understand the usage habits and cultural background of Chinese users. At the same time, it is necessary to understand China's humanity and sophistication and establish favorable "friendships" with the government and officials. Or, you can try to use the rules reasonably to survive in the shadow of unconcerned rules. Regardless of the situation, many Internet companies will be dissuaded by the Chinese market after a period of time. Or the products of many companies have been blocked by the Chinese government.
As I was writing this paper, I saw a piece of news: Linkedin will shut down its services in China and withdraw from the Chinese market. Linkedin has a large number of supporters and users in other Asian markets except China. Imagine that Linkedin, a software that is so vital to users in other markets, cannot survive in China.
Of course, on the other hand, the one-size-fits-all policy of the Chinese government has also brought spring to the development of China's Internet industry since 2000. After excluding many competitors, Chinese Internet companies can grow more freely and even brutally. This has also created many Internet giants in China today, such as Tencent, Alibaba, ByteDance, Baidu, Sina. What's interesting is that today, these Chinese Internet giants are also changing the global Internet ecosystem while sharing China's Internet dividends. For example, mobile payments and digital wallets that reshape people's daily lives, Tik-Tok that changes traditional content creation and sharing methods, and the emerging Chinese Internet software and hardware, etc.
As you know, there is no Twitter, Discord, Instagram, Netflix, Youtube. But we have Weibo, Wechat, Xiaohongshu, Iqiyi, Bilibili. Here we do not say Google something, we will say Baidu something. Chinese local Internet companies have developed products that are suitable for China's Internet environment and policies. These products have many similarities and differences with prohibited products. They are basically similar in terms of product functions, but have made more localized adjustments in their usage habits. More importantly, their content is subject to strict scrutiny. In other words, these apps and services are products of "Chinese characteristics".
Therefore, I think the growth soil of digital activism is different in China. Although the behavioral characteristics of digital activism in China are basically similar, digital activism events in this environment often have strong "Chinese characteristics." In my opinion, this kind of "Chinese characteristics" is mainly reflected in three aspects:
Firstly, I mentioned the special isolation between China's Internet society and the broad global Internet. This physical fragmentation causes differences in the behavioral characteristics and vocal costs of Chinese netizens. Since there is no freedom of speech in a broad sense in China, China's digital activism has many different and interesting ways of generation and spreading in the game with government supervision.
Secondly, due to the cultural barriers between Chinese culture and Western culture, many obscure facts may only be understood by Chinese or people who have lived in China for a long time. Chinese traditional Confucianism has caused Chinese netizens to tend to three extremes:
1. Some people tend to have a "moderate" attitude that is completely silent and form a kind of extreme conservatism.
2. Some people have formed a "harmonious society" attitude that blindly favors official statements regardless of objective facts during long-term propaganda and education.
3. Another group of people is emotional activism that is extremely easy to be incited.
Thirdly, under the influence of many historical factors, it is difficult for objective opinions to survive in Chinese Internet public opinion when dealing with many politically sensitive issues. Because these problems are not problems for some people, but for all Chinese people. For example, territorial issues, historical issues, China's external image issues, overseas Chinese received racial discrimination, and so on. In dealing with these issues, netizens with the three extreme attitudes in the second aspect often reach a temporary, unprecedented unity.
Below I will list a few examples or phenomena of Digital Activism that occurred in China.
Disappearing Weibo Hot Search
Weibo is a blogging software similar to Twitter developed by Sina. As a digital media for the masses, blogs give everyone an equal right to speak on the Internet and create a network space where free public debates can take place. Although this universal power seems to mean that the authenticity of speech content cannot be guaranteed. But this does not prevent Weibo from becoming the main battlefield for many local Digital Activism activities in China, and it is always gestating a new radical social revolution in the Internet.
“热搜 Hot search" is an important section in this software. The most popular topics and tags in Weibo will become the content in the Weibo hot search list and the ranking will be updated in real time according to the popularity. When a topic is overactive, it will attract the attention of the authorities. If the authorities believe that the activity of this topic will cause some social instability. Then the authorities will order Sina and Weibo to let the topic, the publishing account and all its content quietly disappear. Even search keywords will be automatically filtered or blocked by the system.
According to incomplete private statistics, from 2021 alone, about 2,600 hot topics and tens of millions of related content have disappeared on Weibo. And what caused widespread public concern was the deletion of a large number of feminist content starting in April this year. A large number of accounts of feminists, gender egalitarians and LGBTQ groups were closed by Weibo. However, it is not only that the content itself has a certain inflammatory nature that really leads the government to delete these contents. Rather, the huge range of discussions and even insults and personal attacks triggered by these contents are considered to be insecure for the authorities.
The activities of feminists and anti-sexist groups in China have been strictly controlled by the government and mainstream media. The government is extremely vigilant against the remarks of any new individuals or groups. But as international feminist ideas have slowly entered the mainstream. Many women are inspired by the budding of the #MeToo movement in China. However, for a long time, women's social status and channels of occurrence in China have been very limited. Weibo has played a major role in women finding like-minded communities on the Internet. It is precisely because of Weibo that women can share their views on domestic violence, the difficulties of divorce, and gender discrimination in the workplace. But women’s expression of feminist views on social media has been violently attacked by hate speech. Such uncontrollable discussions, personal attacks and even death threats are regarded by the Chinese government as factors affecting social stability and disharmony.
And even if the content is deleted, these discussions are still going on in secret underground. In order to avoid blocking and surveillance, the deleted content is secretly spread through interesting forms such as screenshots, videos, audios, and even blurred, marked or rotated pictures.
The reason I cited this example is that I have been thinking that the numerous activities and discussions launched by many feminists on the Internet are a Digital Activism activity. The discussion and insults triggered by its content have become another activism movement. And the government blockade triggered by this explosive discussion has again become an activity of Digital Activism in Internet discussions.
This may be a kind of "Chinese characteristics": Some things have disappeared from people's sight, but you still need to fight constantly to defeat yourself. Because you can never defeat Big Brother ("Big Brother" refers to the government in China). In China, where only "relative freedom of speech" exists, this cycle seems to be endless. For social activists of any point of view, "never give up" may be the most important thing for them in China.
The Bottom Line of a Nation
Another example of Digital Activism that I want to raise is a type of problem activity. Under this type of problem, there are many small events covered. This kind of problem is: 辱华 (RuaHua)Insulting China. The most representative of many events in recent years is the case of fashion brand D&G insulting China in 2018.
Italian luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana plans to hold "The Great Show" in Shanghai. The night before the big show, D&G released a promotional video. In this video, an Asian model eats Italian pizza and pasta with chopsticks. The action in the video is provocative, the tone is arrogant, and it is full of deliberate vilification and discrimination against Chinese traditional culture and the Chinese people.
And when someone from the media questioned the video to the founder of the brand on Instagram. The founder of the brand even made insults to China directly on the Internet. So far, the incident has formed explosive spreading and comments on the Internet. Seeing that the incident continued to ferment, the founder of D&G claimed in Chinese on the Internet that his account was hacked and used "Not Me" to deny that he is not the person who actually made the speech.
As a Chinese, I can say this without any qualms: In China, no matter from the government or the national level, there are no open racial issues. Chinese people have always appeared as a whole concept, no matter what nation you are and what land in China you live in. Regardless of your skin color, customs, culture. There is only one concept here, and that is that you are a Chinese. After living abroad and studying for many years, I even had doubts at certain moments. Is this strong patriotism pathological, or is it the result of long-term education and propaganda? But no matter how I question myself, or how I question the behavior of the government of my country. But apart from the single event itself, I still love my motherland deeply. I can't explain, maybe this is the nationality of a human being.
The term “一致对外 unanimous externally" is a term that has appeared in different periods of China's history. The unity of the Chinese people is also reflected here. At many moments in history, the Chinese will put aside their prejudices and form a unified team against external forces.
In my opinion, the consistent attitude towards this type of issue is not a kind of radicalism, but when the whole world Chinese groups united to express their opinions on the Internet, this group behavior did trigger a large-scale Internet commotion. Also in line with the characteristics of digital activism.
On the other hand, imagine that if we remove the Chinese elements in this incident, from the perspective of racial discrimination, the brand’s remarks and behaviors will not be tolerated. As a public figure, publicly making racially discriminatory remarks has violated the bottom line of human civilization. What's more, if these bad behaviors are directed at a certain ethnic group, then radicalization is inevitable. Because in my opinion, under no circumstances should we touch the bottom line of a nation or a race.