New: Book Report: The Internet in China (Zixue Tai)

It's going to sound like I'm slamming this book, like it's bad. It's not bad. I just chose the wrong book, is all. The thing is: this is an academic work. [It might also sound like I'm obscurely referring to recent events. But, as usual, I had this book report sitting around in my queue for a while.]

This is an academic work about the effect of the internet upon civil society in China. By "academic work", I mean that... Well, for example this book's first chapter is a careful definition of "civil society". I guess. I mean, the book's intro warned me that's what the first chapter was going to be about, and that it would refer to Hegel. Hegel. Good grief. So I skipped the first chapter, since that was just going to be of interest to a few scholars.

Alas, the rest of the book is academic, too. It was tough to find useful bits amongst the hair-splitting arguments with others' work. Eventually, I stopped reading and started skimming.

There were nevertheless some worthwhile bits. This book taught me some things about China's administration of censorship. I assumed that the national censors had direct control over local news--but apparently, national censors control national news. Local news is under the control of local governments, which have their own censorship rules. So I thought that regional differences in censorship were mostly local corruption, but it turns out that some of those regional differences are legal.

This leads to an interesting pattern--local politicians worry about national news organizations. Just as a sherriff might help prop up a corrupt local government, in China a local news organization helps cover up illegal activities of local government. But just as the USA's feds might trump the sherriff, Chinese national reporters might expose local corruption since the local officials don't have power to stop them.

That was kind of neat. If it's true. I might have misinterpreted. Try wringing meaning out of a sentence like "Notwithstanding the Habermasian normative perspective of public opinion formation and its crtics, there has been a well-established line of research about the impact of public opinion on political governance (e.g., Heith, 2004; Manxa, Cook, and Page, 2002; Sharp 1999) and the theory and practice of accurately gauging public opinion (see Ferguson, 2000 for an overview) as well as the role of mass media in shaping public opinion (e.g., Perse, 2001)." Eventually figure out it's not saying anything about the book's topic, but is just anticipating debate about whether anyone can say anything about the topic... Oy veh.

There are probably a couple of dozen scholars who want to read this book. I eventually realized I wasn't one of them and stopped.

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Posted 2010-01-12