Over the last few years, The Great Leap, has become a popular metaphor to describe the fast-paced modernization process in China. However, in spite of the turbulent economic growth some domains of Chinese society have changed very little during the past two decades. Many Chinese have seen their private freedoms increase significantly. But, critics would argue that the official policies of 'opening up' have neither changed the political system of the state control of public media. Others claim that new social spaces have emerged for citizens to voice their opinion and take action. The use of bottom-up media such as web, e-mail and sms have enabled people to self-organize creating a new form of middle landscape, somewhere between the official media landscape, and the private sphere. Minor reform rather than total revolution marks the cautious pace of such development.
Nowhere has this middle landscape become more clear than in the new forms of media culture that have also exploded in China over the last few years. Weblogs, bulletin boards, peer-to-peer distribution and chat rooms have made the traditional sharp division between public and private lives less problematic. While most of the over 100 million Chinese citizens currently online are using electronic networked media for mere entertainment, many employ a number of tactics to find or distribute information outside the official media system. In this middle landscape, or third places, new ways of constructing identities are emerging. And while the line between political public sphere and commercial arena for entertainment is also becoming blurry, new landscapes for discussion are opened up. Is this the beginning of a true civil society in China, emerging from theses new middle grounds?
With presentations by:
Guobin Yang: social academic researcher Columbia University, New York, has written extensively about the Chinese internet as being a middle landscape which is neither a purely political arena, nor simply a commercial space of entertainment. He illustrates the role of the state and of business in the development of a civic public sphere, a zone where both have an ambiguous role.
Karsten Glese: cultural theorist and sinologist, Institute for the Asian Studies, Hamburg, heads the 'Chinese Urban Identities in the Internet Age' research program. His works identifies the internet as a third place, which exists on neutral ground creating conditions of social equality. Such emergent interstitial spaces could play an important role in the new emerging processes of identity formation of (especially) young urban Chinese.
Zhang Ga: media artist and curator, New York Institute of Technology and Research Fellow, Tsinghua University, Beijing, is active internationally with his own networked art projects and has written on new media and art criticism while being active in organizing exhibitions, conferences and digital salons in China. As one of the leading proponents of linking art and technology as a cultural practice in China, Zhang Ga works to identify the emergent Chinese artistic and cultural media landscape.
Isaac Mao: activist blogger and software architect, Shanghai, is co-founder of the Social Brain Foundation. He is one of China's first and most prolific media activist using blogs as grassroots voice-enabling technology and emergent democracy tool. He divides his time between research, leading the Creative Commons China team and running China based software technology businesses. His website www.isaacmao.com is now blocked in China.
Moderator: Stephen Kovats, media researcher, V2_Institute.
Respondent: Martijn de Waal, journalist and media theorist, Amsterdam.