China’s Responsiveness to Internet Opinion: A Double-Edged Sword

Jonathan Hassid


Despite its authoritarian bent, the Chinese government quickly and actively moves to respond to public pressure over misdeeds revealed and discussed on the internet. Netizens have reacted with dismay to news about natural and man-made disasters, official corruption, abuse of the legal system and other prominent issues. Yet in spite of the sensitivity of such topics and the persistence of China’s censorship apparatus, Beijing usually acts to quickly address these problems rather than sweeping them under the rug. This paper discusses the implications of China’s responsiveness to online opinion. While the advantages of a responsive government are clear, there are also potential dangers lurking in Beijing’s quickness to be swayed by online mass opinion. First, online opinion makers are demographically skewed toward the relative “winners” in China’s economic reforms, a process that creates short-term stability but potentially ensures that in the long run the concerns of less fortunate citizens are ignored. And, second, the increasing power of internet commentary risks warping the slow, fitful – but genuine – progress that China has made in recent years toward reforming its political and legal systems.

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