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Impact of the Internet and Technology


Traditional media censorship notwithstanding, it is really in the field of new media and on the Internet that the biggest battle between censorship and free expression is currently being waged. In 2008, China surpassed the United States as the biggest Internet market in the world with 253 million users and growing[1] (although most Chinese use Internet cafés with a growing number owning personal computers) and at least 540 million mobile phone users.[2] As of mid-2008, there are also around 107 million Chinese bloggers.[3] Chinese writer Yang Hengjun divides people in China into two camps: “Internet users and non-internet users”, with each group having very different perspectives on current events.[4] The Internet has become the most contested terrain for the hearts and minds of the Chinese people.

While a number of misperceptions abound about the Chinese Internet, (for example, the notion that the majority of Chinese Internet users are a monolithic whole brainwashed by their government, or that Chinese authorities are just waiting to pounce on anyone who would inappropriately use the Internet), the Chinese Internet is actually one big contradiction, at once heavily monitored and censored, and yet empowering and liberating at the same time,[5] according to Rebecca MacKinnon, former CNN Beijing Bureau Chief, and current Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Hong Kong, who has had experience with both traditional and new media in China. She provides an excellent current snapshot of the boundaries of free speech online in China in her blog post Index on Censorship: China Issue.

1 Tangos, blog post in “Over 100 Million Bloggers in China,” The China Web2.0 Reivew Blog, January 24, 2008, http://www.cwrblog.net/1089/cnnic-over-100-million-bloggers-in-china.html (accessed 7/25/08).

2 Usborne, “China: In Numbers.”

3 Tangos, “Over 100 Million Bloggers in China.”

4 Rebecca MacKinnon, blog post on “Index on Censorship: China Issue,” RConversation Blog, June 10, 2008, http://rconversation.blogs.com/rconversation/2008/06/index-on-censor.html (accessed 6/30/08).

5 MacKinnon, “Index on Censorship.”