A talk by Kate Zhou (University of Hawaii)
The Chinese information revolution is another example of Joseph Schumpeter's notion of capitalist economics as "creative destruction," in this case, leading to the crumbling of the party-state's control over society. This revolution has been so gradual that it is invisible to those in its midst. Rampant violation of intellectual property rights, subsequent growth of black markets for pirated books, videos, and other meda, the rise of consumer culture, the Internet, and the decline of party media have replaced the old order of party-state monopoly control over information. In its place have arisen pluralist media that sometimes act as the party's mouthpiece, but more often behave as competing commercial entertainment enterprises. Thus, the main function of the media has been transformed from party-state propaganda organ or mobilization of the "masses" to the dual function of state propaganda tool combined with often independently chosen forms of popular entertainment, an eclectic repertoire of cultural choices to attract audiences. Above all, profit-seeking has become the primary focus of the Chinese media.
The foundation for this transformation has been the merging of China's historical experience of despotism with a renewed pursuit of freedom of expression. Illegal production of information-related products, development of black markets, the commercialization and limited liberalization of state media, and the powerful impact of global media have provided the Chinese with a multiplicity of information sources as well as an explosion of entertainment genres. The result has been the formation of two media worlds that the government is neither able to censor, nor even to regulate effectively. On the one hand, most of China has made significant gains in the availability of information even as the government has committed increasing resources to stopping these gains. On the other hand, the party-state is engaged in its own struggle to exercise the remnants of whatever control it can muster. The stakes are high: the regime's struggle to maintain its voice in the media is the struggle for its very survival.
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Kate Xiao Zhou was born in Wuhan, China. She received her B.A. in English from Wuhan University, a Masters in Sociology from Texas A & M University, and a Masters and Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University. She is currently an associate professor of Comparative Politics and Political Economy of East Asia in the Department of Political Science at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. Her main research interests include the dynamics of transition from central planning to markets, Chinese economic and civil society development, Chinese business, globalization in East Asia, and comparative studies of entrepreneurship among women. She is the author of How the Farmers Changed China: Power of the People (Westveiw, 1996). This talk is drawn from a chapter of her forthcoming book, China's Long March to Freedom: Grassroots Liberalization Movements. In 2002, Kate Zhou founded the Education Advancement Fund International (EAFI) assisting rural Chinese minority women and children through education, scholarship, and entrepreneurship (www.yifei.org). In 2006, EAFI was the first-place winner in the Social Entrepreneurship category of the Templeton Freedom Prize for Excellence in Promoting Liberty.
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