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Visiting Scholars Lecture: Chinese Internet Privacy and Online Public Space with Jinghong Xu and Yunze Zhao

April 17, 2013
12:00PM - 02:00PM

Annenberg School for Communication, Room 300
3620 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

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Categories: Seminar

Part 1: Internet Privacy in China: Historical and Cultural Background, Present Legal Framework and Future Improvement

Speaker: Jinghong Xu

A 12-article Decision on Strengthening Online Information Protection, which has the same legal effect as law, was adopted on December 28th 2012 by lawmakers at a session of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which is China’s top legislature. The main purpose of the Decision is to enhance the protection of personal information online and safeguard public interests. The Decision can be regarded as an important milestone in Chinese laws and regulations of protecting the Internet privacy.

The lecture, Internet Privacy in China: Historical and Cultural Background, Present Legal Framework and Future Improvement, traces the historical and cultural background of Internet privacy in China and the evolving legal frameworks for protecting the right to privacy and the right to Internet privacy. The lecture explores the status quo and existing problems of present legal frameworks in detail and offers related suggestions and future work.


Part 2: From Technology to Politics: the Characteristics of Public Space Online in China

Speaker: Yunze Zhao

As a result of developments in the Internet and information technology, Chinese civil society has been drastically transformed by the online public space that has emerged in the past few years. Chinese social media and traditional media are interacting in new ways to create a new online and offline public space for the diffusion of news and information. Largely, Chinese bloggers and online journalists are using new media to publish news stories that are later picked up by mainstream television networks and newspapers. In this way, the traditional media plays an irreplaceable role in the discovery of online news and the spread of information. One survey shows that 65.2% of public events were first exposed by new media in 2011, an increase of just over 50% from 2007. Of these events, 14.3% were exposed by blogs, 20.3% by Weibo, and 24.9% by independent news sites.  However, another survey in 2012 reported that people still viewed television as the most credible news source (63.1%), followed by newspapers (19.4%) and the Internet (12.3%). Many more people also have access to television (96.95%) and newspapers (90.9%) versus the Internet (39.9%). As a result, a lot of sensitive news stories and scandals are originally exposed on the Internet, but require news reports by traditional media to sanction and dispense this information. Additionally, news stories are often collected and republished on the Web, inspiring more discussion online and widening the public discourse. Additionally, while some scholars have equated “online public opinion” with “grassroots”, “bottom up” activism, the middle class seems to have the most discourse power on the Internet. One research study in 2010 found that the middle class controls 68% of discourse power on the Internet, while the upper class (20%), and lower classes (12%) engage in a minority of the online dialogue.

The attitude of the government towards online public opinion has been characterized as simultaneously progressive and conservative. On the one hand, the Chinese government has taken effective measures to promote the construction of a feedback system to allow for increased levels of public opinion. From the central government to different levels of local government, most government offices have created an online-opinion-feedback center to utilize the new technologies to their advantage. On the other hand, the government still considers the public space a place of rebellion and has been restrictive of certain types of public opinion due to the “unpredictable” nature of the Internet. The limitations of the public sphere in China are very obvious. China’s open online space still lacks a core power that could organize the needs of different groups to form an effective system outside of the government. In addition, the tendency for Chinese officials to avoid political issues has made the advancement of reform rather slow. As a result, it is extremely difficult to persuade the government officials to reform the public sphere. However, there is still a great deal of potential for further development of the public sphere in China. The purpose of this discussion is to recognize the role of the Internet in reconstructing the social communication sphere to move towards democratic transformations.


Jinghong Xu is a Professor of Communication at the School of Digital Media and Design Arts, Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications (BUPT). He is a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the Center for Global Communication Studies of Annenberg School for Communication, the University of Pennsylvania, vice director of the interdisciplinary Center of Social Network Information Management and Service, BUPT, and a post-doctoral candidate at the Institute of Law, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. He is member of International Communication Association (ICA), World Association for Public Opinion Research (WAPOR), and a Reviewer of the Chinese Social Sciences Citation Index’s (CSSCI) journal Library and Information Service. His research focuses on new media communication, media ethics, media policy and law, cyber culture, information law, Internet law, Internet Governance, online privacy, online public opinion, and digital copyright. He holds a BA in English, MA in Journalism and Ph.D. in Communication. He has been involved in many funded projects as principal investigator, co-investigator, and collaborator and has published a book and more 50 articles.

Yunze Zhao is an associate professor at the school of journalism and communication at Renmin University of China (RUC) in Beijing. He is also the Editorial Director of JOURNALISM EVOLUTION, and directs the community newspapers of NEWS WEEKLY in campus. His research focuses on media convergence, new media, cross culture communication and media history. He heads the research group “Factors of China’s Image Construction From Outside” which funded by Chinese Education Department and the group “Interpretive History of Chinese Journalism History” which funded by RUC. He has published several books and articles in communications and sociological journals. Dr. Zhao holds a Ph.D. in journalism from the Renmin University of China