Digital telecommunication technology has expanded the potential of the mobile phone to be increasingly used as a weapon against authoritarian rule and censorship. Since the content of mobile communication is unpredictable and unregulated, mobile phones have the potential to breach state-sponsored information blockage. This in turn helps the Chinese people to maintain contact with each other, receive information from outside the country, and make political waves in an aggressive battle for control over information. This paper examines spontaneous mobilization via mobile phones, with a focus on two concrete popular protests in rural and urban areas, demonstrating how Chinese citizens have expanded the political uses of mobile phones in their struggle for freedom of information flow, social justice, and the rule of law, while seeking to build an inexpensive counter-public sphere. These processes destabilize China’s conventional national public sphere by shaping political identities on the individual level as well as the notion of citizenship within the evolving counter-public sphere. The political significance of mobile phones in the context of contemporary China’s political environment can be observed by various social forces that communicate their struggles with the aid of this technology, pose challenges in governance, and force the authorities to engage in new kinds of media practices.
Modern Asian Studies, 2013, Vol 47, Issue 3, p. 995-1018
mobile phone; China; popular protest; public sphere; citizenship; Faculty of Humanities