Digital Media

Online Media in China: How does it work?

Censorship: the Great Firewall

First of all, when talking about media in China, whether it is online or traditional ones, you have to keep in mind one thing: the government controls everything. According to the Chinese law, the Chinese government must first approve every piece of content that will be published on the Chinese web. Considering the size of the country and its population, the Chinese censorship organ is considered as the world’s most powerful.Obviously, the most conservative branch of the Chinese Communist Party would like to turn the Chinese Internet into a huge intranet network where they could choose what to let in and what to keep out from the world wide web.Beijing also practices “Patriotic hacking” and would be responsible for about one third of the global malware production.

The Chinese Censorship system is built upon 3 circles which are made to narrow the space of freedom online as much as possible:

  • The Internet police: 40,000 state employees in charge of defining and applying the censorship policy
  • Private companies operating websites and forums: they work as subcontractor for the main organ
  • The self-censorship of the users, moderators and hosting companies, fueled by the fear of the first two circles.

In such a monitored environment, one can easily imagine that online media have to follow scrupulously the Party’s guidelines regarding the content allowed on the web if they want to keep working.

What types of online media in China?

Chinese social media

You can find pretty much every kind of social media in China, with their own social networks directly inspired from their western (mostly American) counterparts.

Blogging is especially big and trendy in China, with hundreds of micro-blogging websites and bbs sites (yes, it is still alive over there) with Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo and NetEase, three of the biggest internet companies in China.

Social networks like RenRen (Chinese Facebook) and WeChat are also very popular. The latter is actually a really interesting case of studying the evolution of online media practices in China. WeChat has evolved from being a messaging app like Whatsapp to become what the Chinese call a “Super app” integrating dozens of other services from online payment to location-based social networking.

China also has its own video sharing platform, Youku, it’s own Uber (Didi Chuxing), Tinder (Tantan) and other apps and websites made to connect people together.

Online Press

You may find hundreds of Chinese media on the web, in both Chinese or foreign languages. All the official news websites are controlled by the government. The official press agency in China is called Xinhua, and it’s internet counterpart is Xinhua Net. The website covers any kind of local and international news and is translated into 9 languages including English, Spanish and French.

In order to better shape its image internationally, China has launched many other news websites in English language such as China Daily, South China Morning Post and China Post. As one would guess, content is obviously very oriented and rather neutral.