Final Project: Chinese Non-adversarial Media Strategies

Title: Non-adversarial Media Strategies in Chinese Contentious Politics

Final draft can be found here, and also here is the presentation.

Look forward to your feedback. Thanks.


Repression and Policing

The article “Policing Protest in the United States: 1960–1995” by Clark McPhail, David Schweingruber and John McCathy laid out two types of policing: the escalated force and negotiated management tactics. Then they proposed five dimensions to describe these policing styles: 1) respect First Amendment rights 2) tolerance for community disruption 3) nature of communication 4) extent and manner of arrests 5) the extent and manner of using force. To demonstrate such theoretical framework, they introduced the policing practices from 1960s to 1990s. Their conclusion is that the current public order management systems are not uniform across the United States.

I am interested in their perspective of looking at the evolvement of the policing practices. For them their analysis is not only limited to identifying two types of policing, but rather they systematically examined the dynamic process of the transition from the escalated force style to negotiated management style. This approach fascinates me because their research object is no longer static but in fact dynamic. The shift of perspective can inform us that the role of the state or the police should not be treated as a fixed entity, and the mechanisms, styles and practices of repression/response from the authority also evolve as the landscape of the conflicts and activism changes. I think this co-evolvement process is exactly what researchers often neglect when they try to dig into specific concepts.

I am also thinking about how to integrate this perspective into my own research agenda. When I read their analysis of the transition from the escalated force style to negotiated management style, I thought about the radicalization of activists such as Ai Weiwei and a more negotiated style from Chinese authority. Ai Weiwei was only known as an artist before 2008 when he designed the Bird Nest Olympic Stadium, but as he became more public he began to criticize the state supported this architecture design. Then this radicalization process has begun and has a series of movements such as investigating the names of dead students during Sichuan earthquake, and advocates for release of human rights lawyers. I think the role of media is the key in the process and during the interaction with the media, he portrays himself as the human rights fighter and the effect of publicity from media further help him establish as an icon against the regime. For the authority side, their response I think is growing to the direction of a more negotiated position (not for actions like Ai Weiwei) for the domestic protests targeting practical issues, such as the case in Wukan. These types of protests are rapidly increasing as this society has been facing social issues caused by economic development, escalated force policing cost too much and higher authority positions as a more benevolent power is reasonable for protests against local authority. In my future research, the radicalization process as well as the evolvement of policing practices might be great interests to me.

Lastly, I want to raise a question: How do the mass media shape the practices of policing and the public perception of policing? I think this article neglects the discussion of the media, which is very important for the radical protest, because in many cases, the violent scenes by participants are made to attract media attention. In such situation, how does the authority respond? It becomes interesting: when both the authority and the movement organizers are aware of each other’s actions beforehand, as indicated in the negotiated management style, the media is actually the viewer of a performance. Is that truly what the public want?

Anti-CNN as Tactical Media?

When I tried to search “tactical media in China” in academic databases, I found the term of tactical media is rarely used in Chinese context, but there are several other articles describing online disobedience that draws from cultural materials, such as slang and symbols, to challenge existing powers. As said in Molly’s article, many words are given new meaning by netizens as a tactic to escape the censorship. Except for these practices and innovations of cultural symbols which could be understood as tactical media, I am also thinking about other more formal interventions. In Boler’s introduction, she mentioned the rise of Al Jazeera is the intervention that participates in the first tier of media structure. In this respect I guess in China there is no such tactical media that makes the intervention at this level. However, I do observe some groups which are temporarily self-formulated as a respond to the reporting of dominant media. The question I have for these groups is about how they can transform into more stable forms instead of just as temporary existence.

I am going to introduce a case to illustrate this form of tactical media in China, and through examining their rise and decline, I particularly ask why they can survive after the news cycle dies down. Anti-CNN was an forum founded by a group of college students who discovered that the media reports from CNN and other western media did not objectively portray 2008 Tibetan Protest. For example, some media used older footage of Nepal police beating monks to show the suppression from Chinese authority. It aroused huge anger among Chinese netizens against the fact that the discourse of the event was dominated by these western media. Often this case was thought as a manifestation of the growing neo-nationalism in China by several scholars (eg. Yang and MacKinnon). Western media first accused them of being supported by the Chinese government, but in fact they were completely self-initiated by several college students. However, they rightly pointed out this single event was not independent to other social factors. In the year of 2008, the Beijing Olympic was no longer just a sports event, but in fact for many Chinese people it was a presentation of the national identity. The disturbance of the torch relay in Paris led to another anger within domestic public sphere. These events kept the patriotic emotions of the public at a high level, and when the reports from CNN were found biased, these messages from Anti-CNN were quickly and widely circulated. For the media ecology within China, Anti-CNN might not be a typical tactical media, because in fact they reinforced the existing dominant ideology. If our perspective changes to the international ecology this type of media might be counted as one, because the dominant discourse still belongs to the mainstream western media.

Media has its own agenda, and the audience has limited media attention. After the news cycle dies down, Anti-CNN has to reposition itself. In 2009, they changed their site name into April Media and its task was not just to find the biased reports in western media, but they produced and curated news from the perspective of neo-leftist. This strategy is effective because in fact the emotion of neo-nationalism and neo-leftism in society is inevitable as long as the frictions between communist and western ideologies still exist. Now this site is one of the main places where news and views from the left are collected. The tactical media is described as temporary interventions and I wonder if the emphasis of temporary intervention has an assumption that this strategy is more impactful than the stable form after its initial “tactical” period. I think at least long term intervention such as the April Media after its initial stage of Anti-CNN suggests the oppositional discourse can be the hidden force that let the tactical media exist more consistently in the mainstream media environment.

The Outcomes of the Movements: The Diffusion Network

In  Marco Giugni’s piece, he pointed out that the outcome of a movement should not only be understood as direct political outcome, but rather the long term cultural outcome should also be emphasized. I think this perspective is quite powerful as a response to comment on the success or failure of the movements. Beyond the judgement of the movement, I am particularly interested in some of the mechanisms of how the cultural outcome works as laid out by Giugni, and one of them is the “spillover” effect:

“Another cultural impact of the movement can be seen in the “spillover” effect on other movements and citizens across the globe. Surely, the upheavals in the Middle East have encouraged citizens in other part of the world, including the U.S., to take to the streets to show their discontent. But such connections among movements can also be seen in the longer run. In this sense, in fact, the Occupy Movement itself could well be seen as a long-term product of the global justice movement, which laid the seeds for what would occur more than a decade later when the circumstances became favorable for the emergence of this new wave of contention. More to the point, we can expect the Occupy Movement to leave a legacy that will bear its fruits in the future, opening up the democratic space for new waves of contention and citizens’ political participation.”

As this paragraph above is only from his blog post, in which he did not provide more analysis about why the Occupy Movement could be seen as the product of the global justice movement. Even though they both target at the inequalities of distribution, I think some aspects, such as their organizational linkage, their specific appeals, and their tactical diffusion, should also be examined before claims that link a later movement to a former movement are made. I remember in a lecture about Wukan Incident a question was asked to an investigative journalist about whether the activists in Wukan learnt their tactics of protest from their experiences as migrant workers in the cities and the strikes happen more in cities. Her answer was that she did not think there was enough evidence of linking these protests together. I think her opinion insists that “spillover” effect is convincing only when established mechanisms are found, for example, the same group of people striking or protesting in different episodes.

When I read this article, I cannot help thinking about how to make the “political vs cultural” outcome framework fit into my own “adversarial vs supportive” media strategy perspective. In the non-adversarial case, Wukan Incident, the activists have their specific practical appeals including replacing the corrupt village leaders, and transparent village leaders election. These practical claims are easier for them and the government to reach agreement, and thus achieve the political outcome in this respect. In fact, the success of Wukan inspired other villages having similar problems of land disputes to organize their own protests. I think Wukan strategy is non-adversarial also because their way of dealing with the diffusion of the actions. They consciously alienate the visitors from other villages because one of the sensitive boundary for the party to judge the movement to see if they formulate a network (串联). The other case in my work is Ai Weiwei’s human rights movement, which I frame as adversarial. Although the information of his movement is banned in domestic media, discursively his movement is quite successful. He cleverly draws from cultural symbols, artistic forms and languages to generate a discourse of democracy and himself is thought as an icon of human rights fighters. I wonder to what extent his actions and his admirers can be thought as “spillover” effect of previous democratic movement such as 1989 Tiananmen Movement. In fact activists striving for Tibetan freedom, exiles of 1989 movement students, Falun Gong practitioners, alienated by Chinese authority, automatically connect to each other. Therefore, in this respect I think in authoritarian countries, the non-adversarial strategy might include the control to limit the “spillover” effect, and in contrast with the adversarial movement, the compromise is the lessened possibility of long term democratic discourse.

Change as the exogenous cause or endogenous origin?

I read Melucci’s article “The New Social Movements: A theoretical approach”(Thank you, Molly) before I got the email saying we can reflect on other articles, so I will just summarize some of his points and write about some thoughts coming to mind while reading this article.

Melucci first identified two camps on social movement theories, Marxism and functionalist sociology. The primary concern of marxist analysis is that it overemphasizes the importance of the structural capitalist system, underestimating the internal articulation (mobilization, organization, leadership, ideology) and the transformation of the movements. The functionalist approach finds the key explanation of the behaviors of collective actions is in the magnitude of the actors’ beliefs that mobilize the actions, and the beliefs come from the the disturbance of the equilibrium of the social movement. I think his critique against functionalist analysis is from the perspective of class relations, mode of production and appropriation of resources, and in later parts when he develops theories on new social movements he primarily uses this perspective. (Is it also Marxism I think?)

Then he defines different types of collective actions through the dimensions of deviance, conflict-based action. As can be seen from the figure in his article: As the level of conflict and deviance of movements increase, the organizational movement and political movements transform into class movements. In the transformation, there are an increase in the symbolic content and a decrease in divisibility of the stakes. Specifically he refers to the class movement as a high level of identity movement and low possibility of negotiation between stakes.

Then his analysis on the origins of the class movement turns very philosophical and abstract. He defines “A class movement is a movement involved in a conflict over the mode of production and over the appropriation and orientation of social resources.” The conflicts exist in the essence of the man’s works and the production of one’s work implies a social relationship. Classes are born out of the unbalanced production between the dominant and the dominated groups.

Melucci criticized theories that treat change or factors that activate collective actions as given factors without explanation, but he also denied change as endogenous factor in some other theories. He claims the central difficulty lies in the failure of distinguishing between synchrony and diachrony, between structure and change. For him the synchronic approach explains the structural conflict within the system, and he introduces the concept of contradiction to explain how a structural conflict turns to diachronic forms of behavior. As he stated, “the contradiction functions like a catalyst on the latent antagonism.” From this perspective, he further set up the mechanisms of conflicts between the classes in motion and detailed the interactions (appeal, repress, adjust, etc.) in the process.

In his last part, after setting up all the framework, he finally answers the question of what aspects of changes in the production system have led to new class conflicts. The new class conflicts are no longer the unfair exploitation of labor force, but “rather by the manipulation of complex organizational systems, by control over information and over the processes and institutions of symbol-formation, and by intervention in interpersonal relations.” The production here is no longer the material products but “rather the production of the individual’s biological and interpersonal identity.” The new social movement is the “defense of the identity, continuity, and predictability of personal existence.” In this process, the deprivation from the dominant group makes the dominated speak up their identities, and the originally thought private spheres are now become public. Their focus is not on political system but rather in the process “solidarity as an objective is the characteristic of the new movements. They reject representation but embrace direct participation. He also identified two other characteristics of the new social movements: the centrality of the body and the strong component of religion.

This article spent most of its pages on the layout of his framework of production and social relations, and his analysis is very theoretical. I still think his framework is largely based on classic Marxist analysis on social production and maybe he could have made this part more concise and spent more pages on his creation of the definition of new social movements. Another critic from me is that listed many characteristics of the new social movements, and I agree with him that actors of new social movements are identity mobilized, but I cannot see how centrality of body and religion are particular to this type of action, and how they relate to the theories of production and social relations. My final critic for his article is that perhaps he did not specify where the contradiction comes from. Since one of his most important tasks is explanation of the source of change, he just brought up the concept of contradiction as the internal factor, and for me I wonder if the contradiction needs other factors to trigger.

MegaPost on #21M Berkman Workshop

On March 21st, Harvard Berkman Center hold a workshop entitled “Understanding the New Wave of Social Cooperation: A Triangulation of the Arab Revolutions, European Mobilizations and the American Occupy Movement” and the class reflected on this event through this series of blog posts:

Artist As Researcher? Researcher As Artist?

Gabi’s interest in the study of narrative in social movements draws his attention to ask what the role of the artist is. During this workshop they had a discussion that researchers need to be careful in producing stories as the narratives could be crucial in the process of mobilization in movements, and it made Gabi to think the role of artist might not be just poster design or sign painting. Inspired by Sasha’s presentation on individual’s media practices that generate narratives across different media forms and the term of life-course, Gabi concludes the role of artist is “challenging the system using the means with which one is most comfortable—the tools used throughout a creator’s life-course.”

Historical Framing and Solidarity

Nathalie particularly reflects on the point of global wave of movements by a presenter in the Berkman workshop and she asks what the precedent global wave means for future movements. Then she draws on Kennedy’s article “Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and Historical Frames: 2011, 1989, 1968” to compare movements historically. According to this article, the 2011 Occupy movement should not be compared with 1989 global wave of movements, but should be compared with 1968 movements because both are the reaction to the separation of the elites from the mass public. After summarizing Kennedy’s article, Nathalie points out the solidarity reached in previous global movements is a good perspective to look at for their own project.

Government’s Social Meddling
David focuses on humor or ridicule used in the narratives of social movements. Specifically he presents here two examples of how US Government and Russian Government use their networks to produce political content to mock the opponents. In the case of US government, they made all forms of messages such as cartoons and caustic jokes against Saddam Hussein, and disseminated through lots of technology devices in Iraq. Similar to the US government, Russia practiced the program through their news outlets: Novosti Press Agency has a global network that could produce politica publications and even games to poke fun at US, and the network is linked with movements actors in the US.

#21M, Earl & Star Trek
Amy is interested in the point made by one of the participants in the Berkman workshop: we should also look at failures of social movement, not just the ones that succeed. It reminds her the work of Garfinkel discussing what constitutes normalcy. To answer the question of what the normalcy in social movements is, she draws on Earl’s point that “an implicit legitimating system determines which social movements are deemed worthy of academic study”. She argues that the movements that are paid less attention to, such as TV shows, actually used the tactics of the traditional social movements that are thought as worthy of study. She calls us to scrutinize our expectations of what makes a social movement normal.

Power of Narrative and Identity
David summarized many topics discussed in the Berkman Workshop including the common theme in these linked protests, the role of media, the authenticity of information, the framing of movements, the technologies and the culture. Most participants identify a common factor to explain the movements in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria and the Yemen is “indignation”, and some say these movements are leftist oriented. The framing of the movements is also important to make the actions sustained. Finally he pointed out that the perspective of how governments manipulate messages in movements was missing in their discussion and his later post has great examples of this aspect.

Thoughts on Berkman Workshop
Kelly raised the question of how the diversity of motivations of people in a movement could influence its identity, framing and tactics. Many in the Berkman Workshop said the composition of participants of the Occupy Movement is quite diversified as some people at the camps are to make a difference which some people there do not even know why they are there. Kelly questions if the 99% framing is too inclusive that makes it difficult to have a single outcome for this movement. She is also interested in the concept of permissioning and asks who involves in permissioning. Lastly, she comments on the reasons for comparing the three movements(Arab Spring, OWS and Europe Contention), drawing from Sidney Tarrow’s book, and she points out that the changes of contentions are more prominent in the past and timing might be important as indicated by one of the participants in the workshop.

More notes and information about the Berkman Event:

Project Proposal: Civic Media in China

Non-adversarial Media Strategy in Chinese Social Movements

In a media ecosystem, noise can come from all types of media. When activists create adversarial scenes and seek media attention to have the public put pressure on the authority, they should also be cautious that the noise might interfere with their own voices in the media space. For activists in authoritarian regimes, I am proposing a non-adversarial media strategy that they position themselves in line with the official ideology. The benefit of this strategy is to maintain the chances of negotiation with the authority, but the compromise is the lessened possibility of generating democratic discourse in the long term.

Why do some social movement actors position themselves in line with the higher authority?
How does this media strategy work? What messages are sent to what media?
In comparison with adversarial movements, what are the benefits and compromises?

Two cases of resistance will be compared to establish different outcomes of movements with non-adversarial and adversarial media strategies. Recent movements against land expropriation and human rights movements both are framed as democratic power by some observers, but actually the activists focusing on land disputes consciously cooperated with the authority if chances of negotiation were given, and scaled down the attention from outside. In contrast, human rights movements directly challenge the political system as well as the official ideology, and thus the result is that their voices are less likely to be circulated in Chinese media systems and they are more likely be repressed by the authority.

This paper conducts frame analysis on these two movements. The specific incidents, Wukan incident and Ai Weiwei’s activities, are selected to represent the two types of the movements. News coverage by professional journalists, tweets from micro-blogs, interviews from blogs, discussion from BBS, and the media production from activists on these two cases are analyzed to answer questions of who are the players in the media ecosystem, what they say, and what frames they use. By establishing the differences in the discourses from these media players, this paper shows the noise in this media ecosystem, and how the activists using new media respond to the noise.

Tools: Weibo Scope to retrieve tweets, spreadsheets to code, and SPSS

3/22 identify variables
4/3 retrieve data and code
4/11 outline and findings
4/25 first draft
5/16 final presentation

1. How does it respond to the social movement literature except for framing? I am thinking about political opportunity structure, and is it relevant?
2. How do the body of literature on hegemony converse with the literature on framing?

Keck, Margaret E., and Kathryn Sikkink. Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Cornell University Press, 1998.
–Boomerang Pattern as the model for the human rights movement actors
O’Brien, Kevin J., and Lianjiang Li. Rightful Resistance in Rural China. Cambridge University Press, 2006.
–Peasant seek rightful identity in resistance
Scott, James C. Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. Yale University Press, 1992.
–Implicit resistance under authoritarian regime
Ferree, Myra Marx, William Anthony Gamson, Jürgen Gerhards, and Dieter Rucht. Shaping Abortion Discourse: Democracy and the Public Sphere in Germany and the United States. Cambridge University Press, 2002.
–the method of frame analysis