How has China influenced the internet


Ruth Kirchner

Ruth Kirchner is a freelance editor and radio journalist. From 2005 to 2015 she reported for German and English-language media from China, the last five years as a correspondent and head of the ARD radio studio in Beijing. Since her return to Germany she has been working as an editor at Inforadio des rbb and as a freelance writer.

Thomas Reichart

Thomas Reichart has been head of the ZDF East Asia studio in Beijing since 2014. From there he reports on China, Japan, the Philippines, North and South Korea, Taiwan, Micronesia and Mongolia.

China's media offer is rich, but is subject to strict state censorship, which also tries to influence the work of international media representatives. The proliferation of the Internet has made a critical public possible, but at the same time government agencies are increasingly using technological advances to seamlessly monitor the population.

There is a wide range of newspapers and magazines, but since 2012 it has become much more difficult to report on topics critical of the government. (& copy picture-alliance / AP)

General development since the 1970s

The media landscape in China has changed profoundly since the reform and opening-up policy began in the late 1970s. While newspapers, radio and television were primarily used for propaganda in the first decades after the founding of the People's Republic, they have become more modern and commercial since the 1980s. If you look around at kiosks today, you will find a wide variety of newspapers, periodicals and colorful magazines. Since the turn of the millennium, many publications have also moved to the Internet.

As diverse as the media offer may seem at first glance, the media in China are still controlled and censored by the state and the Communist Party. However, they are no longer subsidized, but run as profitable companies. Since the 1990s, most of the media have been financed by advertising income. The exceptions are party publications such as the "Volkszeitung" (人民日报).
In recent years, individual publications have repeatedly distinguished themselves through critical quality journalism. For a while, this included the weekly newspaper "Southern Weekly" (南方周末) in Guangzhou, southern China, and business magazines such as "Caijing" (财经) and "Caixin" (财经), which uncovered abuses such as stock market manipulation or corporate corruption.

At least since the assumption of state and party leader Xi Jinping in 2012, it has become much more difficult to publish reports and research critical of the government. Among other things, Xi urged the media in 2016 to be absolutely loyal to the Communist Party. This applies to both print media and online publications, radio and television.

Television is dominated by the national state broadcaster CCTV, which has around 20 channels. It is also largely financed by advertising income. In spring 2018, CCTV, China National Radio (CNR) and China Radio International (CRI) were merged to form the China Media Group (中央 广播 电视 总 台). The broadcaster, which also appears abroad as the "Voice of China", has the rank of a ministry. Formally it is subordinate to the State Council, the Chinese Cabinet, but the Central Propaganda Department of the CCP is responsible for ideological, substantive and administrative control.

In addition to CCTV, there are a number of smaller broadcasters at provincial level, most of which are also state-owned and are financed through advertising. In terms of content, entertainment programs and shows dominate. To this day, however, all broadcasters have to transmit the main evening news from CCTV.

The main media
To the greatest Chinese daily newspapers belong
  • the People's newspaper (Renmin Ribao, 人民日报), the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party. Editorials in particular are often in the focus of public interest because they often announce current developments within the party or contain appeals by the party to the entire country. In addition to the Chinese-language edition of the People's Newspaper, there are editions in foreign and minority languages ​​as well as an extensive Internet offering. Circulation: approx. 2.5 million.;
  • the Reference messages (Cankai Xiaoxi, 参考 消息). They contain translations of selected foreign media reports and news agencies and are published by the state news agency Xinhua. Critical voices are rarely found here, however. Originally reserved for party cadres and their families, the newspaper was their only source of information on developments abroad. Since 1985, the newspaper has been freely sold. Circulation: approx. Three million.;
  • the Southern Daily (Nanfang Ribao, 南方 日报). It belongs to the influential state-owned Nanfang Media Group, which also publishes the sister newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily (南方 都市报) and the weekly newspaper Southern Weekly (Nanfang Zhoumo, 南方周末) in Guangzhou, southern China. The newspapers have made a name for themselves beyond the Pearl River Delta with investigative journalism and relatively liberal positions. A rare public dispute over censorship at the turn of the year 2012/13 led to strikes at Southern Weekly and also made international headlines. Daily circulation: 960,000 copies.;
  • Other major daily newspapers are the Beijing News (Xin Jing Bao, 新京报), Beijing Evening News (Beijing Wanbao 北京 晚报), Oriental Morning Post (Dongfang Zaobao, 東方 早報), Guangming Daily (Guangming Ribao, 光明 日报), Huanqiu Shibao ( Global Times, 环球 时报).
As English-language daily newspapers appear
  • China Daily (Zhongguo Ribao, 中國 日報). Founded in 1981, it is the first and largest English-language daily newspaper in China and is state-owned. Separate editions are produced for the USA and Europe. According to the company, the daily circulation is 900,000, of which two thirds go abroad. The newspaper is considered to be a little more liberal than most Chinese-language newspapers.
  • The Global Times (Huanqiu Shibao, 环球 时报) is published by the People's Daily. The Chinese-language edition has been around since 1993, the English edition since 2009. It often publishes nationalist and anti-Western comments, which do not necessarily reflect the Communist Party's line. According to the newspaper, the daily circulation is 260,000.;
  • the South China Morning Post. The traditional paper was founded in 1903, is the largest English-language newspaper in Hong Kong and is known as the "window to China". It is not subject to the censorship in force in mainland China and sometimes reports very critically about the People's Republic. However, Beijing's political influence has increased since 1997, after the British crown colony was returned to China. Daily circulation: 120,000 copies. It was taken over by the Chinese IT group Alibaba in 2015.
To the important ones Business publications counting
  • the 21st Century Business Herald (21 世纪 经济 报道), which appears daily and belongs to the Nanfang Media Group in Guangzhou. It was considered China's most influential business newspaper until its license was temporarily revoked in 2014 due to blackmail allegations. After that, the newspaper was unable to regain its old influence.;
  • Caijing (财经), which appears every two weeks with a circulation of around 200,000 copies. Founded in 1998 by investigative journalist Hu Shuli and influential financial professionals, the magazine has made a name for itself through independent and investigative business and financial reporting.;
  • Caixin (财 新) and Caixin Global, internet portals also specializing in financial and economic reporting. They belong to the media company Caixin Media Group, founded by Hu Shuli in 2009, which also publishes business magazines such as Caixin Weekly and China Reform. and;
  • the Economic Observer (经济 观察 报), an independent weekly newspaper with an emphasis on background reports on business topics. It has existed since 2001, based on the British Financial Times.
Among the largest in coverage Radio and television channels find each other
  • the China Central Television (CCTV, 中国 中央 电视台), a state television with 15 channels in Chinese and six foreign channels in five languages ​​(English, French, Spanish, Arabic and Russian). In spring 2018, the station merged with China National Radio (CNR) and China Radio International (CRI) to form the China Media Group;
  • China National Radio (CNR, 中央 人民 广播 电台), a state radio station with 13 channels in Mandarin Chinese and four channels in Cantonese, Tibetan, Uighur and Kazakh. Part of the China Media Group with CCTV and CRI (see above);
  • Phoenix Satellite Television (凤凰 卫视) broadcasts on six channels to Chinese-speaking communities around the world. It is one of the few private TV channels in China, but officially it can only be received in better hotels. The Phoenix News Channel has been on the air since 2001. The publicly traded company has its headquarters in Hong Kong and offices in Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai.
As the greatest Online news portals be valid
  • (腾讯 网), China's most popular Internet portal. It has existed since 2003 and belongs to Tencent, China's largest Internet company, which also maintains WeChat, the most important chat service in China.
  • (搜狐), founded in 1996 by Zhang Chaoyang, who is still the head of the listed company based in Beijing.
  • (新浪 网), founded in 1999, with over 100 million registered users worldwide. Parent company Sina Corporation also owns Sina Weibo, a popular, Twitter-like microblog service.
Triumphant advance of the internet
Since the turn of the millennium, the Internet has also fundamentally changed the media landscape in China. Today around 750 million people are online in the People's Republic, and since 2008 China has been the country with the most Internet users in the world. However, internet penetration is still lower than in many industrialized countries. According to official information, around 55 percent of the population in China have access to the Internet, in the countries of the European Union the proportion is an average of 85 percent.

New media in old party mills: How the Chinese leadership makes social networks useful (& copy MERICS)
The offerings are dominated by Chinese companies such as Tencent, Baidu and Alibaba. These companies were able to develop into large, market-dominating online groups because this market is not accessible to international competition. Entertainment, online games, shopping, videos and music are particularly popular. There is also communication via social media.

Despite state control and heavy commercialization, the Internet has helped China to develop something like a critical public for the first time in the past 15 years. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate and civil rights activist Liu Xiaobo, who died in 2017, called the Internet "God's gift to the Chinese". The rapid flow of information and the high level of user participation repeatedly led to the disclosure of grievances and debates that were unthinkable in the past.

However, political liberalization and democratization through the Internet failed to materialize. On the contrary: since 2012, the Chinese government has made enormous efforts to tighten controls. With massive investments and a comprehensive cyber strategy, the party and state are not only able to censor unpleasant content, but also to direct and control public opinion in the media and on the Internet. Despite the large number of offers, China is still a long way from a pluralistic media landscape.

Source text

From microblog to monitoring app - social media in China

In China, social media such as the WeChat (Weixin / 微 信) communication platform of the IT giant Tencent have become indispensable. Many Chinese use WeChat to organize a large part of their everyday life: sending messages, making calls, calling taxis, booking train tickets or flights, making appointments or paying the bill in a restaurant. Some parents even pay their kids pocket money through WeChat. Data protection plays a minor role, but this is now causing criticism.

The rapid rise of social media in China began with microblogs (in Chinese: Weibo / 微 博), which were initially based on the model of the US short message service Twitter and were offered by large Internet companies such as Sina Corporation. Sina Weibo became the most popular short message service after its launch in summer 2009. Within a few years, there were over 300 million Weibo accounts registered with various providers. Some microbloggers had several million followers and were able to influence debates, make grievances public and criticize the Communist Party, which, however, immediately called the censors on the scene (see also p. 61 f.). From 2011/2012, the authorities took action against popular microbloggers or closed accounts such as that of the artist and government critic Ai Weiwei. The popularity of the services decreased significantly as a result, but they still play an important role today.

The microblog services also came under pressure from the rise of the WeChat app, which was initially based on the US service WhatsApp. Instead of blogging for everyone to see, initially only groups of friends networked on WeChat. Today, WeChat is a lifestyle app and no longer a pure communication medium due to the many additional functions. According to Tencent, around 900 million people, almost exclusively Chinese, had installed WeChat services on their smartphones by 2017. Tencent has risen to become the largest internet company in China.

WeChat's handling of customer data and the close cooperation with the Chinese government are controversial. In January 2018, Tencent denied allegations that WeChat was monitoring and storing all messages and chats. In fact, however, the terms of use stipulate that data can be retained and released upon request by authorities.

The enormous amounts of data that Tencent and other Internet companies collect with their online services are also used to set up rating systems in which users receive ratings for good behavior, their payment behavior and their consumer behavior. The Chinese government plans to set up its own nationwide rating system by 2020, for which it depends on the know-how of IT companies. Critical voices speak of complete monitoring with the help of large IT companies and big data.

Ruth Kirchner