Mobile phones have given the Chinese a voice

Mar 08, 2013

Mobile technology has provided the Chinese with an opportunity to voice individual and collective popular protests. And with over 1 billion mobile subscribers in China, the voices are heard. A new PhD thesis from the University of Copenhagen presents several case studies on the use of the mobile phone for political participation in Chinese society and points to the concept of guanxi – an individual's network of social relations and obligations– as central to understanding the success of alternative mobile communication in China.

In 2007, in the city of Xiamen in southeast China, authorities were forced to relocate a chemical plant because of popular protests that were initiated and coordinated largely by text messaging. And according to PhD Jun Liu of the University of Copenhagen, who has recently defended his PhD thesis "Mobilized by . How Chinese People use mobile phones to change politics and democracy", this is merely one of many recent examples of the way in which mobile phones influence and provide the 'communication have-nots' with a voice.

"As early as in 2003, the mobile phone played a vital role when people shared information about the SARS epidemic that the government tried to suppress. And the mobile phone has become even more significant since then because virtually everybody has one today; not only is the mobile phone inexpensive, it is also easy to use and thus allows citizens to express their discontent and organise individual and collective resistance to the party's authority just by sending a text message," says Jun Liu from the Department of Media, Cognition and Communication.

A guanxi-message can be trusted and forwarded

According to Jun Liu, what makes illicit mobile communication possible in an otherwise highly regulated society is, first, that the find it increasingly difficult to cut off mobile communication; government officials themselves rely on in their daily work and integrate mobile devices into their propaganda system. The concept of guanxi, second, guarantees that the information a person receives from his network is reliable and can be forwarded to other members of the network.

"Surprisingly few studies on mobile communication in China have addressed guanxi which is inextricably part of Chinese society; technology and cultural practices are not separate entities, but influence each other," Jun Liu points out.

"Guanxi is essentially the sum of an individual's personal connections, and all these connections are bound together by, among other things, obligations, favours, and personal trust. In the case of e.g., a text message received from a member of one's guanxi is considered trustworthy and will be passed on to other members of the network if required because of the reciprocal nature of guanxi; a message with contentious content can therefore be distributed widely in a very short time. And the government can do very little about it," Jun Liu concludes.

Explore further: When identity marketing backfires: Consumers don't like to be told what they like

More information: Jun Liu defended his thesis "Mobilized by Mobile Media. How Chinese People use mobile phones to change politics and democracy" on 11 February 2013 at the University of Copenhagen.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

China Mobile seeks Taiwan handset makers' support

Jan 18, 2013

China Mobile is seeking support from Taiwanese chip and handset makers to back the fourth generation high-speed mobile network co-developed by the state-owned Chinese telecom operator.

China Telecom launches British mobile venture

Jan 04, 2012

Telecoms giant China Telecom is launching a mobile virtual network in Britain in partnership with Everything Everywhere, targeting Chinese residents and visitors, the British company said Wednesday.

Mobile phones trump computers among online Chinese

Jul 19, 2012

Mobile phones have overtaken computers as the most popular device for getting online in China, the government said Thursday, as it announced the number of web users had hit 538 million.

China prepares 4G mobile network: state media

Mar 04, 2011

China may soon launch a domestically developed "fourth generation" mobile phone system in its commercial market, state media reported Friday, citing leading carrier China Mobile.

Recommended for you

Online reviews: When do negative opinions boost sales?

19 hours ago

When purchasing items online, reading customer reviews is a convenient way to get a real-world account of other people's opinions of the product. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, negative review ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

Science has often come to the rescue when it comes to the world's big problems, be it the Green Revolution that helped avoid mass starvation or the small pox vaccine that eradicated the disease. There is ...

Investment helps keep transport up to speed

Greater investment in education and training for employees will be required to meet the future needs of the transport and logistics industry, according to recent reports by Monash University researchers.

Floating nuclear plants could ride out tsunamis

When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects—specifically, ...

Unlocking secrets of new solar material

(Phys.org) —A new solar material that has the same crystal structure as a mineral first found in the Ural Mountains in 1839 is shooting up the efficiency charts faster than almost anything researchers have ...