THE THROAT, TONGUE, EYES, EARS, HOPES, FEARS: New Roles of the Media in the People’s Republic of China

Chen, Sarah [Browse]
Senior thesis
132 pages


Bass, Gary [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year
Restrictions note
Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
Summary note
The Chinese mass media, traditionally considered the “throat, tongue, eyes, and ears” of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), has undergone tremendous changes since China’s opening up and reform in 1978. The forces of commercialization and the rise of the Internet have drawn the media farther from the Party and closer to the people, opening up a space in China for the public to actively influence government policymaking. This paper describes the new roles of the media in China in conveying public opinion and influencing government policymaking: that of an amplifier of public opinion, a watchdog, and a reformer, all of which involve different degrees of public involvement and have different effects on government decisions. This complex set of relationships comprises the multi-interaction model, which is illustrated with case studies of each of these three roles of the commercial and online media. The media as amplifier of public opinion is able to amplify public expression of existing anti-foreign nationalism in such a way as to place unwanted constraints on Chinese leaders in decision-making vis-à-vis Japan. The commercial media as watchdog now has incentives to defy CCP restrictions and supplement the muckraking tendencies of the rising wave of “citizen journalism” on the Internet. These combined forces are creating enough public pressure to pressure new president Xi Jinping to ensure his anti-corruption campaign achieves progress, unlike the empty anti-corruption rhetoric of his predecessors. The media as reformer faces much greater obstacles in its calls for press freedom in China. However, given the dearth of reform-minded commercial media organizations and lack of public mobilization, it is unsurprising that the media as reformer cannot substantially constrain government choices. This media role thus acts as more as a signal to the CCP than as a direct influence. However, it is this case that best underlines the new tactics by which the CCP-led government and extensive propaganda apparatus can reclaim any lost control over public discourse. These examples highlight the ways in which the media and the public. has incontrovertibly, if incrementally, increased the CCP government accountability to the people. The delicate balance between the advances in the role of the media in Chinese society and the government’s sophisticated methods of control cannot ensure either the eventually liberalization of China or the longevity of the authoritarian regime, but understanding this tense relationship is crucial to making any predictions about China’s political future.

Supplementary Information