- 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
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