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China Digital Times aims to contribute to the ongoing debate over the Internet’s political impact by moving beyond anecdotal evidence and creating the world’s first systematic and comprehensive social media aggregator of political contents in Chinese cyberspace. It also explores innovative approaches to make its content accessible by netizens behind of the Great Firewall of China, focusing particularly on the use of new, sophisticated counter-censorship technologies.
In recent years, the issue of censorship in China has been well exposed through numerous media reports and research projects, including my own work. However, the expanding online political discourse and its impact have not yet been systematically documented, and so remain poorly understood. The government’s efforts to control online information, the implications and limitations of such control, and the capacity of Chinese netizens to advance free speech and facilitate political mobilization, remain crucial issues in our understanding of both China’s political prospects and the role of the Internet under an authoritarian regime.
Developing a deeper understanding of the role of the Internet in Chinese politics based on empirical data has been a considerable challenge. In my previous research, I have observed a remarkable phenomenon that many of the most influential bloggers appear to hold in common values supporting democracy, human rights and freedom of expression. These bloggers, with their growing numbers, expanding social networks, political resilience, and increasing influence, seem to be evolving from “voices under domination” to “networked agents of change.” I believe bloggers are becoming one of the most dynamic forces in setting the media agenda and fostering a public sphere in China, despite the government’s control efforts. My research will document this process and test these premises by analyzing patterns of discourse and influence of both prominent, “top” bloggers and the lesser-known, “long-tail” bloggers, while also providing an aggregator platform where their voices can be better heard by the world, including behind of the Great Firewall of China.