The intellectual divide between China and America was evident again during President Xi Jinping’s visit to the States. He wanted to debate the ebbs and flows on China social media. Barrack Obama had a list of problems to knock off as if the world were his private business.
To Americans, international politics have always been a ‘black and white’ affair. Remember President George W. Bush’s comment, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” after 9/11. China is not like that at all, with more than fifty shades of grey at least on Chinese social media. The comments going back and forth have been interesting, to say the least.
Two Facets to the Challenges of China Social Media
The Vancouver Sun picked up on a debate hosted by Asia Pacific Foundation titled “Social Media in China: What Canadians Need to Know”. While the organisers hoped to view this against a broader background, “there was enough energy in the room to light Vancouver for half a day during a November rainstorm” when professors and students locked horns as if there were only outcome to the debate.
Tech in Asia took a somewhat different line, pointing out the dichotomy between twittery Weibo, and WeChat that is social media for all seasons. While it is true Beijing comes down hard on citizens who step out of line, the Party is also trying hard to use Chinese social media to guide public opinion.
Looking In Towards a More Realistic View
To me, the most relevant thought to come out of the Vancouver debate was a comment by former Asia Pacific Foundation head Paul Evans. He commented, “The story is much bigger than a static view of censorship and repression. Chinese people have a history of using social media in innovative ways, partly to contest authority but also to work with it”.
The view that China social media are a ‘war zone’ could not be further from the truth. Its government and its citizens are debating their world as much as we do in the West. The social media in China just have an important role in it. However this is only one of the more than fifty shades of grey.
The majority of the one-child generation use the media to probe what other people think. If Western business wishes to guide public opinion then it must put more money into defining markets and localising social media content. There really is no other option. When in Rome, we do as Romans do.