Social Media Uprising in the Chinese-speaking World Editor:Ip Iam-Chong is a senior teaching fellow in the Department of Cultural Studies atLingnan University and editor and co-founder of inmediahk.net. Authors:Chang Teck-Peng is Editor-in-Chief of independent Chinese news portal MerdekaReview (merdekareview.com).Hu Yong is an associate professor at Peking Universitys School of Journalism andCommunication.
Ip Iam-ChongLam Oi-Wan is editor and co-founder of inmediahk.net and Northeast Asia Editor forGlobal Voices Online (globalvoicesonline.org).Liu Shih-Ding is an associate professor in the Department of Communication atUniversity of Macau.Jack Qiu Linchuan is an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism andCommunication at Chinese University of Hong Kong.Portnoy Zheng is a media activist, executive committee member of media watchdoggroup Campaign for Media Reform, and director of Project Lingua with GlobalVoices Online (globalvoicesonline.org).
Acknowledgement Social Media Uprising in Chinese-speaking World is the result of a project coordinated by Hong Kong In-Media, a registered association in Hong Kong and a non-commercial entity. The organization supports the development of independent media in Hong Kong and the Chinese-speaking world through direct sponsorship, education and research. Currently, it finances the operation of www.inmediahk.netand www.interlocals.net. The revenue generated from this book will be allocated for future researches and publications. Copyrights English web version first published in September 2011 By Hong Kong In-Media 9F 365 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong Some rights reserved under Creative Commons: Non-commercial and Share Alike Another Chinese printed version of this book has been published in July 2011 By UP publication in Hong Kong
ContentsPreface ........................................................................................................................... 7Editors Note ................................................................................................................ 10China: The Internet and Grassroots Mobilization........................................................ 16Hong Kong: A New Page for Affective Mobilization ................................................. 25Macao: Post-colonial Struggle against the Conservative Political Culture ................. 29Taiwan: Beyond Blue-Green Antagonism ................................................................... 35Malaysia: The Flame of Reformasi on the Internet ..................................................... 39
Preface Jack Qiu LinchuanSocial media has become an integral part of our lives, personal or public, for good orfor bad, in the Asia-Pacific region and the rest of the world. Yet, most books dealingwith social media and its sociopolitical dimensions tend to be written by authorsbased in western societies, writing from western perspectives: Howard Rheingold,Cass Sunstein, Clay Shirky, Evgeny Morozov. They publish great work, but whatabout Asian experiences with social media and mobilization? Are western writingssufficient in describing and explaining what is going on in the Asian Pacific?This book addresses the first question in an unprecedented manner. It gives a clearanswer to the second question, which is, no. By putting together rich materials fromMalaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao, and mainland China, this book, the first of itskind, shows not only how Asian experiences are collectively unique. The booksucceeds in demonstrating how the convergence of recent Web 2.0 technologies withexisting social causes takes shape in the particular contexts of each society, indrawing from specific local and regional repertoires of political culture, energizingongoing civil society movements and responding to urgent needs for action from thebottom up. In so doing, grassroots mobilization facilitated by social media isredefining the trajectories of history, both in the region and on a broader level.Globally speaking, netizens in the Asia-Pacific region have been vanguards in theevolution of Internet-based social mobilization. Long before the Twitter Revolution of2009, the flames of the 1998 Reformasi movement swept across Malaysia and beyondto support Anwar Ibrahim after his dismissal from office. Before Mubarak lostpower in 2011, protesters in The Philippines, equipped with mobile phones and SMS,brought down the Estrada presidency in 2001. Two decades before Obama joinedTwitter, activists across Southeast Asia were using mailing lists to join the 1989Tiananmen pro-democracy movement.The Asian story began to unfold years before Julian Assange became a householdname in the West; when WikiLeaks first appeared in 2006, it claimed that overseasChinese dissidents were the most prominent among its founders and that “our primaryinterests are oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, sub-Saharan Africa
and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the West”(AFP).Measured in Internet time, Web-based mobilization in Asia has more than a longhistory. In recent years, it has also become very popular and extremely colorful alongwith the spread of social media. Newer platforms like Twitter, Facebook, andYouTube, are more influential in other parts of the world than is often understood.Older platforms have developed uniquely Asian characteristics as a result of languagedifferences, such as campus BBSes in Taiwan, Cantonese-language Internet radio inHong Kong, or online forums in Macao. Further still, there are the peculiar species ofsocial media in the dark shadows behind China’s “Great Firewall” such as SinaWeibo, Renren, and Youku, which, respectively, are imitations of Twitter, Facebookand YouTube, but in technical aspects are designed to try and minimize use of theirplatforms in political mobilization.Despite their idiosyncrasies, and despite attempts of political suppression andcommercial marginalization, social media as analyzed in all chapters of this volumehave stood out as new platforms of mobilization. Drawing on existing resources ofsocial movements in each society, the particular causes in social networking service(SNS) mobilization vary from the protection of landmarks to environmentalmovements to freedom of speech, from labor politics to gender equality, to theexposure of official corruption. The multiplicity of these causes and their sustainedgrowth, in both number and strength, signify the coming of a new era in whichtraditional authorities and their mass-mediated communication channels can no longerdominate discussions of public policy and the shaping of collective memory,especially among disenfranchised social groups such as youth, migrants, ethnicminorities, and dissidents of every kind.But how effective is the power of social media not only in the spontaneousmobilization of netizens, but also in organizing them democratically to enablesustained social change? Does citizen journalism really offer a solution to the lack ofreasoned responses in online deliberation? What about “regime change”? Is thatfeasible, or even desirable, in these Asian societies?Authors in this edited volume are all leading experts in their respective fields,individuals who have observed and, in many cases, participated in social media-basedmobilization in their own territories and larger social movements in the Asian Pacific.They offer accounts that are richly descriptive yet ideologically open, historically
optimistic yet empirically cautious. After all, their analyses focus on alternativemodes of mobilization that are by, for, and of the grassroots of society; approaches toparticipation in society which differ fundamentally from institutionalized partypolitics dictated by senior politicians or sponsored by business elites.The greatest benefit this volume brings is that it allows readers to first appreciate thesingularity of each society and key incidents of mobilization in it, and then comparethem across space and across time, not only with each other but also with paralleldevelopments in other world regions. This is a truly exciting task that is long overdue.I am, therefore, most delighted to see the publication of this excellent volume, whichshould be of interest to anyone who would wishes to learn about social media and thedemocratic future of Asia, and of the entire human race. Enjoy!
Editors Note Ip Iam-Chong (Translated by Lee Chi-Leung)The title of this book might evoke associations with social movement, radical actionor even revolution; contemporary societys concern with social mobilization and itsproliferation of related topics stem from, however paradoxically, the relative stabilityin postwar societies and world politics. In other words, our concern with why and howpeople are “moved” into action arises precisely from the fact that we have entered anera wherein mass mobilization has been diminished.Whereas past revolutionaries saw peoples uprisings amidst the political upheavals of19th century Europe as historically inevitable, conservatives were disinclined to studythe human agency in these movements as they were busy with discrediting andkeeping down political opposition and class struggles. As the 20th century unfolded,the world was still caught up in the massive war mobilizations of WWI and WWII,when “social mobilization” was considered not so much an issue but rather normal.The social science discipline in the postwar West also began to take interest in “socialmobilization" during the height of the Cold War between the 1950-1960s. Therelatively stable social condition of the time allowed for retrospection on Germanfascism and a distant look into the political campaigns of communist counterparts onthe other end of the Cold War. Westerners, who regarded themselves as free,democratic, rational and sober, were curious and at the same time fearful of thosestrange faces, wondering why they could have plunged into irrational collectivebehaviors, which was less of an issue for countries with extensive military andpolitical mobilizations in postwar times. We are also familiar with the Maoist era inmainland China during which political campaigns defined everyday life throughcontinuous mobilization led by a self-proclaimed revolutionary regime. “Socialmobilization” was not considered a problem. When Mao Zedong said, “To rebel isjustified”, it was those who did not rebel that became the problem.The sense of stability in the postwar West had its material basis in prosperity, yet itwas also enticed with delicate political absorption, social control and disciplinarymeasures. In more concrete terms, the mainstay of western modernity had been acoordination of the free, democratic order with a range of professional, intricateknowledge-power mechanisms from education, social work, to psychological
counseling and treatment of mental illness. The counterculture, antiwar movements,student riots and new social movements that came about in 1960-1970s thus shockedthe West by large. This explains the quest for theoretical accounts of youthengagement with radicalism in both thinking and praxis—as manifested in theirlashing out at institutions, their inventive forms of organizational rationalities, andtheir distrust of elitist politics and social governance, as well as the cultural andeconomic rule of capitalism. In other words, radicalism found its successors inneo-anarchism, European communism and autonomism, even though traditional leftistrevolutionary rhetoric and theories had been subsiding or marginalized. At the sametime, related research such as that into the sociology of social movements alsoemerged in British and American mainstream academia.Compared with the West, interest in social mobilization in the communist world ismore often tied with political and value judgments. Although totalitarian measures ofterror and political mobilization in Soviet East Europe had waned with the death ofStalin, an oppressive sociopolitical order without ideological appeal was perpetuatedby technocrats under the unitary rule of the Communist Party. With the close ofWWII, resistance movements swept across Eastern Europe, posing threats to theSoviet and Warsaw Pact structures, which gradually culminated as the intellectualmovements and resistance movements of the 1970s. For instance, Vaclav Havelinitiated the Charter 77 petition in Czechoslovakia, and in Poland, Adam Michnik wasactively engaged in Solidarity (Independent Self-governing Trade Union "Solidarity").At the time, people and civil society began exploring forms of post-totalitarianismresistance and self-protection to check state power, conjuring a “self-limitingmovement”, not one aimed at overthrowing regimes. These efforts paved the way tothe widespread post-1989 political turbulence and eventually brought down the SovietUnion and communist regimes in Eastern Europe. The series of historical events haveprompted an interest in the long-term effects of social mobilization.With the death of Mao Zedong and the fall of Gang of Four, China witnessed ageneral disillusionment with revolutionary ideology. Deng Xiaoping, who headedintellectuals, rusticated youth and technocrats formerly victimized in politicalcampaigns of Maoist era, gradually rebuilt the political and societal order of Reformand Opening. That order, however, was a contested one. The Beijing Spring periodbetween the end of 1970s and early 1980s, and the 1989 Tiananmen democracymovement not only exposed the oppressive tyranny of the Chinese Communistdictatorship, but also the fragility of the Reform and Opening order. The 1989crackdown halted the decade-long discussions of democratic political reform and
transitions from across sectors, within and without institutions. The emerging civilsociety, non-violent resistance and “rights-defending movement” were subsequentlyforced to exist either without any institutional affiliation, underground or overseas.Yet, capitalist development driven by state power has escalated into the 1990s anddelivered a “flourishing age” packaged by the Chinese Communist Party under thepolitical engineering project of Xiaokang Society. A new CCP-controlled politicaland economic power bloc was also formed. Although there have been numerousregional confrontations (or the so-called “mass incidents”), economic and social lifein China appears similar to or even more stable than that of any other capitalistcountries under the self-promoted image of the “China Model”.Concern with social mobilization and related discussions, albeit different in approach,could be read as a form of self-reflective mediation which calls into question thestable order in which we live. From a traditional Marxist perspective, the problem ofsocial mobilization may displace revolutionary discourses of class struggle; in termsof questioning and subverting the “usual state of affairs” in everyday life, itnevertheless enables proliferation of previously unknown collective energy andsubjects which are more inclusive and varied in political nature. The new problemsmay not bring about hope for revolution or provide a concrete road map, but they doaddress two important aspects of remaking a societys “usual state of affairs”: Firstly,the emergence of new social movements or political organizations—or, moreprecisely, new rationalities and action logic—as seen in new social movements underwestern capitalism and resistant civil society organizations under post-totalitarianism;secondly, an onset of new political struggles which revisit or even reproduce thepower relations governing the societys “usual state of affairs”.We could therefore examine Internet mobilization in a similar vein. “Socialmobilization” could be regarded as a phenomenon particular to the second half of20th century; it is also a lexicon for an understanding of mass politics. In retrospect,the term seems to have continuity with some characteristics and trends brought on bythe advent of the Internet and new media, particularly social media which haveemerged in recent years such as Facebook and Twitter. The relationship betweenoppositional politics and the Internet became a focal point for media activism betweenthe late 1990s and early 2000s. The Internet has been further conflated and evenmerged with the concept of “social mobilization” in recent media coverage of the“Jasmine Revolution” in North Africa this year. Certainly, however, the relationshipbetween the two cannot be so quickly generalized, and the idea of this book originatedprecisely with this contention. We have invited scholars and commentators from East
Asia and Southeast Asia regions surrounding Hong Kong for concrete analyses anddiscussions of the complicated relationship between social media and socialmobilization in recent years. Although the task demands a composite analysis ofhistorical contexts for each of the cases, here are some of my general observations onsocial mobilization and social media.1. Interactions through social media can easily assemble a collective voice, creatingtemporary virtual community and even non-organizational collective action in whichparticipants share their anger and sense of pleasure, or undergo what Ip Iam-Chongand Lam Oi-Wan called “emotive explosion” in their article “Hong Kong: New Pagefor Affective Mobilization”. In terms of social mobilization costs, social mediadrastically lower the threshold for participation in social actions, as well as change thestructure of incentives. Based on the rationale of economics and freedom in thepostwar West, social movement researchers in the West had postulated the “free rider”problem intrinsic in social mobilization as early as the 1970s. Since objectives insocial movements are public in nature, individuals who quest for gains tend to rely onothers participation rather than their own. In this regard, the functional role of socialmovement organizations is to overcome the problem of “free riding”. Multipleselective incentives are to be created through organizational work so that participantscan gain exclusive satisfaction from the organization and their participation. Thenfollows the question of whether social media are creating adequate selectiveincentives. If so, the importance of social movement organizations in socialmobilization might actually decline, and yet this implies a host of other problems.Even in social mobilizations which have been exceptionally rigorous and can at timestrigger explosive political consequences (e.g., officials stepping down or terminationof certain policies), the energy is not easy to channel into oppositional politicalprocesses, including innovation of citizen and political organizations, as well aspolicy and institutional reforms.The Taiwanese experience as reported by Portnoy Zheng seems to provide us withsimilar insights. In recent years, Taiwan has seen new topics of debate predominatedneither by the Blue nor Green camp (KMT and DPP). Social mobilizations initiatedby netizens without organizational affiliations have become more organized andincreasing in number. Certainly, there is a long way to go for a new political force toform, and the scale of Taiwans Blue/Green camp-predominated political landscapehas yet to be recreated. However, in examining how selective incentives in thesesocial mobilizations are linked and interacted (whether these mobilizations are madevia the Internet or not), or how different social action rationalities are linked, will
show us new directions for reflections on the matter.2. Social mobilization may not guarantee any revolutionary or reform agenda to come,but will, however, enter into certain political process. As Chang Teck-peng points out,Malaysias Internet-driven Reformasi originated with the reformist movement of 1998.The movement might have subsided, but many activists have since taken part inInternet media and formed a strong oppositional public domain online, which effectedsignificant change in the general election of 2008, with the opposition gainingunprecedented success. As most writers observed, public opinion and mobilizationson the net have not replaced social or political campaigns and organizations. Internetmobilization, whether in the form of opposition media or social media networks, atleast maintains the publics political enthusiasm, or, in the terminology of socialmovement studies, the awareness and effective involvement of political opportunities.This is observable in the case studies of mainland China, Macao and Hong Kong.In Hu Yong’s words, since 1989, the Chinese Communist Party has cracked down notonly on political opposition, but all civil organizations and forms of protest culturehave been wiped out as well. It was only with the rise of the Internet that freedom ofassembly (in more or less a virtual sense) has been partly realized, reviving protestculture in China. In Macao, public opinion and mobilization online may not bringsubstantial political and social reform, but have broken down and through the politicalapathy which has continued from the time of colonial rule. In the case of Hong Kong,we see an explosion of strong nativist sentiment which is becoming a collective forcefor a new round of democratic movements.The goal of this book is not to uncritically praise or romanticize “social mobilization”,as political practice is as diverse as it is varied in political stances. In the broadestsense, it is part of democratic struggle. Democracy here has long exceeded theframework and institutional arrangement of formal democracy; it questions andnegotiates with the “usual state” of life and its implicit power relations. The basic aimof this book is to capture the social dynamic as such.Lastly, we would like to express our gratitude for Comite Catholique contre la Faminet pourle Development (CCFD), an association based in France, for its continualsupport of Hong Kong In-Medias study and translation projects related toindependent media development in the Chinese-speaking world. These publicationshelp us to reconsider the interaction between politics and new media, and facilitatedialogue surrounding the development of civil society in different regions. Most of
the photographs which appear in this book were gathered through interpersonalnetworks of inmediahk.net and were inserted by the editor at the later stage ofproduction. We would like to thank our friends in civil and independent media fromacross Asia for their contribution.
China: The Internet and Grassroots Mobilization Hu Yong (Translated by Yeung Wai-Ling)IntroductionSocial mobilization, as a concept in sociology, involves commitments and actions thatmotivate members of a society to participate in order to bring about social changes.These changes can be formal, leading to a change in law, or they can be informal,resulting in an altered set of social norms. In contrast to social movements, socialmobilization is intermittent and transient by nature. As an integral part of a socialmovement, however, social mobilization helps build a sense of solidarity, identity andpublic awareness in support of a specific cause or set of causes. Social mobilizationcan be legitimized by a political institution, including a government. It can also beused to challenge the moral integrity of the authority and political legitimacy of aninstitution. In short, social mobilization provides a means for a social movement toachieve its goals. The mere presence of some forms of social mobilization is notsufficient proof of the existence of a social movement; however, no social movementcan exist without some visible forms of social mobilization.What is a social movement? It describes a purposeful, organized and institutionalizedcollective action that has yet to be turned into a ritual. Charles Tilly defines a socialmovement as a series of contentious performances, displays and activities throughwhich ordinary people make a collective claim (Tilly: 2004). Sidney Tarrow considersa social movement as “a collective challenge launched with a common purpose andon the foundation of social solidarity. It manifests itself as constant interactionsamong elites, dissidents and the authority”. The targets of the challenge can be theelites, the authority, other groups or even a cultural code. It involves actions such as“establishing an organization, clarifying a concept, contacting and mobilizingsupporters, as well as promoting self-development and the construction of collectiveidentity among members” (Tarrow: 1994). Gary T. Marx and Doug McAdam describea social movement as a form of organized political activity launched by a lessinfluential group that is unable to pursue its goals through “appropriate political
channels” (Marx: 1994).A social movement is a group action undertaken collectively by individuals or groupswho share a common purpose of promoting certain ideas or resisting some oppositionforces. Tom Postmes and Suzanne Brunsting use the “mode of participation” and the“intensity of the action” as indicators for defining group actions (Postmes: 2002:290-301).In terms of the mode of participation, group actions can be classified as either“individual” or “collective”, depending on the number of participants. The former (anindividual action) usually involves an individual taking action to demonstrate his/herdisobedience. In China, the most common ways for individuals to express civildisobedience are petition visits and letters of complaint. The accumulative effects ofindividuals’ pleas for justice can often lead to large-scale actions. The latter (acollective action) involves a direct appeal to the general public to encourage massdemonstration and collective petitioning. The Weng’an (Note 1) mass protest and theriot at Tonghua Steel (Note 2) are two of the best examples.In terms of intensity, group actions can be “persuasive” or “antagonistic”. Persuasive
group actions, which include collecting signatures, lobbying and petitioning, aim toconvince others to accept certain viewpoints. Antagonistic group actions, on thecontrary, involve the adoption of more extreme measures such as demonstrations,blockades and subversion, in direct confrontation with one’s opponents.These two indicators allow social mobilization to be defined in terms of fourbehavioral patterns:- Individual persuasive actions (writing letters of complaint)- Individual antagonistic actions (self-immolation)- Collective persuasive actions (petitioning)- Collective antagonistic actions (strikes and riots)The Internet can act both as initiator and supporter for each of these four behavioralpatterns. For example, the Internet can be used to initiate such persuasive actions asonline signatures, lobbies, petitions and acts of disobedience (these actions can beboth individual and collective). It can also be used to encourage the public to launchboycotts or even cyber-attacks. In real-life group actions, however, the Internet oftenonly plays a supporting role. It is generally used to disseminate information, tomobilize mass participation and, subsequently, to intensify the pressure which groupactions can exert on society. Take Twitter as an example. Many people gave credit toTwitter for initiating group actions during the 2009 Iranian presidential election. Inreality, however, Twitter played little more than a supporting role. The decision ofIran’s reformist leaders to call for a demonstration was communicated to theirsupporters through a variety of channels. There was no evidence to show thatdemonstrators in Iran organized their demonstrations primarily through Twitter.Twitter, as a public platform, does not make for a very effective means of actionplanning because governments such as the one in Iran can easily access an organizer’s“tweets”. In situations such as Iran in 2009, the Internet was just one of manycommunication tools used in mobilization.This paper intends to illustrate how Chinese people make use of both initiator andsupporter functions of the Internet to engage in persuasive and antagonistic actions,both individually and collectively.Social mobilization prior to the age of the Internet
The Communist Party of China (CPC) is famous for its ability to engage in socialmobilization. The Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, or KMT) prior to 1949 was, in asense, only an elitist political organization; it had failed to extend its organization andits influence to 85% of the population in rural farming villages. This was in starkcontrast to the CPC, which managed to extend its power as a political party to the vastmajority of grassroots members of rural communities, while at the same time itcarried out one of the most extensive political mobilization campaigns seen in recenthistory.From the time the CPC came to power in 1949 through until 1976, China continued tosustain a political system based on traditional social infrastructure wherein the stateand the family merged into a single unit, leaving very little room for public space.This political system, Leninist at the core, ensured that principles upheld by thecommunity were put into action in everyday life. At that time, the Party was the onlymechanism for social mobilization and the entire country would act on orders fromthe Party and the government. The existence of public space under the “iron plate”was out of the question. Civil society groups were completely absent. Individuals,who had lost their right to free speech, became so powerless that they were unable toorganize themselves into autonomous social groups. (The existence of public space under the “iron plate” was out of the question.)The “iron plate” was gradually lifted after the introduction of the Reform and Open
Door Policy. This new policy made it possible for independent space to exist. SunLiping and others believed that China, both as a country and a society, hadexperienced some forms of structural deconstruction; these changes had manifestedthemselves in three areas: 1) the scope in which the Party and government exercisedcontrol had been reduced. This change had affected the everyday lives of the generalpublic; 2) even in fields in which government control had prevailed, the intensity ofsuch control was weakening and control mechanisms had changed. In other words, thestrict control over the processes in which acts were performed had been replaced by amore subtle control over matters of principles; 3) the method of control had becomeincreasingly standardized. These gradual steps towards standardization had replacedthe arbitrary exercise of power. Consequently, unscrupulous and extreme measureswere curbed.Economic reforms which were founded on a market economy and diversified propertyrights were directly responsible for the development of a relatively autonomoussociety. This development also manifested in three areas: 1) society became arelatively independent source of resources and opportunities; hence, individualsbecame visibly less reliant on the state; 2) relatively independent social forces such asthe country’s entrepreneurs, sole proprietors and intellectuals, had emerged. Theirparticipation in economic and social lives at the community level became increasinglynoticeable; 3) civil societies became stronger and better organized. Intermediaryorganizations such as trade unions, chambers of commerce, recreational and sportsassociations, academic societies and associations, foundations, friendship groups andclubs under various names began to appear (Sun: 1994).These changes indicate that social mobilization is no longer monopolized by the Partyand the government. However, tight Party control over a prolonged period in the pasthas considerably weakened Chinese society’s ability to mobilize and organize itself.Some meaningful and spontaneous social organizations have emerged, but it isinevitable that they continue to rely on connections and other resources from withinthe Party. Meanwhile, there is continuous pressure from the Party to restrict thegrowth of these organizations, originating in the Party’s fear that it will lose grip on asociety that is becoming increasingly diverse.Let us take the labor unions as an example. Article 35 of the Constitution of thePeople’s Republic of China ensures that Chinese nationals have freedom ofassociation. However, the freedom to form labor unions is not subject to legalprotection in China (Note 3). In fact, most spontaneously formed organizations which
have mushroomed throughout the country exist in a grey area, in an awkward positionthat makes them neither legal nor illegal (Liu: 2004). According to China’s“Registration of Social Organizations Ordinance”, an application to form anorganization shall be reviewed and approved by the government unit in charge of itsline of business and it shall be registered in accordance with terms stipulated in theOrdinance. The registration authority can ban and confiscate properties from thosewho form an organization without permission, those who conduct activities forunregistered organizations and those who continue to carry out activities on behalf ofan organization after its registration has been revoked. If criminal activities aredetected, those who take part will be investigated for criminal responsibilities. If nocriminal activities are committed, those involved will be dealt administrative penalties.Based on this Ordinance, the vast majority of nongovernmental organizations inexistence in China today ought to be banned and punished.Article 35 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China also gives Chinesenationals the right to join a procession to demonstrate. Journalist Li Datong recalledinstructions conveyed from Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang in the mid 1980s, whichsaid, “we have to learn to govern in the midst of small to medium-scale disturbances”,and “we have to be accustomed to govern in situations when there are massdemonstrations and protests”. It is indeed an important conceptual change for thesecond generation of Chinese political leaders to accept people’s right to protest andto treat it as a social norm (Li: 2004). However, the “Legislation on Demonstrationsand Protests” adopted by the National People’s Congress in October 1989 waspractically “a legislation to ban demonstrations and protests”. It put an end not only tostreet demonstrations but also to a culture of protest. Article 7 of the legislationstipulates that “those who intend to stage a gathering, a demonstration and a protestmust lodge an application with relevant authorities and seek their approval inaccordance with this Legislation”. This move to impose a government approvalsystem on “gatherings, demonstrations and protests” has practically outlawed anydemonstration or gathering that is not approved by authorities in charge of publicsecurity. Dissidents in China realize that all efforts to seek approval for staging aprotest will inevitably be futile.It is only with the dawn of the Internet age that freedom of association can now bepartially achieved, and a culture of protest has also begun to show signs of revival.With that, the rise of the Internet in China has been met with increasing control.Nevertheless, the partially achieved freedom of association and the revived culture ofprotest will continue to grow and to have an impact on many aspects of Chinese
society.(Charter 08 is a call for constitutional reform by more than 300 Chinese Intellectuals. This photo is taken by Ip Iam Chong)The resistance of individualsMany researchers tend to look at an increase in conflicts and protests as a by-productof reforms in contemporary China. According to Frances Piven and Richard Cloward,protests “do not appear in normal times. They appear in a period when large-scalechanges undermine political stability” (Piven: 1978: 386). This is not the case withmass protests in China. The main reason, according to Cai Yongshun, is thatwidespread socioeconomic changes and reform initiatives have become a threat to theinterests of a very large number of people (Cai: 2010). The condition has furtherdeteriorated since the 1990s. As Sun Liping puts it, some “important turning pointsand reverse situations” (Sun: 2004: 78) have occurred since then. Consequently,social conflicts and protests in China have taken on an upward trend in terms ofnumber, size and intensity. Some researchers have identified “the use of advanced
electronic technology as the most obvious new feature. It improves communicationsamong protesters. It also allows protesters to broadcast news about their predicamentto supporters with the help of the mass media and the international community.” Itgenerates new social relations, new ties and new common interests among people andhelps improve mobilization capacity of their social movements (Perry 2008).The use of advanced electronic technology is closely associated to the process ofdigitization in China. In just five years from 2005 to 2009, Internet coverage in Chinahas increased by more than two-fold. Mobile phone coverage has also doubled.CNNIC pointed out in its “27th Report on the Development of the Internet” that thenumber of netizens in China had reached 457 million by December 2010. In the sameyear, mobile phone users in China had exceeded 800 million, while mobile Internetusers exceeded 300 million. These strong growth figures help open up a new space forgroup actions and social mobilization.(CNNIC pointed out in its “27th Report on the Development of the Internet” that the number of netizens in China had reached 457 million by December 2010. )Some researchers in the West have adopted a broad and more general classificationfor social movements and collective actions which occur after the introduction ofEconomic Reform and Open Door Policies in China. They are labeled “dissidentresistance” and “ordinary resistance” respectively (Pei: 2003: 45). Those whoparticipate in the former are intellectuals from both inside and outside of the Partysystem. They intend to achieve some political objectives through the act of resistance.Participants in the latter, however, are mainly members of the general public who
have recourse to specific issues that affect their own interests. The number of cases ofordinary resistance has increased rapidly since the 1990s. The resistance ofindividuals described in this section belongs to the latter category. (Petitioners visit Beijing to voice out their grievances. Photo from Canyu.org)[China chapter preview ends here]
Hong Kong: A New Page for Affective Mobilization Lam Oi-Wan, Ip Iam-Chong (Translated by Lee Chi-Leung)Foreword: Social movement and mediaSince the 1970s, the main agency of social movements and civil society in HongKong has been nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the intervention of socialworkers. The more radical actions of social workers were influenced by SaulAlinsky, with resident and neighbor groups actively organizing and integrating withthe social workers in community development. The anti-eviction movement of therooftop squatters in the early 1990s exemplifies the trend at the time. Social workerswith experience in community development would actively involve themselves in thecommunity, informing residents about predicaments they faced, organizing them foracts or resistance through group sharing and discussion. However, the Establishmentwas able to put pressure on social work organizations through budget cuts forcommunity development projects and demands for greater professionalization.Gradually, the majority of social workers were co-opted by the Establishment, andtheir aims shifted toward dissolving social conflicts. At the same time, many socialactions have been evolved into some sort of ritualistic “polite politics” (Ho, 2000).There are numerous NGOs in Hong Kong, yet the majorities are social welfare,poverty relief or professional organizations that are nonpolitical in nature. It isestimated that the number of social movement organizations which are morepolitically inclined - those which actively intervene in political and social issues, andmobilize anti-Establishment voices - is limited at around three hundred. Most of theseare small in scale and short of social resources. They usually focus on their ownorganizational matters and specific issues within their scope. On occasions whencertain cross-sector public issues draw their concern, they will form coalitions to issuea position paper on the issue(s) and take collective action. In September 2002, theCivil Human Rights Front was established specifically for the organizational workinvolved with the annual 1 July rally. The coalition is comprised of over fifty membergroups, all of which are social movement groups and political parties working ondemocracy, human rights and social justice issues. By coordinating the limited
resources and optimizing work share among member groups, the organizationalapproach facilitates resource mobilization for the annual rally. (The Civil Human Rights Front was established specifically for the organizational work of the annual 1 July rally. Photo taken from CHRF’s Facebook account.)The 1990s also witnessed the emergence in Hong Kong of new social movementagendas in the field of gender and sexuality politics, human rights and environmentalprotection. These campaigns emphasize identification with certain values and rely to alarger degree on actions which attract the attention of mainstream media that allowsthem to appeal for public support. For instance, in March 1994, a series of mobilizedactions and interactions with the Legislation in support of lawmaker Christine Lohs“New Territories Land (Exemption) Ordinance” brought the question of women’srights in the New Territories into public view. At the same time, media activism hastaken root locallyl. Greater numbers of social organizations have learned how toprepare news releases, feeding reporters with related information and planning mediastrategy for their campaigns. Contentious activism was largely replaced by a form ofmedia public relations.Interaction between civil society and the mainstream media as such has a considerableeffect. Despite the fact that over 70% of news sources comes from institutional
channels, there are numerous newspapers and magazines in print for a small place likeHong Kong. Their positioning in the opinion market along with professionalguidelines of balanced coverage ensure that positions from different organizations arerepresented. Reporters sometimes even invite representatives of NGOs to comment oncurrent affairs. For instance, most newspapers will ask the Hong Kong Confederationof Trade Unions (HKCTU) to respond to labor policy. There are, however,commentators who have pointed out that civil society organizations like these arerestricted in many ways. Namely, they tend to be depoliticized and focused only ontheir own agenda, incapable of consolidating as a political force which could bringchanges to public policies.（Lam and Tong 2007; Ma 2009）At the same time, interaction between civil society and media has long been a subjectof debate within social movements. There have been many rallies which have endedwith physical confrontations outside the Liaison Office of the Central PeoplesGovernment in the Hong Kong SAR since 1989, and tension has always been presentamong student movement activists—between those who opt for the “showbiz”approach and those who endorse the “movement subject” approach. As mainstreamcommercial media has become increasingly self-censored after the 1 July rally of2004, social movement participants began to reflect upon their relation with themainstream media. Many activists questioned the “showbiz” approach, considering itself-restrictive, as it renders participants passive. The anti-WTO mobilization in 2005,provided young activists an opportunity to experiment with the “direct action”approach. The subsequent emergence of Internet mobilization was in a certain wayrelated to these discussions and reflections (Choy Chi-Keung, 2006; Lui Tai-Lok,2010; Ip Lam-Chong, 2010; Chan Hau-Man, 2010; Chan King-Fai, 2010).
(Since the anti-WTO mobilization in 2005, young activists have begun to take up the “direct action” approach. Photo taken by Ip Iam-Chong)The rise of Internet mobilization (Note 1)In Hong Kong, discussion of public issues on the Internet came about as early as1998-1999. The major platform at the time was the BBSes, spaces where users wouldshare news information and discuss current affairs. The actual integration of onlinediscussions with social action began with the 1 July rally of 2003. A survey conductedon that day showed that 53.5% of participants considered Internet mobilization animportant factor for their participation. Although the figure was lower than of thosewho considered the influence of newspapers, TV or radio stations as important (over60%), it was higher than that of political parties (43.9%) and even more so incomparison with affiliated organizations (34.3%) (Joseph Chan Man, Chung Ting-Yiu,2003).[Hong Kong chapter preview ends here]
Macao: Post-colonial Struggle against the Conservative Political Culture Liu Shih-Ding (Translated by Florence Lo)Foreword: Social movement and media (Note 1)Since its return to China in 1999, the Macao SAR has undergone dramatic changes inits social, political and economic landscapes (Liu, 2008). With the opening up and fastmarket expansion of the gambling industry, as well as the rapid formation of aconsumer society brought along by a growing number of tourists from mainlandChina, the Internet has been gradually incorporated into a new political and businessculture. The role it plays is now of increasing importance. The process of Macao’sintegration into the circuits of global capital has created much social tension andnumerous problems. Unable to express the diverse demands of social interests or tomonitor government policy through mainstream media, conventional associations andunions or the Legislative Council, people are turning to online media to express theirdiscontents and initiate social campaigns. In a political environment in whichinstitutional channels for public grievances are seriously clogged, the Internetcertainly has strengthened people’s capacity for communication and mobilization.Hence, netizens, particularly those from the city’s younger generation, have opened acrack in the longstanding conservative political culture of Macao.The function of online forumsTo understand the importance of the Internet in Macao’s public arena, we need to takeinto consideration its special colonial context and cultural background. The social andpolitical environment of Macao is known to center on stability and harmony,
especially after the 12-3 incident in 1966 (Liu, 2008). Within this context,associations which arose toward the end of the Portugese colonial period, assemblingthe strength of Chinese nationals, play a crucial role. These were mainly businessorganizations and worker, teacher and student unions which provided services to theChinese, and consulted with the government on behalf of Chinese interests. In thename of patriotism and a love for Macao, they formed a broad-based, cross-classalliance which came to control significant social terrain and resources within the civilsociety. There had been no strong social organization or large-scale socialmobilization that can compete with the abovementioned conventional associationsand unions prior to the handover of Macao in 1999. After the handover, under apolitical context which emphasized stability, the conventional associations and unionscooperated closely with the government to cater to government policies and positions.In return, they were given resources, capital subsidies and social status by thegovernment. Although these associations tried to actively maintain distance from thegovernment during every election period, with some candidates even criticizinggovernment stances, the overall relationship was still more cooperative thanconfrontational. Certain more influential members from these associations were evenelected to the positions of Executive Councilor, Legislative Councilor, and membersof various advisory committees. In times when the government faced challenges andpressure from the public, they play a supportive role in resolving conflict. However,such a role has been questioned and criticized throughout the process of urbantransformation in recent years. The associations lack the independence and autonomyrequired to check and balance government policy and behavior. In recent years, aseries of spontaneous social movements and street protests have emerged in Macao.They are the result of a situation in which conventional association have graduallylost their social appeal, and are now out of touch with diverse social needs.Macaos media ecology turned pro-Beijing following the riots in December 1966.Journalists since then have rarely confronted the Beijing government (Ricardo Reis daCamoes Tam and Lo Koon-cheung, 1996). As one veteran media practitioner pointedout, based on observations during the process of interacting with the government,"Macao’s media usually have a rational and moderate approach, in many cases, theyare not critical" and even seem to be excessively self-regulated (Deng Zuji, 2003:115).In Macao, where Chinese-language daily news media receive government subsidies(Lin Chang, 2003), some commentators point out that "their positions and statementsare too conservative and moderate, and often fail to fulfill the supervisory role ofmonitoring the government or to expose and criticize social problems [...], especiallyin major social events related to the government or to the interests of the casinos; as a
result, Macao’s print media are lacking solid credibility"(Ricardo Reis da CamõesTam, 2003). The Macao Radio and Television Corporation (TDM), for example, isone of the city’s main sources of public access to local news and information;however, studies indicate that TDM news reports "are required to positively supportthe “Consensus Project” which strengthens nationalism and development in thepost-colonial era"(Liu Shi-ding and Lei Hao-wan, 2008), thereby ruling out the publicdiscussion or monitoring function that a democratic society needs.It is in such an environment, with closed political space and public communicationblocked that the Internet can offer netizens in Macao greater power forcommunication, dialog and action. With the growth and popularization of the Internet,there are more Internet users making use of online forums to express opposition viewsand opinions in Macao. People forward and post news and information from differentsources. They even mobilize collective protests and actions through online forums.The "Internet use in Macao: The annual survey statistical report 2009" shows that themain channel through which Internet users comment is still discussion forums, which26.7% of users prefer. In contrast, the ratio of people who express opinions throughtraditional media (newspapers, radio, TV) sits at just 7.3%. (2009 survey result on different channels for expression of public opinion in Macao. Data from macaointernetproject.net)From the perspective of democracy theory, when the environment for public opinionis clogged, the Internet provides a legitimate alternative space through which tospread information which differs from - or even questions - the "official publicsphere" (Jakubowicz, 1991). It uses a perspective different from the official version to
define political identity, shape public discussions, and to interpret particular socialevents. Online communication is quietly changing the means of production and flowof news making in conventional news media. Not long ago, there were netizensuploading videos of an abuse case concerning a female student. The event was firstexposed through online forums before mainstream media were drawn to report itextensively. Some online forums have "breaking news" zones, in which users areinvited to share accounts and images of events they experience in person. In this sense,online communication in Macao has expanded the arena for reflection andinformation exchange that is often restricted under the hegemony of mainstreammedia (Downing, 2001: 44).Internet access has been available in Macao since 1995. Prior to that, a number ofcomputer-savvy people set up electronic bulletin board systems (BBS), making use ofemail messages to communicate online. Later, the Macao government granted InternetService Provider licenses to CTM, MacauWeb and Unitel (Note 2). The number ofInternet users in Macao has increased every year, and the city’s Internet penetrationrate reached 70% in 2009. (Data from macaointernetproject.net)Cheong Weng Hin (2009), in his 2008 survey, indicated that Internet usage amongyoung people under the age of 18 had reached 94%, while the 18-24 age group had arate of 99%, and the 36-40-year-old age demographic also had an Internet usage rateof over 70%. When classified by occupation, the groups with the highest Internetusage rates were students, people in management positions, professional white-collarworkers and civil servants. Each of these groups had a rate of Internet usage of over
80%. Among them, 80% of people had at least a high school education level. Also,usage of laptop computers and mobile phones was shown to be growing in proportioneach year. (Trend in the use of tools for going online. Data from macaointernetproject.net)The online activities of Internet users are very diverse; "use of search engines" andreading "online news" reached levels of 82% and 81% respectively, while over 50%of respondents went online for "video website (YouTube)", "instant messaging","browsing blogs" and "social networking service (Facebook)". MSN Messenger is themain instant messaging service used by young people in Macao, and Windows Live(formerly MSN) Spaces and Xanga are their top personal blog platforms of choice. Inthe past, citizens of Macao would use coffee shops, fast food restaurants and otherpublic venues as space to express their own views on current affairs, and now theInternet has gradually become the new default space for social criticism. Onlinepublic forums, personal blogs and recently popularized social networking sites havebecome alternate media for users to follow up on social issues, protest, and eveninitiate action.
(Survey on online activities. Data from macaointernetproject.net)While younger Internet users in Macao prefer using blogs, Facebook and YouTube,they are mostly used for personal entertainment and social communication purposes.Online forums and discussion boards are the main channel for discussing currentaffairs, and they are one of the main channels by which to express dissatisfaction(Note 3). The above chart shows results from a survey conducted in 2009 in which44% of Internet users had browsed or commented on online forums that year. Therapid expansion of gambling beginning in 2006 has intensified social conflicts such ascorruption among officials, weak local employment, soaring property prices and theproblem of acute poverty. The pro government mainstream media, which rely on thesupport from gambling industry, have failed to provide adequate channels for peopleto express their views. Such a backdrop has gradually made online public forums aplatform for people to express their views and to share information on all sorts ofissues. These forums bear little resemblance to mainstream media. They report issuesand information which mainstream media exclude, unconfirmed stories, news fromHong Kong (for example, news from the "Apple Daily" or "Ming Pao" newspapers),and news from local media which exist beyond the pro government spectrum,including "Jornal Informacao ", "Chinese Daily", "Cheng Pou" and "The PublicDaily". Netizens also share their own photographs on forums. Major online publicdiscussions in Macao take place on forums such as "cyberctm" (Very Dynamic),"Qoos" (the Macao interactive community) and "orchidbbs" (Orchid) and other majorsites (Note 4). The power to influence official decisions through Web forums belongsto the “weak public sphere”, as labeled by Fraser (1992), but one should not overlookthe multifaceted values, interests and experiences expressed through these informalplatforms. Criticism of mainstream media coverage, alternative political views, satire,
gossip, slander, and video creations full of an experimental spirit are all found andcirculated throughout these forums. Occasionally, online forums are also used tomobilize street protests.[Macao Chapter preview ends here]Taiwan: Beyond Blue-Green Antagonism Portnoy Zheng (Translated by Tse Fuk-Ying)ForewordEffective communication channels are essential to all sorts of social mobilization. Theform of mobilization changes in accordance with the different type of media used.From public speeches, newspapers, magazines, underground radio, cable television, toonline connections today, social movements in Taiwan have become more closelyknitted with media. Nevertheless, it was not until the burst of the Internet bubble in2000, in which numerous Internet service providers closed down, that the Internet sawmassive penetration into the lives of people in Taiwan, followed by integration withother platforms such as television, mobile phones and different electronic appliances.The lowering price of computer hardware increased the availability of personalcomputers, broadband services and Internet access through mobile phones. ActiveInternet users developed effective collective actions with the help of the Internet.According to a survey by the Institute for Information Industry subsidiary Focus onInternet News and Data (FIND), as of September 2010, the number of broadbandusers in Taiwan had reached nearly five million, and the number of frequent Internetusers rested at around 10.74 million. In another survey of the use of media andInternet in Taiwan, released in December 2010, by InsightXplorer Limited, it wasfound that 61.2% of the population above the age of ten uses the Internet frequently.Furthermore, thanks to the popularity of smartphones, according to a 3Q 2010 reportfrom the National Communication Commission, of 27.93 million registered mobilephone users in Taiwan (the average person in Taiwan owns 1.2 mobile phoneaccounts), 19.12 million can access the Internet using their phone.After Ma Ying-jeou was elected President in 2008, the presidencys performance inhandling the financial crisis and the Morakot disaster was disappointing, and
contributed to the revitalization of social movements in Taiwan. The new generationof Internet users, well-equipped with Internet skills, instinctively incorporated Webapplications with social movements, a reason for the rapid growth in social media andonline mobilization in Taiwan in 2009 and 2010.Context (On 28 February 1947, the Kuomingtang government crackdown on democracymovement in Taiwan and started its 38-year rule under martial law. Historical photo of the 228 incident.)Modern progressive social movements in Taiwan began to evolve during the Japanesecolonial era. In the 1920s, Chiang Wei-shui, Jian Ji and other members of theanti-Japanese unarmed colonial resistance movement, promoted democracy andhuman rights, as well as organizing peasant and labor movements through gatherings,lectures, publications and translation of influential essays. After the Kuomintang fledto Taiwan in 1949 and its 38-year rule under martial law, freedoms of both speech andthought were strictly suppressed. Yet, suppression led to even stronger resistance,manifested through democratization, feminist movements and labor, aboriginal andenvironmental movements. With the end of martial law in the 1980s, the involvementof these movements in numerous incidents, from the 19 May Green Action, the WildLily student movement, the anti-DuPont incident in Lugang, the 20 May peasantmovement, the strike against Yuandong Chemical Fibre, the anti-child prostitute
movement, the Shell-less Snails protest, and the Return My Lands movement, shapedlater development of social movements in Taiwan. Unfortunately, demands by civilsociety for democracy, openness, freedom and equality were gradually adopted by theneoliberal camp. Media in Taiwan, which had just regained autonomy from the party,government and the army, could only survive by following the market-oriented logicof the capitalist system.In 2000, Chen Shui-bian from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won thepresidency. Regardless of peoples expectation of reforms within the establishment,the DDP disappointed them with its deviation from social movements and latercorruption among party members. Starting with another political transition whichbegan in 2008, the capitalist-oriented Kuomintang (KMT) regained authority with thehelp of Ma Ying-jeou’s personal charisma, and continued its developmental agenda ofglobalization.Therefore, in spite of the seemingly blue-green antagonism in Taiwanese politics,both the KMT and DDP suppressed minority groups and disregarded fundamentalhuman rights. During the DDP rule, the fight to preserve the Losheng Sanatorium wasbasically mobilized online, and it represented the rise of social forces against injusticeoutside the blue-green cleavage.Social activists in Taiwan have long sought effective communication channels,although freedom of speech today, with low quality and lacking publicness, remains achallenge. Not only veteran organizers utilize the Internet as a tool for mobilization,many “atypical” social movements were also pushed forward by amateur activistsusing the Internet. Chen Shun-Hsiao (2010), associate professor at Fu Jen CatholicUniversity, conceptualized the situation as that of a “civic communication system”,meaning that communication is no longer dominated by mainstream media, but sharedbetween mainstream media and this civic communication system. In Taiwan, the civiccommunication system consists of BBSes, independent online media and personalmedia. Personal media refers to social media applied by individuals, such as Twitter,Plurk and Facebook.
(Chen Shun Hsiao’s conceptualization of “the civic communication system” in 2010)In the past ten years, new services on the Internet have begun to compete with oneanother for users’ attention. After rounds of evolution, on one hand, BBSes and onlineforums with a long history are still supported by loyal users. On the other hand, emailgroups, blogs, and video-sharing websites satisfy users of different needs due theirconvenience, when at the same time microblogs and social networking sites redefinedsocial media with their updated functions and user-friendliness. A brief introductionof the current situation and significance of various social media in Taiwan is asfollows.BBSes and online forumsBBSes, especially PTT, have been the most frequently used social media amonguniversity students in Taiwan. BBSes, it could be argued, are also mass media, as asingle BBS allows a maximum of 150,000 users to be online simultaneously. Despitelacking Web functions, the BBS medium nonetheless facilitates interaction fairly wellthrough continuous updates and improvement. There are even pseudo-BBS platformswith Web interfaces, allowing users to enjoy the convenience of the Web as well.Numerous cybercultures in Taiwan are derived from individual BBSes. Among those,“all-in-one packages”, individual articles which summarise certain complex issues,are indispensable for most social issues promoted online. Whenever issues become
complicated to the extent that newcomers can no longer follow, there are always usersvolunteering to compile these packages, with their counterparts supplementing thepackages through replies, forwarded threads or updated versions of the “package”.Online forums are also popular in Taiwan. Similar to BBSes, online forums withmassive numbers of registered users like Mobile01 and Gamer.com.tw are alsoimportant distribution centre of online news. Many small forums cater to the needs ofgroups with specific interests, spreading news with a particular focus.[Taiwan Chapter preview ends here] Malaysia: The Flame of Reformasi on the Internet Chang Teck Peng (Translated by Cheung Choi-Wan)Foreword: Reformasi from the street to the InternetThe social movement of Malaysia has a heroic history which can be traced back to theanticolonial struggles of the 1940s. Malaysia won its independence from Britain in1957. Since then and throughout the 1960s, the left wing trade union movement hasbeen very active. After the May 13th Incident, the racial conflict which began on 13May, 1969, the government toughened the Sedition Act of 1948 which had originallybeen used against the Malaysian communists and left wing trade unions. According toofficial reports, the May 13 Incident resulted in the death of 200 persons, while thedeath toll was close to a thousand according to unofficial estimates. In spite of thetoughening of the law, the birth of the student movement in the late 1960s and itsgrowth into the 1970s created an impressive social force. Students left their campusesto support farmers and impoverished people in squatter areas and demanded that thegovernment solve social problems. However, the labor and student movementsdeclined after the government amended the Trade Unions Act of 1959 and theUniversities and University Colleges Act of 1971 to increase control over trade unionsand keep university students from taking part in political activities.
Even with these social movements on the wane, there were still various socialmovements underway throughout the 1980s. Aside from the movement for Chineseeducation and the movement for equal rights for all races, which were dominated byChinese community, campaigns such as the “Anti-OSA (Official Secrets Act)movement” led by Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran), a civil rights group, and thecampaign led by environmental groups against building dumping sites for radioactivewaste in Malaysia, were successful in mobilizing support from the affectedcommunities and enjoyed some success. The 1980s was a turbulent period in thehistory of Malaysia. Mahathir Mohamad enjoyed only a short “honeymoon” periodafter being sworn in as the country’s fourth Prime Minister. After a series of politicalcrisis and financial scandals, he became the “populist under siege” (Khoo, 1995:209-230) and nearly lost his post amid fierce party struggles. On 26 October, 1987,Mahathir, then concurrently in charge of the Ministry of Home Affairs, strengthenedhis power by launching the Operasi Lallang which resulted in the detention of 106social activists, members of the parliament and state assemblies, environmentalistsand church workers, followed by the revocation of publication permits of threenewspapers. For civil society, it was a period of white terror followed by a metaphoriclow tide for the social movement which lasted for a decade. (The Operasi Lallang in 1987 had resulted in the detention of 106 social activists, members of the parliament and state assemblies, environmentalists and church
workers, followed by the revocation of publication permits of three newspapers.)The Asian financial crisis was not only a blow to Malaysia’s overall economy, it alsoled to internal strife among leaders in the ruling regime, all of whom struggled forresources to bail out their own crony capitalists. In 1998, Mahathir Mohamad,Malaysia’s strongman prime minister and Anwar Ibrahim, then deputy Prime Minister,differed on how to deal with the financial crisis. They also differed on whether thegovernment should use public resources to bail out the shipping company owned byMahathir’s eldest son. Anwar, who was also Minister of Finance and Mahathir’sdesignated successor, was sacked from government on 2 September, 1998, andexpelled from the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) two dayslater. Two weeks after that, Anwar was arrested on charges of sodomy and corruption.Before his arrest, Anwar had successfully mobilized the colossal reform movement,Reformasi. The movement had not only taken to the street, it had also used theInternet as one of its principal means for speaking out.In the first few months of the reform movement, Reformasi websites sprung up likemushrooms. There were quickly more than fifty Reformasi websites and many morewith no strong party affiliation (Rodan, 2004: 153). By 2004, there were as many as191 Reformasi websites which could be categorized into content-based (150), news(8), forums (16), electronic discussion groups (6) or interactive technical support (9)(Tan, 2010: 96). These websites looked similar to blogs and became very popular.Most of them were anonymous, but they had at least three major impacts: First, inbreaking the blockade by mainstream media on news about Anwar and Reformasi,and becoming the source of information for the public on their opinions of Anwar andupdates on his situation. Second, in disclosing information the government sought tokeep secret, reporting corruption incidents involving government officials and evenposting classified documents. Third, in mobilizing the public and reporting in detailson street demonstrations (Chang, 2009). In addition to websites, people were alsousing email to disseminate information about rallies, an important means at that timeto break the information blockade imposed by traditional media. Compared withprinted leaflets and large-scale mobilization, the use of email was much morecost-effective. Moreover, emails could reach target groups much more quickly.
(Online poster in support of Anwar’s Reformasi.)As Reformasi and street rallies receded, so did websites for the movement begindisappearing from the Internet, one after the other. Although these websites wereshort-lived, they were the origin of Malaysia’s cyberactivism and the “forerunners” ofonline journalism which emerged much later. In short, the Reformasi movement wasnot only the turning point for the reawakening of the social movement which had beensilenced in the decade after Operasi Lallang, it was also an important starting point forthe independent online media movement. People became aware of the extent to whichmainstream media, controlled by the ruling regime, distorted news and blockedinformation about Reformasi. They also became aware of the important role theInternet could play as means to break the blockade on public opinion (Chang, 2002,2004, 2009; Brown, 2005).The form of Internet media has been changing rapidly and has evolved into variousforms of social media which reflect the concerns of individuals. In spite of thisdevelopment, any discussion on the social and political role played by Internet media,such as mass mobilization, has to be placed in the historical context of Reformasi.
Only then will one be able to have a full picture of the development of Internet mediain Malaysia. In this article, I will trace the trajectory of Reformasi as I explain the roleInternet media—from anonymous Web pages to the now popular social media—hasbeen playing in mass mobilization. I will also draw upon recent empirical cases todiscuss and analyze the strength and limitations of social media for mass mobilization.Finally, I will argue that in spite of its potential for breaking news blockades andenabling access to undistorted and unfiltered news, we should not exaggerate theInternet’s potential in mass mobilization and in bringing about change.Mass mobilization: From anonymous websites to social mediaAs a whole, the development of cyberactivism and mass mobilization in Malaysia hasfollowed a path as described below: First anonymous websites emerged during theperiod of Reformasi. Then, online news media which produced news exclusively forInternet audiences appeared and rivaled traditional media. Many opposition partiesand NGOs also set up their own websites and a large number of blogs owned byindividuals and organizations also sprang up (some organizations own both websitesand blogs). At the same time, NGOs and social activists also made use of websitessuch as PetitionOnline for signature campaigns to link up with like-minded peoplenationwide. Since 2009, there has been a shift to Facebook. (Steven Gan, a human right reporter in Malaysia co-founded Malaysiakini in 1999)Having played their historical role, Reformasi websites gradually disappeared from
the scene. Cyberactivism then took the form of news websites which challenged thestate’s control over news media. The establishment of Malaysiakini in 1999 was thewatershed in this development. It was the first of its kind, Malaysiakini stood outespecially among English news media, since traditional English news media at thatpoint was both monotonous and known to be the mouthpiece of the ruling regime. Inthe next decade, many English news websites which produced news exclusively forInternet audiences were launched and rivaled Malaysiakini. However, today,Malaysiakini still leads the Malaysian online journalism. Competition between thesenews websites was at its most fierce before and after the national election on 8 March,2008. One of these news websites, Agenda Daily, was set up as early as 2001. OtherEnglish news websites established before and after the national election in 2008include The Nut Graph, which claims to provide in-depth reports on politics andpopular culture, Malaysia Insider, which soon won its leading position by being thefirst website to disclose power struggles within the ruling regime and to publish insidestories on government policymaking. Another news website was Malaysian Mirror,which, it has been claimed, is supported behind the scenes by Ong Tee Keat,ex-president of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA).[Malaysia Chapter preview ends here]