State Policy and News
Websites in China
Dong Han & Ying Zhang
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
News websites in China—what and
• State-owned news websites vs.
commercial news websites.
• 78.5% Internet users read news online.
• How/if news websites in China contribute
to media democratization?
Explosive and unbalanced growth
• Users: 620 thousand in 1997
298 million in 2008
• Urban-rural divide: 28.4% users are rural
residents, which amount to 2/3 of total
• Gap between economically developed and
• Users: mostly students and office
Boosting the economy and controlling
• Information and communication technology
as the key to development.
• Media commercialization within the orbit of
Licensing—who can set up a
• For state-owned media outlets: easy and
simple (and encouraged).
• Established big commercial websites: ban
on news production.
• Non-profit, or small commercial websites: a
de facto ban.
News on big commercial
No original political news stories
• Can only reprint state-owned media outlets’
• Transforming copyright law facilitated
• The quantity of news and the editing of
Concentration of news
The big three
• Sampling news.sina.com.cn, the news site
• Most headline/political news come from
Xinhuanet, People’s Net, and ChinaNews, all
key state-owned media outlets.
• 66% of non-headline “current and political”
news, and 74% of headline news, came from
the big three.
Two case studies: People’s Net
• Online presence of the foremost Party mouthpiece,
• Propaganda-oriented: “to insist on correct guidance
of public opinion.”
• Set up in Chinese Internet’s infancy, and received
high-profile support from state leaders.
• Drastic development of state-owned news websites
in early 2000s, when the Internet bubble burst.
• Grew out of a sports (soccer) forum in 1996.
• Investment from venture capital, merger
with a US-based Internet company, adopting
the new name Sina.com (1997-1998).
• More transnational investment, listed in
• State policy grew the Internet market,
allowed in-flow of capital, and shaped the
“production” of news.
Internet and media
democratization in China
News websites matter
• Internet is not only interactive technology,
but also provision of news and information.
• Reading news is the most popular online
activity in China.
• Diversified news sources and in-depth,
investigative stories are indispensable for an
Does Internet news defy censorship
and provide more diversity?
• State-owned websites: loaded with propaganda
other websites: banned from news production,
non-profit and small commercial sites: simply
• No independent source of political news, no
organized alternative efforts to provide in-depth
Technology and democratization
• State policy played a key role in the
development of news website in China.
• Internet does not automatically liberalize or
• Internet growth and democratization
endeavors in Internet-related settings need to
be situated in social and political contexts.
Dong Han firstname.lastname@example.org
Ying Zhang email@example.com