Understanding Deliberation in Chinese Online Society

  • Yewen Zhu

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Abstract

With the development and popularisation of the communication of information via the internet, participation in this public discourse has become an increasingly significant part of people’s lives. Even in China, this discursive revolution brought on by the information age has been widely researched. By drawing on the concept of deliberation, this study has investigated online society using behaviours and thoughts of quiet participants, and associated them in the context of Chinese social and communicative culture. This study aimed to develop an understanding of the online society in China on a micro level. Taking an online forum as an example, the study collected evidences from all online messages in the first two months after the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, and interviewed 30 participants as quiet participants having experience with online deliberation. The analysis unfolded under the frame of deliberative theory on both the cognitive and moral levels in order to come to a conclusion on the basis of understanding of the online deliberation practice; specifically, the way in which Chinese culture, traditions and social conduct have both changed and influenced the online communicative thinking and behaviours of Chinese people.

The findings indicated that the Chinese online society can present a very different understanding from of deliberative theory. On the cognitive level, even though the number of abusive messages is not extremely large, the quiet participants mostly express themselves online in a supportive manner, even with opposing opinions. As a result, such actions cultivate a homogenous environment, and can suppress online reasoning to some extent. However, the study found, the major decrease of evidential information created from the reasoning process is from the majority opinion group in homogenous deliberation environment rather the minority. Moreover, the influence of the online environment to the cognitive ability of the quiet participants is to a large extent passive, impulsive, indirect and subconscious. Even though their information management ability is high, they can still be “forced”, learning from the online deliberation under the influence of the “face” and the “modesty” culture. On the moral level, the findings showed that, engaging in online deliberation in an interactive way does not cause quiet participants to be intuitively moral. By focusing on non-textual and simple expressions of opinion, however, the findings revealed some potentially positive moral influences which benefited from the online deliberation environment. As an understanding of online Chinese society, the study interpreted the findings in a Chinese social and cultural context, and also discussed the theoretical meanings in the context of deliberative theory.
Date of Award23 Jan 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorMagnus Feldmann (Supervisor) & Jeffrey Henderson (Supervisor)

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