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China and Inner Asia
In Session: What’s on the Chinese Internet? Moving from Grassroots Expression to Institutional Content Provision
4: The Rise of China's Internet Industry: A History
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Carnegie Mellon University, United States
By bringing to light some overlooked insights and materials, this project offers a historical and structural understanding of the rise of China’s internet industry in global cyberspace, and discusses its implications for understanding the structural transformation of Chinese internet content provision. In particular, it outlines how such a large and diversified internet industry, encompassing hardware and equipment vendors, network operators and web service and applications providers, has been built out in China, in the context of its strategic engagement – and uneven encounters – with global digital capitalism. It demonstrates, first, that the conventional perception of China’s internet as a “giant cage” is misleading as it overlooks the long and complex interactions between China and the global internet political economy in the past three decades. Second, the formation and transformation of China’s internet industry has been evolving not only as a political process, but also as an economic one. By foregrounding these state-business interactions in this now-powerful digital sector, I argue that the state’s efforts of developing a coherent cyber strategy have been accompanied with – and complicated by – the intricate interactions between its domestic internet capital and the changing structure of transnational digital capitalism. Finally, I discuss the implications of the findings for understanding the changing dynamics of Chinese internet content provision.