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Title: Captive artists : Chinese University students talk about the internet
Authors: Herold, DK 
Keywords: China
Walter Benjamin
Issue Date: Jun-2013
Source: Paper presented at China and the New Internet World: an ICA 2013 Preconference, Oxford, 14 June 2013 How to cite?
Abstract: In his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction Walter Benjamin states that the ruling system of his day 'sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves'. He argues that an emphasis on possibilities provided to citizens, in particular through new technologies, channelled the creative energies of the population into acceptable and government-controllable forms, while preventing any chance of the emergence of a real movement to challenge the status quo.
This paper wants to apply Benjamin's notion of a captive creativity to the results of a research project into the way in which students in Shanghai talk about the Internet, and will argue that even in their criticism of government controls and government censorship, the students do not genuinely challenge the existing status quo, but accept it as unavoidable and without alternatives. While they express a desire to greater freedom and less censorship online, they do want the government to sift the information available for 'false rumours' or 'slanders', and they want the government to ensure the Internet is used for the 'harmonious' 'development' of China, instead of the spreading of 'unhealthy information'.
The paper will conclude that the Chinese government has been incredibly successful and sophisticated in the way it has established control over the Internet in China, Not only are they able to exert control over the contents of web pages, but they have also managed to impress their own perception of the Internet onto public discourses about the Internet and its function in Chinese society.
DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.2259020
Rights: The article is available at
Posted by permission of the author.
Appears in Collections:Conference Paper

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