“Grabbing discursive power” – a new argument in China

The commentary in the western press on the hacking of Google email accounts has started a hardly surprising backlash in China itself. The China Media Project (at the University of Hong Kong) has spotted a remarkable editorial in the Global Times (an English-language offshoot of the Peoples’ Daily) adapted from a blogpost by the editor-in-chief Hu Xijin.

The editorial is striking for two things: firstly the emphasis on how a proud and powerful country like China can no longer stand aside from the struggle to grab “discursive power” in the world’s networked conversation. Note the pungently aggressive nationalism throughout.

Second, and most extraordinary of all, is the direction which the editorial takes at the end. China has nothing to hide, the author concludes, and so its leaders should get out there and fight the country’s case. Leaving aside the questions begged by the assertion that China is an “aboveboard nation”, this line of argument takes would take China in two unexpected directions, if it were to be adopted. The grabbing of discursive power means that people all over the world take a closer and closer interest in whether what you’re saying is true, have more material to work on and are likely to point out any flaws to a global audience. More dangerous still, opening one’s case to public inspection is very close to introducing the idea of political accountability. And that, if you are China’s rulers, is the most dangerous idea of all. Information doesn’t exist in vacuum: people put it to use to judge and act.

For all of those reasons, it doesn’t seem likely that Beijing’s rulers will take Hu Xijin’s advice any time soon. But notable enough that the argument is even being heard. (Hat-tip: Charlie Beckett).


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