SMS, Communication, and Citizenship in China's Information Society
Author: Kevin Latham
China has entered a new information age that calls for a reconsideration of some key presuppositions about the relationship between Chinese media, communication, society, and culture. These include stereotypes that dominate representations and understandings of China such as the appealing, though too simple, model of propaganda versus free speech and political repression versus democracy or those anticipating the emergence of a more or less Habermasian “public sphere.” Taking the example of mobile phone short messaging services (SMS), this article investigates the transforming relationships between Chinese media, power, political subjectivity, and citizenship. SMS now constitutes an important new set of communication practices in China. It is more widely used than the Internet and by a more diverse section of the population. In early 2005 per person, fifteen times more SMS messages than emails were being sent in China. Putting forward the idea of “orderly” and “disorderly” media it is suggested that while the Party voices its own rhetorics from the past, many people, particularly in the large metropolitan centres, are driving their own alternative visions of the future and forcing the authorities to engage with entirely new kinds of media practices that pose quite different challenges to those of the past.