De-Politicization and Pan-Politicization of Xiaonei.com
(My1510.cn) The Most Recent Trends At Xiaonei. By Xiao Xun. June 24, 2008.
The many social and political incidents in spring and summer this year have made Xiaonei.com (which literally means 'University Intra-net" more and more politically flavored.
The Xiaonei.com is not the kind of political forum in which people are clearly marked as leftists and rightists. When first established, most people expected go there to look for pretty girls, handsome guys, old school mates or express their own feelings. But it was not expected that as Xiaonei.com got larger, this platform would drift step by step towards the debate of public issues.
Since those are public issues, they must be major unsolved or controversial conflicts in society. That is to say, public issues necessarily involve politics. Presently, the number of users on Xiaonei.com has reached a record high. This meant that Xiaonei.com is facing a big problem. Xiaonei.com is a forum for the Chinese university denizens, which have the most politically sensitive and passionate people gathered there. When Xiaonei.com becomes more and more part of the public lives of the university students, it was inevitable that the sensitive area of politics would be involved.
Xiaonei.com has tried to make a balance. On one hand, it seems to be using politically sensitive topics to attract more university users. On the other hand, it is monitored by the Internet Supervisory Agency. Therefore, new terms, abbreviations and other methods of eluding 'harmonization' have been created to circumvent the Golden Shield and Internet special agents within Xiaonei.com. Meanwhile, the Xiaonei.com administrators pretend to be unaware of what is going on. In this game, Xiaonei.com and the students have reached a tacit and harmonious understanding.
For someone who has been using Xiaonei.com for more than three years, he must recall that Xiaonei.com did not have much political tone back then. I believe that the changes today are due to two causes. First, the series of political incidents in the spring and summer of this year has ticked the political nerves of the university students. Secondly, Xiaonei.com is getting more users and it has better functionalities such as sharing. Right now, almost everyone has dozens of items for sharing, and these items are the important posts that appear at other Internet forums. The sharing function on Xiaonei.com sets it up as a platform of public debate.
This reminded me of what a scholar said before. He said that the university student at present was the marriage of cynicism and materialism. They are no longer the generation of twenty years ago, because they are now indifferent toward politics. The age of consumerism has dissolved politics and state authoritarianism has stripped away political speech rights. The false freedom and false harmony in the Chinese speech environment has turned the university students of this generation into de-politicized, unthinking blank minds.
The most recent trends in Xiaonei.com answered that assertion. We saw that this previously de-politicized community suddenly became pan-politicized. De-politicization means not daring to discuss politics and having no right to discuss politics. Pan-politicization is the release from those inhibitions. Thus, these are the two extremes of excessive indifference and excessive passion. These two extremes are actually functions of the same system and the source of their logic is the same. This goes to show that there are serious political problems in this society.
In our country, everybody seems indifferent to politics and yet our bodies contain political genes. We live in a strange society in which de-politicization and pan-politicization co-exist. Either we are politically indifferent or we are politically passionate. The oppression of political conflicts by the state and the control of the speech environment caused politics to move out of the lives of the people. The fates of certain democratic fighters have a cautionary effect on the people, who become politically indifferent. But when political incidents keep occurring inside and outside China to the point where cover-up is impossible, the repressed political demands and discontent are released and the people become politically passionate.
I have personally witnessed two examples. During one university class on the thoughts of Mao Zedong, the subject was about Hong Kong. A female student from Hong Kong said something that was not very nice about the Party and she also said that the Hong Kong economy deteriorated after 1997 and there were also some social problems. This girl hailed from Hong Kong and it should not be surprising that she would say that. But a pan-politicized scene ensued. Many people in the class who never discussed politics stood up to denounce this female student. They had their various theories and explanations, but they had these things in common: First, they were not confident about their own arguments and they could not make their arguments logically consistent. Secondly, they didn't understand Hong Kong and they had never gone there. Thirdly, they formed a large group with a loud voice using violent speeches that were reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution against this lone female.
I remembered that after that class, many people went away and said bad things about this female student. They said many things, but without exception they attempted to draw a line between themselves and the female student. At the time, I felt disheartened. I wondered if the female Hong Kong student surrounded by the whole class felt a hint of the Cultural Revolution. She must have experienced that sense of isolation. Perhaps she had just arrived on the mainland and she did not know how things were.
The other example also occurred during my first year at the university. The legendary video about what happened nineteen years ago was circulating among the male student dormitories. I remembered that a group of people stood around to watch it. After viewing it, I was stunned. That condition persisted for several days. My fellow students seemed to have many things to say and they began to debate. But I noticed that none of them could come up with any decent viewpoint. The common point was that they tried to establish that they share the same position as the Party. It was a strange atmosphere. Everybody sensed a certain pressure. A mysterious force was controlling our immature speeches from behind the scenes. This is not surprising, because we are still young and we still live in the shadow of authoritarian education.
These two examples reflect the political conditions in this society and it also reflected the political attitudes of the university students. Like the ordinary citizens, the university students generally have immature understanding about politics. They live in an era which is far removed from politics and they are asked only to obey the authorities. Therefore, they are politically indifferent and seek materialistic goals in their normal daily lives. But people have far too many political demands and emotions that are waiting to be released. When a political incident triggers a political debate, this erupts in political passion. This type of passion turns a complex issue about the political system into a simple fight between different theories that go under the flags of leftism, centrism and rightism. They use a simple China-west opposition. They fuse their political demands with their personal interests. They lack knowledge and experience in political science and they have not yet read the classics in political philosophy. Their judgments are also influenced by a not very open media environment.
The topic of politics is very simple and it is related to every single person. But in order to truly understand politics and tell right from wrong, it is necessary to have a certain level of knowledge about politics. I think that the trend in Xiaonei.com is good because it allows us to come across more political viewpoints and read more classical political essays. This is the process of political initiation. Only with such a process can the university students learn anew how to contemplate politics and make their own judgment.
Under authoritarianism, the taboos in public space have turned the private space public, along with the feelings of excitement when one gets to act as the source of information. Under authoritarianism, the blocking of the public space and the taboo on public issues created the sense of loss due to the inability to participate in political life. This is the so-called ennui, which cannot be occupied totally by entertainment. This results in making the feeling of excitement about spreading information even stronger. Such are the manifestations in this sick society.