Emerging in a Digital World:the Politicization of the Internet and the Disability Activism in China

Monday, 11 July 2016: 15:00
Location: Hörsaal 21 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Yuanyuan QU, University of Glasgow, United Kingdom
This paper examines the political use of the internet by disabled people, and, the development of China’s disability activism influenced by their actions. Over the last few decades, disability activism has been organised around the world to challenge discrimination and oppression. This, however, has not yet been established in China, where a ‘strong state-weak society’ regime is identified. Will things be changed in a new digital era? Based on one-year online ethnographic exploration and interviews with disabled netizens, this paper suggests that:

1) Internet use empowers disabled people in their personal political participation by removing financial and structural barriers. They are more engaged in public affairs, at least in the cyber world, both politically and culturally.

2) Based on gathering and interaction in virtual ‘public sphere’, disability organisations are emerging on the internet, forming disability consciousness and producing online collective actions.

3) Some online organisations have been extended to the offline world and have played a role in the policy-making. Online social media remains to be their main arms in the process. Their offline activism are supported by online presence.   

4) This process is influenced by both Chinese government and the inputting western values. But generally speaking, cooperation with the government is the main target for most of these new-born organizations. Disability activism in China is co-constructed by the government and disabled people themselves.

By arguing that, I conclude that the politicization of the internet in China has to some extent empowered disabled people, and, promoted the development of disability organisation and disability activism. After emerging online, however, disability movement are limited by the lack of resources and the interruption of the government. The position of disabled people can hardly be changed by leveraging the internet only, not to speak of the general system in China’s society.