Everyday Citizenship Practices and Counter-Hegemony in China

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 20:06
Oral Presentation
Rather than a granted status of political identity from above, citizenship in transitional China is still a process of bottom-up struggle and acquired through critical citizenship practices against the state hegemony. It is thus imperative to explore everyday experience of critical citizenship in China and its complicated relations to the Party state. Among various Chinese publics, liberal-oriented journalists stand out for being critical of the government and speaking out for the vulnerable, thanks to their exclusive advantages of being armed with professional knowledge, taking regular sites to express, and having significant allies of activists and other intellectuals. This paper focuses on the practice of critical citizenship though media and traces changes in the “right talk” of Chinese liberal journalists’ surrounding a major food safety crisis of 2008. In particular, it systematically examines the making and development of civic claims about public rights, government accountability, and legitimacy of the current political system in the outspoken newspapers, which demonstrates their understanding and expectation of citizenship in contemporary China. I also find that making counter-hegemonic claims in the tightly censored media relies on necessary discursive tactics: (a) taking advantage of central-local divisions within the state to attack the easy targets, e.g. the local officials, (b) strategically speaking the official language, i.e., selective quoting and creative twisting of official statements and policies to appear compliant, (c) making use of openings to say the unsayable, but tempering it with a heavy dose of praise and optimism. Although being strategic, the liberal journalists have demonstrated their willingness to question authority and readiness to advocate civic appeals and been able to do so with effective skills, especially the ability of re-interpreting official accounts to advance civic claims, which suggests that Chinese citizenship practices are capable of exerting counter-hegemonic effect.