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Wu, A. X. & Li, L. (2021). Localism in internet governance: The rise of China’s provincial
web. China Information. OnlineFirst. doi: 10.1177/0920203X211055038
Localism in Internet governance: The rise of China’s provincial web
Angela Xiao Wu
New York University
Often analysing ‘the Chinese Internet’ as a national entity, existing research has overlooked
China’s provincially oriented web portals, which have supplied information and
entertainment to substantial user populations. Through the lenses of the critical political
economy of media and critical media industry studies, this article traces the ascendance of
China’s provincial web from the late 1990s to the early 2000s by analysing industry
yearbooks, official reports, conference records, personal memoirs, archived webpages, and
user traffic data. We uncover interactions between Internet service providers, legacy media
organizations, commercial Internet companies, and the central and local governments – each
driven by discrete economic interests, political concerns, and imaginaries about the new
technology. Delineating the emergence and consolidation of China’s provincial web, our
study foregrounds the understudied political economy of online content regionalization at
scale. Further, it sheds new light on Chinese media policy, Internet governance, and Internet
histories, especially the widely noted conservative turn of online cultures after the mid-2010s.
media policy, Internet governance, regionalization, propaganda, cyber sovereignty, localism
Corresponding author: Angela Xiao Wu, Department of Media, Culture and
Communication, New York University, 239 Greene Street 8F, New York, NY 10003, USA.
Internet studies usually focus on phenomena at the (supra)national scale, and Chinese
Internet studies are no exception.
‘The Chinese Internet’ has long been an analytical subject
of formidable size and complexity.
Scholarship on Chinese Internet activism, popular
cultures, and alternative communities tend to focus on websites of national influence, such as
the commercial portal giant Sina, the online nationalist stronghold Strengthening Nation
Forum (强国论坛), or the microblogging platform SinaWeibo. Only when presented with
actual visitation data does one discover a whole set of regional Chinese sites. Typically, the
top 1000 websites attract more than 99 per cent of global traffic.
In 2013, hardly any of these
websites focused on a subnational locality, the exception being 21 Chinese websites.
these, 18 were at the provincial level,
China’s first-level administrative division.
after mythological animals, ancient locales, and majestic landscapes, these regional websites
ranked among myriad eminent (trans)national domains of mega-popularity. Despite their
Notably, mapping efforts to reterritorialize cyberspace tend to classify web content based on country
code domains or linguistic features, which methodologically gloss over more granular local scales.
See Mark Graham, Stefano De Sabbata, and Matthew A. Zook, Towards a study of information
geographies: (Im)mutable augmentations and a mapping of the geographies of information, Geo:
Geography and Environment 2(1), 2015: 88–105; Angela Xiao Wu and Harsh Taneja, Reimagining
Internet geographies: A user-centric ethnological mapping of the World Wide Web, Journal of
Computer-Mediated Communication 21(3), 2016: 230–46.
Susan Leong, Sinophone, Chinese, and PRC Internet: Chinese overseas in Australia and the PRC
Internet, Asiascape: Digital Asia 3(3), 2016: 117–37; Guobin Yang, A Chinese Internet? History,
practice, and Globalization, Chinese Journal of Communication 5(1), 2012: 49–54; Wu and Taneja,
Reimagining Internet geographies; Harsh Taneja and Angela Xiao Wu, Does the Great Firewall really
isolate the Chinese? Integrating access blockage with cultural factors to explain web user behaviour,
The Information Society 30(5), 2014: 297–309.
Matthew Hindman, The Internet Trap: How the Digital Economy Builds Monopolies and Undermines
Democracy, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018; Wu and Taneja, Reimagining Internet
This traffic dataset comes from comScore (https://www.comscore.com/Products/Digital/Multi-
Platform-Content-Measurement). On its measurement, also see Wu and Taneja, Reimagining Internet
geographies. We report the 2013 data because desktop-based web traffic data soon lost
representativeness due to the mobile web’s rapid expansion, with 2015 marking the qualitative turn.
Notably, China’s 2013 Internet penetration rate was below 50 per cent, much lower than developed
These 18 sites catered to Hunan, Heilongjiang, Chongqing, Tianjin, Henan, Jiangsu, Hubei,
Guangdong, Shandong, Guangxi, Beijing, Shanghai, Zhejiang, and Hunan (the last four provincial
entities have two websites each). The three municipal-level websites catered to Jinan, Nanjing, and
The provincial web examined here excludes ‘Hong Kong’ and ‘Macao web’ because they are out of
Chinese state jurisdiction and technical governance. By the same standard, Taiwan is out of bounds.
significant political, economic, and cultural bearings, which we will explain, these online
arenas have long escaped scholarly scrutiny.
Despite the facade of global connectivity, people’s actual browsing and social media
usage are place-based. But place-based content provision also tends to assume certain
institutional arrangements – the online environment ends up fostering (supra)national
outlets, to the peril of region-specific media production.
There is a reason for this. While
Internet technologies lower the entry barriers for content production and distribution, the
technical capacity to access content regardless of physical distance and the highly uneven
geographical distribution of this capacity
jointly disadvantage regional outlets.
Unsurprisingly Anglophone digital native websites can only make ends meet if they cater to
The visitation data of Chinese regional websites suggest an exception, and studying
their rise provides rare insight into the socio-economic, political, and material processes that
enable regionalized institutional content provision within a formally monolingual country.
Importantly, the existence of these sites was not due only to supply-side arrangements; they
were mega-popular venues among Chinese Internet users who freely navigate a universe of
millions of China-registered domains. This popular demand has arisen from complex
processes, in which bureaucratic initiatives and political power only play a part. To examine
these processes, this article traces the ascendance of China’s provincial web from the late
1990s to the early 2000s using the lenses of the critical political economy of media and critical
media industry studies.
In addition to investigating the little-known political economy of online content
regionalization, our study joins the call for an overdue ‘geographic turn’ in Chinese media
and communication research. In contrast to the literature on Chinese politics, localism and
regionalization have received little attention in the study of the Chinese media system.
article, especially our account of why the Chinese regional web took the ‘provincial’ as its
Hindman, The Internet Trap.
Graham, De Sabbata, and Zook, Towards a study of information geographies.
Matthew Hindman, The Myth of Digital Democracy, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.
Wanning Sun, Rescaling media in China: The formations of local, provincial, and regional media
cultures, Chinese Journal of Communication 5(1), 2012: 10–15.
primary parameter, exposes critical features of the Chinese media governance repertoire. The
formation of China’s provincial web, we suggest, spearheaded a territorialization process
crucial to envisaging and implementing the notion of cyber sovereignty. Finally, our study
links the widely noted conservative shift of Chinese online cultures after the mid-2010s back
to the turn of the century when, through ‘provincial’ undercurrents, large-scale content
provision was institutionalized within the orbit of the government’s well-established
Political and media localism in China prior to the Internet
The notion of place is ‘both socially produced and socially productive’.
Media make places
by circulating information and representations that foster a sense of locality; the sense of
locality shared by a population, in turn, affects its consumption of regionally oriented media.
Crucial to this dynamic of mutual shaping are the technological materiality and the politico-
economic forces governing content circulation. As demonstrated in comparative studies on
broadcast media, for example, a country’s regional media landscape develops from complex
interactions between economic calculations, political localism (i.e. forms and ethos of
government), and media localism (i.e. how media policy addresses ‘the community
responsiveness of broadcasters’).
Chinese provincial websites, as already discussed, became extraordinarily popular
despite the adverse Internet environment observed elsewhere. Therefore, to investigate this
development, we must begin by reviewing the ways in which localism, or the lack thereof,
manifested in China’s political and media systems prior to the digital age. It is worth noting
that, in quotidian Chinese consciousness, the provincial is a most potent identity marker. It
supplies shared inferences regarding cuisines, ancestral lineages, and even personality
stereotypes, all of which carry connotations of complex historical and cultural alchemies. Yet
provincial belongings had historically been contained by the People’s Republic of China’s
(PRC) political and media institutions.
Wendy Griswold, Terry McDonnell, and Nathan Wright, Reading and the reading class in the
twenty-first century, Annual Review of Sociology 31, 2005: 4.
Christopher Ali, Media Localism: The Policies of Place, Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2017, 8.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has established a powerful centralized
government with a nation-building imperative, and China’s media regulatory regime is laid
out on top of such a political system. In charge of monitoring and guiding news media and
public sentiment, the CCP’s propaganda department exists at the central, provincial,
prefecture, and county levels. Local propaganda departments are structured into a ‘matrix
organization’, each reporting to its functional equivalent one level up and to same-level
government leadership. For example, the propaganda officials of the prefecture-level city
Shenzhen, who regulate Shenzhen newspapers, answer to both Shenzhen governors and the
provincial propaganda department of Guangdong. Even as they enforce nationwide agendas,
outlets tethered to state-defined geographic areas supply news and information of local
Under Mao, the central command over economic planning and cross-regional
redistribution – and over provincial and even city-level appointments – worked to contain
The media and communications systems adhered to a rigid hierarchy
wherein regional media submitted to forces at the national level; ‘provincial voices’ were
missing by default.
After China’s reform, marketization and personnel-system changes gave
substantial autonomy to provincial leaders to administer local economies and staff native-
born elites at local levels.
This political-economic localization spurred much scholarship on
evolving central–provincial relations and the widening of coastal–inland/urban–rural
divisions. Compared to these themes, however, little has been written on the intensifying
inter-provincial economic competition that began in the 1990s.
This competition also
manifested in regional identity building led by government through various cultural
In this period, regional mass media underwent major changes in response to both this
government agenda and their own commercialization. During the socialist era, the state
Cheng Li and David Bachman, Localism, elitism, and immobilism: Elite formation and social change
in post-Mao China, World Politics 42(1), 1989: 64–94.
Sun, Rescaling media in China.
Jean C. Oi, The role of the local state in China’s transitional economy, China Quarterly 144, 1995:
Hans Hendrischke and Feng Chongyi (eds), The Political Economy of China’s Provinces: Comparative and
Conpetitive Advantage, Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 1999.
completely subsidized the country’s media and cultural units. In the late 1970s, it gradually
began phasing out subsidies and actively fostered commercial activities in media
organizations – the state pushed them to the market yet retained control over their content.
In the following two decades, China’s traditional media landscape (comprising newspapers
and broadcasting organizations) became not only considerably enriched and energized, but
also highly fragmented and decentralized. Between 1996 and 1998, the government launched
a market consolidation (and ‘rationalization’, per the official line) campaign.
done to prepare Chinese media for Western competition after China’s admission to the
World Trade Organization, it was also intended to recentralize and better govern this
landscape. The goal was to build one ‘press group’ to bring together different types of
newspapers that had sprouted up to target different market segments, as well as one
‘broadcasting group’ to subsume channels previously operated by different stations. It was
amid this reorganization of the traditional media landscape that the Internet arrived. The
imbrication of new technology, market forces, and political concerns occurred in uncharted
Our analysis draws from a variety of data sources, including annual reports published by the
news, broadcasting, and telecommunication sectors; records of industry conferences;
government policies; officials’ speeches; and memoirs written by key individuals related to
the Chinese media industry and digital technology. Our major source on trade media is China
Netweek (互联网周刊), a commercially successful biweekly magazine launched in 1998. In
addition, we retrieved screen captures of the frontpages of 36 provincial portals from each
Many have documented this broad transition, see Yuezhi Zhao, Communication in China: Political
Economy, Power, and Conflict, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008; Daniela Stockmann, Media
Commercialization and Authoritarian Rule in China, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. For
overviews of the institutional structures and functions of China’s propaganda system, see Anne-
Marie Brady, Marketing Dictatorship: Propaganda and Thought Work in Contemporary China, Lanham,
MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008; David Shambaugh, China’s propaganda system: Institutions,
processes and efficacy, China Journal 57, 2007: 25–58.
Chin-Chuan Lee, The global and the national of the Chinese media: Discourses, market, technology,
and ideology, in Chin-Chuan Lee (ed.) Chinese Media, Global Contexts, Abingdon, UK: Routledge,
2003, 1–31; Zhao, Communication in China.
year since their launch. When analysing this diverse range of data, we kept ‘a healthy dose of
skepticism and reflexivity’,
and critically assessed each collected piece of information by
putting it ‘in critical tension or dialogue with the others’.
Our historical analysis proceeds in three loosely chronological sections. The first
introduces the multiple players in regional content provision and their attempts to engage
with Internet technologies in the second half of the 1990s. The second section delineates both
the ‘external’ conflicts that provoked policy moves from the central leadership and the
intensifying conflicts between various domestic players as they pursued their Internet
projects at the turn of the century. The third section teases out how these conflicts were
resolved, at least on the surface, via regulatory changes, forging the consolidation of China’s
provincial web in the early 2000s. We conclude by offering our contributions to
understanding the regionalization of online content, Chinese media policy and Internet
governance, and Chinese Internet cultures and politics more broadly.
Hotlines, electronic newspapers, portals, and the ‘Voice of China’ at the fin de siècle
Does the Internet have borders? Those answering ‘No’ must be native English speakers. To the
multitude from non-English speaking countries, going online isn’t easy. In fact, to most on this
planet, the first step online is not to master Internet knowledge but to master English . . .
including memorizing strings and strings of English domain names.
In May 1995, right after splitting from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, the
newly named, state-owned enterprise China Telecom began building the country’s first
commercial backbone network, ChinaNET.
Two years later, according to its first-ever
Statistic Report on Internet Development, China had 620,000 users through 290,000 connected
Vicki Mayer, Miranda J. Banks, and John Thornton Caldwell, Production Studies: Cultural Studies of
Media Industries, New York: Routledge, 2009.
John Thornton Caldwell, Production Culture: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film and
Television, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.
Xie Bo 谢波, 域名: Internet 本土化的最后堡垒 (Domain name: The last fortress of Internet
localization), 互联网周刊 (China Netweek), no. 11, 1998, 11.
Eric Harwit, China’s Telecommunications Revolution, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
But the first generation of surfers found little to do on the English-language web due to
a dearth of Chinese content and services.
China’s Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were
held responsible for this poverty of user experience, as an article in China Netweek articulated:
Contrasting the upsurge of subscription numbers and people’s enthusiasm is the meager
services provided by the ISPs. . . . Other than the basic dial-ups and private circuits, ISPs offer
little content and no other forms of service. In comparison, telephony services are ample and
diverse, including regular, long-distance, voicemail, call filters, toll free numbers, etc.
In these early days, ISPs assumed the role of Internet evangelists in China, taking it upon
themselves to enrich user experience, a significant part of which was the provision of web
content. There were two types of ISPs: state-owned, subsidized China Telecom which
operated through its numerous local bureaus across the country, and privately owned
intermediaries that leased connections from China Telecom. Largely shielded from market
pressures, local Telecom bureaus were, however, enlisted in the national agenda of
‘informationalization’ – that is, employing information and communication technologies to
accelerate China’s modernization process.
In a sense, China Telecom developed online
content as a form of informationalizing socio-economic life.
Mirroring the state’s telephony administration, China Telecom’s bureaus were ISPs
tethered to place. Their websites sites were typically named ‘X Hotline’ (热线) or ‘X Info-hub’
(信息港), with X being the place served. These websites usually contained a medley of
programmes tailored to the locality, including news; Readers’ Digest-type stories; a variety of
directories; adverts for dating, rentals, and second-hand automobiles; and efforts to build
chatrooms and email services, which came later. This model worked best for populous, early-
adopter cities. For example, Shanghai Telecom launched Shanghai Hotline in September
中国互联网络发展状况统计报告 (1997/10) (Statistical report on China’s Internet development
(1997/10)), 中国互联网络信息中心 (China Internet network information centre), 1997,
https://www.cnnic.net.cn/hlwfzyj/hlwxzbg/200905/P020120709345374625930.pdf, accessed 9
At the time, Chinese content originating from Hong Kong and Taiwan mostly encoded (traditional)
Chinese characters via BIG5 or HZ methods. These Chinese texts were often garbled by machines in
mainland China which used the GB character set for simplified Chinese. Only years later did more
Chinese websites and browsing software become compatible with both BIG5 and GB.
AsiaInfo Tech 亚信公司, 走进电信级 Internet (Enter the Internet for telecommunication services), 互
联网周刊 (China Netweek), no. 6, 1998, 45.
Yuezhi Zhao, Caught in the web: The public interest and the battle for control of China’s information
superhighway, Info 2(1), 2000: 41–66.
1996. In two years, its daily visits increased from a few hundred to 34,000, topping China’s 30
other ISP-created provincial and municipal ‘public information websites’.
launched in 1997, positioned itself as a ‘regional information hub’ and over the years
developed tentacles reaching all of central China.
In this phase, ISP-created content had not
yet assumed a distinct commercial character.
Meanwhile, energized by Western rhetoric on the Internet’s commercial potential and
by domestic discourse on all-around informationalization, Chinese newspapers began to ride
the tide of digitization in 1995.
By 1999, according to the China Journalism Yearbook 273
national, provincial, and municipal newspapers had ‘gone online’.
Like China Telecom’s
‘hotlines’, print media did not act according to market logic, nor was it driven by an explicit
mission to put regional content online.
Rather, these organizations’ zealous attempts to
venture into cyberspace appeared less about individual cost–benefit rationalization than
compulsive peer imitation in the face of disruptive technologies.
They hoped to avail
themselves of whatever opportunities these technologies might bring about.
These initial attempts led to ‘electronic newspapers’, signalling their derivative
nature. Except for the uniquely resource-rich central mouthpiece People’s Daily, the ‘website
branches’ of most legacy media were understaffed. They simply distributed the newspaper
content online, following the print publishing cycle. Some struggled even to keep up with
that, updating online content as infrequently as once a week. The design and presentation of
these electronic newspapers were not the most user-friendly either. Limited connection speed
not only disadvantaged radios and television stations in their online ventures, but also
沪: 上网人次逾千万 (Shanghai: Number of online visits exceeded 10 million), 互联网周刊 (China
Netweek), no. 4, 1998, 23.
中国互联网络发展状况统计报告, 2006, 524–5.
China Scholars Abroad (神州学人) is the first launched online periodical (on 12 January 1995) and
China Trade News (中国贸易报) the first digitalized daily newspaper (on 12 October 1995).
Institute of Journalism and Communication Studies of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences 中国社会
科学院新闻与传播研究所 (ed.), 中国新闻年鉴 (China journalism yearbook), Beijing: 中国新闻年鉴社
(China journalism yearbook press), 2000–12.
As evidence, in 1999, the percentage of regional newspapers that went online is smaller than the
average percentage of all newspapers. Institute of Journalism and Communication Studies (ed.), 中国
新闻年鉴, 2000, 259.
See Paul J. DiMaggio and Walter W. Powell, The iron cage revisited: Institutional isomorphism and
collective rationality in organizational fields, American Sociological Review 48(2), 1983: 147–60.
hindered print media which conventionally rely on visual elements to generate pleasant
reading experience. In the end, these web pages were a dump of texts. While their electronic
newspapers might not be made with actual Internet users in mind, legacy media were
nonetheless thrilled to imagine their content reaching audiences from every part of the nation
and even the planet.
Those who saw the Chinese Internet as a for-profit ‘attention economy’ were ‘digital-
native’ commercial websites, such as Sina.com, Sohu.com, and Netease.com. While both
China Telecom and legacy media were owned and/or subsidized by the state, these websites
were born of foreign venture capital, and some of their founders were trained in the West.
Drawing inspiration from successful American counterparts, Chinese web companies moved
quickly to cater to audience/customers’ needs and tastes. By 1998, their remarkable growth
had hyped the concept of the ‘portal’ in China. As an article in China Netweek explained,
[The portal] distinguishes itself by showcasing or hyperlinking the thicket of online services and
activities, including search, content, personal homepages, and commerce. Furthermore, the
concept of ‘portal’ means you can’t get the same experience on other sites. In theory, the portal’s
ability to attract visitors prompts advertisers to pay to promote their products and services on
the webpages. Advertising revenue should be more than enough to maintain a portal.
In fact, the portal model was found even more effective in China than in the West because the
format best served the truly disoriented on the web: those knowing no English, unnerved by
connection costs, and/or new to surfing, which described most Chinese users.
also stood out for its capability to swiftly aggregate and deliver news.
While legacy media
watched from the sidelines, commercial web companies adopted, tested, and innovated with
the portal model, and achieved stunning success in generating traffic.
The last-but-never-least actor, the CCP propaganda department, entered the stage
relatively late. To the Chinese state, engaging with the Internet was initially about building
international relations rather than domestic viewership. In its conception, China was a
latecomer to the ‘international Internet’, a new battlefield for propaganda already occupied
For instance, Sohu’s founder Zhao Chaoyang, who obtained a PhD from MIT, benefitted directly
from Nicholas Negroponte’s mentorship and investment.
门户也随风 (Portals in vogue), 互联网周刊 (China Netweek), no. 10, 1998, 7.
Xiao Jun 潇君, 门户风来满眼春 (Portals blossom), 互联网周刊 (China Netweek), no. 15, 1998, 5.
Institute of Journalism and Communication Studies (ed.), 中国新闻年鉴, 2003, 525.
by foreign powers; the government engaged its ‘external or foreign propaganda’ apparatus
for the job.
The State Council Information Office issued the first policy for online media, entitled
‘Interim provisions on the use of the Internet for external news propaganda’ in 1997.
(Notably, the combination of ‘news’ and ‘propaganda’, a signature of the official line, was
rarely seen in the media industry’s own discussions about making electronic newspapers.) In
this policy, revoked in 1998 for its impracticality, the state requested that all content from
traditional media organizations be distributed through a ‘foreign propaganda platform’
overseen by central authorities, who would gatekeep and coordinate news from/about China
on the Internet according to guidelines and policies concerning foreign affairs. Put succinctly,
in this initial mindset, the Chinese state was outward- rather than inward-facing in
conceiving the value of the Internet for its governance. The catalyst for concrete government
actions came not long after.
Conflicts far and near
In May 1999, NATO bombed Yugoslavia. One night, the US Air Force struck the Chinese
embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese journalists. People’s Daily Online created a forum
(later known as the Strengthening Nation Forum), which in 40 days gathered 90,000 posts,
making it an international phenomenon.
China’s top leaders began to recognize online
media’s potential to make the ‘Voice of China’ heard.
By this time, legacy media sites had
already entered into direct competition with commercial websites. Drastic decreases in state
subsidies had left them increasingly on their own to make ends meet with subscriptions,
advertising, and a variety of sideline commercial operations. Some also took in limited
The confrontation exposed a regulatory loophole. Web portals were yet to be
explicitly defined as regulatory subjects. ISPs provided value-added services and were
subject to telecom admin’s regulation; electronic newspapers covered ‘internet news and
Min Dahong 闵大洪, 中国网络媒体 20 年: 1994–2014 (Two decades of Chinese online media: 1994–
2014), Beijing: 电子工业出版社 (Publishing house of electronics industry), 2016, 3.
Institute of Journalism and Communication Studies (ed.), 中国新闻年鉴, 2000, 84.
publishing’ and accordingly were subject to propaganda departments’ regulation.
administered press passes were only given to reporters at legacy media establishments.
Denied permits to report news – and operating in China’s loose intellectual property regime
– the emergent commercial web sector, led by major portals, just went ahead and took
content from legacy media sites, skipping any form of authorization or compensation. In the
words of Sohu’s editor-in-chief, making online news consisted of four layers: pasting, editing,
organizing, and interpreting – and in the first couple of years, what they did was really
In the absence of relevant policies, legacy news organizations sought to resist content-
poaching made easy in the online environment. As early as 1997, 23 of them formed an
alliance around what they termed the ‘Online media treaty for Chinese journalism’. To use
content produced by alliance members, the treaty requested non-members (alluding to
commercial web portals) to obtain formal permissions, pay associated costs, and
acknowledge the source with hyperlinks. But actions on the part of the press alone made little
change. By late 1998, all three major commercial portals had geared up the news section as
their main selling point. They particularly developed channels of ‘special topic reporting’,
where news coverage from multiple legacy media outlets on single events was aggregated or
pasted in real time.
In 1999, the All-China Journalists Association organized a high-calibre
conference in Hangzhou, where participants collectively condemned commercial websites,
while speculating on possible beneficial collaborations.
Meanwhile, private ISPs were taking fervent measures to transform themselves into
Internet content providers. As mentioned, though dominated by state-owned enterprises
such as China Telecom, China’s telecom market had hundreds of private ISPs that essentially
acted as intermediaries repackaging and reselling the former’s resources – above all,
Luzhou Li, Zoning China: Online Video, Popular Culture, and the State, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,
Chen Tong 陈彤 and Zeng Xiangxue 曾祥雪, 新浪之道 (The way of sina.com), Fuzhou: 福建人民出版
社 (Fujian people’s publishing house), 2005, 52.
Chen and Zeng, 新浪之道.
Legacy media and commercial portals had experimented on various small-scale partnerships, but the
sea change that largely resolved much of this tension occurred only after the Central Office no. 33
bandwidth. These ISPs struggled, in part due to the fledgling retail market and in part to the
deteriorating price margin caused by China Telecom’s monopoly, especially the high leasing
fees it charged.
To survive, private ISPs aggressively developed content as a value-added
service. They approached legacy media ostensibly to offer ‘tech support’ to help them go
online. Lacking Internet savvy, the latter often took delight in seeing their content on the
web, without recognizing that it was now part of the ISP’s content offerings. State-owned
ISPs followed suit, leading to an initial explosion of electronic newspapers but a dearth of
After mid-1999, cautions against collaborating with ISPs spread across the news
community. One trade press wrote: ‘The newsperson should know that there’s no such thing
as a “free lunch”. The ISPs invited newspapers online in order to enrich their website content.
Setting up a webpage under their domains is no different from working for them.’
being said, traditional media organizations took note of the variety of locally and
community-focused information and functionalities that ISP-owned hotlines and info-hubs
pioneered. As they turned their electronic newspapers into portals with market appeal, these
proven successes from ‘regional informationalization’ seemed a good addition.
In short, when the United States struck the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, major
players in online content provision in China were already deep in rivalries and trickery as the
Internet adoption rate kept soaring. Five months after witnessing how protests animated
People’s Daily’s online forum, the Department of Propaganda and the Central Foreign
Propaganda Office of the CCP Central Committee announced their ‘Opinions on
strengthening online news propaganda work’ (中央宣传部,中央对外宣传办公室关于加强国际
互联网络新闻宣传工作的意见, aka Central Office Document No. 33).
While vowing to make
national news websites such as the People’s Daily Online ‘globally eminent brands’, the
policy required each provincial-level government and governments of a small selection of
cities to concentrate resources within their jurisdictions to build up one or two ‘key’ news
Li, Zoning China.
Institute of Journalism and Communication Studies (ed.), 中国新闻年鉴, 2000, 260.
It was issued and forwarded by the General Office of the CCP Central Committee (中共中央办公厅,
often referred to as the Central Office 中办). This was the first ever master plan in guiding Chinese
news propaganda work on the web.
This was a field-defining moment. The ensuing series of policy moves heralded a
new era of the Chinese Internet, undergirded by the ‘provincial communication matrix’, as
government documents would later call it.
Consolidation of the provincial web
In late 1999, when Central Office Document No. 33 was issued, the central leadership still
considered the Internet an international battlefield for propaganda and publicity. The plan
was to mobilize the next level of government administration to fully insert China and its
provincial territories into cyberspace. Within months, top leaders were personally inspecting
the website projects of several national and provincial newspapers. In 2000, the government’s
guidelines on future development contained two areas of emphasis: ‘internationally, building
up China’s good image’ and ‘domestically, guiding people with the correct opinion’.
Somewhere in this period, the adjective ‘international’ was dropped out of the CCP’s policy
directives: the international Internet officially became the Internet.
The centre’s vision expanded with the turn of the century, and its interaction with
different provincial realities engendered different kinds of provincial websites. As discussed,
popular demand is what distinguishes China’s provincial web from other propaganda
endeavours and what makes it consequential culturally and socio-economically. On one end
of this spectrum of websites were those from poor inland regions such as Tibet, Qinghai, and
Xinjiang, where local media were relatively underdeveloped and Internet adoption lagged.
These sites best reflected the central government’s directive to ‘re-present’ and ‘speak on
behalf of’ their corresponding regions. For example, the ‘key provincial site’ of Xinjiang (i.e.
the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region), Tianshan Net, was launched in early 2001. All in
Mandarin, its eight channels included ‘news centre’, ‘government information’, ‘Xinjiang
tourism’, ‘window to the prefectures’, ‘ethnic life’, ‘economy online’, ‘overview of Xinjiang’,
and ‘Xinjiang celebrities’. Most were clearly not intended for local users.
Institute of Journalism and Communication Studies (ed.), 中国新闻年鉴, 2000, 84.
Institute of Journalism and Communication Studies (ed.), 中国新闻年鉴, 2003, 528.
On the other end of the spectrum were sites from more populous and developed (and
mostly coastal) regions such as Jiangsu and Guangdong. Before the top–down initiative,
legacy media in these regions had accrued many trial-and-error experiences and set in place
the basic supply chain for digital content. Inspired by the portal business model, many had
also begun to upgrade their electronic newspapers to incorporate fora, free email, and
locality-based services. The central government’s directive was grafted onto these existing
endeavours. As a result, these provincial sites were less like online regional encyclopaedias
for outsiders than their inland counterparts, but they were more geared toward engaging
users within the region.
The remainder of our article focuses on the full establishment of popular provincial
websites. Consider Zhejiang, a region facing the East China Sea, whose government had
taken a deep interest in the digital economy.
The provincial propaganda committee started
paying attention to the ‘Zhejiang Internet’ (in its own words) in 1997, and after delegated
research work found quite a number of websites already in business.
The province’s ‘party
organ’, that is, the newspaper with the most political authority – Zhejiang Daily – went online
relatively late. After preparing for more than a year, its electronic version was launched on
New Year’s Day, 1999. Interestingly, on the same day, the propaganda department also
launched Zhejiang Online, intended as a portal to showcase 13 Zhejiang-based electronic
newspapers, including Zhejiang Daily.
The website became an immediate success in content
and traffic; it ranked as one of the top 10 news websites in 2000 and was the only provincial-
level site on the list.
However, it was not until late 2002 that the province’s ‘key news propaganda website’
made its debut. Zhejiang Online was re-launched, this time incorporating ‘China Zhejiang’, a
separate website administered by the State Council Information Office’s Zhejiang bureau
(also China’s earliest provincial government portal), and all the existing online operations of
Michael Keane and Huan Wu, Zhejiang’s digital dream, in Adrian Athique and Emma Baulch (eds)
Digital Transactions in Asia: Economic, Informational, and Social Exchanges, New York: Routledge, 2019,
Sun Jianhua 孙坚华, 新媒体革命: 为什么传统媒体屡战不胜 (New media revolution: Why do
traditional media keep failing?), Beijing: 电子工业出版社 (Publishing house of electronics industry),
Institute of Journalism and Communication Studies (ed.), 中国新闻年鉴, 2000, 100.
provincial television stations.
The new portal further incorporated news resources from
both the Zhejiang Daily Press Group and the Zhejiang Radio and Television Group, two
major legacy media groups in the province, as well as numerous other resources from
prefecture and county media organizations. It curated entry to over 30 sub-domains and
many of which were oriented toward leisure and entertainment, previously a
speciality of commercial web portals; many other channels were locality-specific, bearing a
strong resemblance to those put up by ISP-owned hotlines and info-hubs.
Like Zhejiang Online, the typical provincial portal came together by incorporating
different electronic newspapers and inchoate portal projects by various outlets located in one
province. At China’s four resource-rich (provincial-level) municipalities, resources were
centralized with great fanfare. Beijing Qianlong NewsNet, Shanghai Dongfang Net, Tianjin
Beifang Net, and Chongqing Hualong Net were all brought online in 2000.
Beijing’s nine legacy media outlets including Beijing Daily, Beijing Evening Newspaper, Beijing
Youth Newspaper, Beijing Morning Post, Beijing People’s Radio, and Beijing Television,
collectively contributed RMB 30 million to Beijing Qianlong NewsNet, accounting for 72 per
cent of the total share.
Similarly, in Shanghai, the Shanghai Wenxin News Group, Jiefang
Daily (soon to be incorporated into another newsgroup under the same name), Shanghai
Oriental Pearl Media (a shareholding company created and jointly invested by media
organizations such as Shanghai Television Station and Shanghai People’s Radio), and
Shanghai Information Investment (an investment company affiliated with the propaganda
department of Shanghai Municipal Party Committee), collectively injected RMB 600 million
into Shanghai Dongfang Net.
The reason that previously dispersed and piecemeal online operations could be
consolidated into one comprehensive entity so swiftly in the early 2000s was that offline,
provincial administrations had been actively managing media conglomerations for years. The
central directive to build key provincial websites in effect asked for a further concentration of
Institute of Journalism and Communication Studies (ed.), 中国新闻年鉴, 2003, 532.
Peng Lan 彭兰, 中国网络媒体的第一个十年 (The first decade of Chinese online media), Beijing: 清华
大学出版社 (Tsinghua University press), 2005, 110.
Min, 中国网络媒体 20 年, 57.
Peng, 中国网络媒体的第一个十年, 73–8.
resources from the already consolidated provincial press and broadcasting groups. Each
provincial portal has accrued a legion of geographically based cross-media legacy outlets as
its content suppliers and stakeholders. As much as political control over the domestic media
sphere remained a concern, this restructuring appeared to be spurred primarily by the
Chinese state’s attempts to domesticate the ‘international Internet’ in the face of well-
established Western competitors. This was similar to its agenda for legacy media
conglomeration; both resorted to provincial-level administrations in charge of regional
Reconciling content provision via Internet technologies
In addition to provincial-level consolidation of legacy media resources, the central
government rolled out regulations intended to implement Central Office Document No. 33.
By tackling situations unique to Internet technologies, these regulations promoted the rise of
the provincial web. In early 2000, the State Council Information Office released the ‘Outline
for the development of online news propaganda endeavours (2000–2)’ (hereafter
Development Outline), which identified and bestowed preferential treatment on the first
batch of key news propaganda websites.
Although the list included mostly central entities
such as People’s Daily, Xinhua News, and China Daily, this development model was soon
replicated at the provincial level.
First, the government’s policy moves redefined the relationship between legacy media
and private tech companies operating commercial web portals. In 2000, all of China’s three
major commercial portals went IPO. Toward the end of the year, the State Council
Information Office and the then-Ministry of Information Industry jointly announced the
Interim Provisions on the Administration of News Publications by Websites. Formulated by
the central propaganda leadership, this rule foregrounded the exclusive newsgathering
capacity of provincial portals (inherited from the legacy media organizations supporting
them). It explicitly referred to commercial portals as ‘non-news comprehensive websites’,
dictating that they stay away from journalistic activities and requiring them to adhere to a
Institute of Journalism and Communication Studies (ed.), 中国新闻年鉴, 2003, 527.
series of prerequisites before they could distribute news.
Commercial portals had to secure
approval from both the central State Council Information Office and provincial agencies
operating under its supervision, which handled their registration. Their news-editing
facilities and personnel training had to meet government standards. Most significantly, they
had to sign treaties with whichever legacy outlets provided them with content, potentially
including compensation in the form of money, technical support, collaborative projects, and
so forth. The government kept records of all such treaties for the purpose of enforcement.
Thus ended the commercial portals’ golden days of copy-pasting news on the go. The
equilibrium between legacy media online and commercial web portals, which started tilting
in late 1999, was given a decisive nudge.
The promulgation of the Development Outline had engendered a structural
dependency based on differential rights to news content. ‘Commercial [non-news] websites’,
such as web portals of private tech companies, were confined to a limited range of activities,
while ‘news websites’ were given exclusive space to catch up. Provincial portals needed this
much more than their more resource-rich nationally administered counterparts. In fact, their
ensuing development was so phenomenal that managers of portal giants such as Sina started
to recognize ‘the provincial’ on the Chinese Internet – that is, the vibrancy and potential of
provincially oriented web usage. In 2001 alone, Sina launched separate ‘regional channels’ for
six provinces with relatively large online populations.
Likewise, by asking state-owned ISPs to provide an infrastructural boost to provincial
portals (a form of non-monetary subsidy), the government untangled them from rivalries
with legacy media in online content provision. In May 2001, for example, the State Council
Information Office signed a cooperation agreement with China Telecom on behalf of
prominent news portals that would provide or continue providing concession rates for major
national and provincial news portals – a valuable boost in the era of restricted bandwidth.
Their commercial counterparts presumably had to work their connections, or guanxi, in the
telecom sector to negotiate lower prices with telecom carriers.
Some commercial actors continued journalistic practices in the shadows. However, such regulations
engender incriminating evidence for post-hoc application, creating deterrence that is particularly
effective in the media realm. Another example is China’s IP protection law.
Peng, 中国网络媒体的第一个十年, 101.
While ISPs were obliged to provide bandwidth support to provincial portals, their
own websites, that is those hotlines and info-hubs that went live the earliest, seemed to be
stagnating. The early 2000s witnessed their continuous fall in major rankings of Chinese-
language websites, including Alexa.
With expanding residential broadband access, ISPs had
turned to bandwidth-demanding online activities such as music, video streaming, and
multiplayer gaming as value-added services. China Telecom also began to integrate all the
dispersed websites operated by local bureaus into a new premium-content portal called
ChinaVnet (互联星空, literally ‘networked galaxy’). In 2003, ChinaVnet, which bundled many
existing municipal-level info-hubs, was officially put into commercial use.
By late 2005,
ChinaVnet had developed into a national portal, and like Sina, carried separate regional
channels. Having pivoted to proffering subscription-based multimedia entertainment,
ChinaVnet found itself competing against a variety of online audiovisual service providers.
Into the 2000s, the state-owned ISP behemoth moved away from the text/news-heavy part of
the Chinese Internet.
Meanwhile, provincial administrations’ capacities to wield media resources – content
and infrastructure alike – within its jurisdiction significantly increased. In addition to the
state-led media conglomeration campaign in full swing, from 1998 to 2003, a series of
national administrative and legal reforms to ‘optimize’ governance in vertically organized
sectors (e.g. media and telecom) also delegated more central power to local authorities.
further benefitted their web portal projects. In the early 2000s, a dozen provincial portals
were able to draw over 1 million unique visitors per month. The provincial portal reached its
Su Yihong 苏一泓 and Liu Jindao 刘金刀, 综述: 电信信息港何去何从 (Summary: What path should
China Telecom’s info-hubs take?), 9 June 2004, https://tech.sina.com.cn/it/t/2004-06-
09/1449373574.shtml, accessed 9 September 2021.
Feng Dagang 冯大刚, ‘互联星空’全面商用 利益共享受到 SP 欢迎 (‘ChinaVnet’ is fully released for
commercial use, [service providers] welcome its profit-sharing model), 15 September 2003,
http://tech.sina.com.cn/roll/2003-09-15/2035233823.shtml, accessed 7 September 2021.
Yik Chan Chin, Policy process, policy learning, and the role of the provincial media in China, Media
Culture & Society 33(2), 2011: 193–210. The concentration of power with local authorities over online
content also manifested in ‘regional variation’ in the state-sponsored system blocking foreign
websites (aka the Great Firewall, or the GFW), which was commonly considered a national measure.
See Joss Wright, Regional variation in Chinese Internet filtering, Information, Communication and
Society 17(1), 2014: 121-41.
zenith as a media force and a media format in the mid-2010s, after which the desktop-based
Chinese Internet rapidly morphed into mobile access.
Online content regionalization: From unregulated competition to regulated non-competition
Around the World Wide Web, the phenomenal success of Chinese provincial portals
provides rare insight into the regionalization of institutional content provision online.
Political commands alone cannot explain the outcome. Instead, China’s provincial web
materialized through multiple self-interested actors strategizing in an Internet ecology being
reconfigured by a series of regulatory (in)actions. From unregulated competition to regulated
non-competition, these policy moves involved little monetary subsidy and were tailored to
the technology’s radically different mechanisms of content production and circulation.
The provincial web has its humble beginnings in an extended period of unruly
competition where technological affordances and market forces were greatly mobilized. In
this period, a range of organizations rushed to experiment with online formats, weathering
competition in a regulatory vacuum. They were later made shareholders of provincial
portals, and their experiments became part of the portals’ toolkits. This reigning-in-after-
letting-loose pattern has been observed, longue durée, in the evolution of the Chinese
propaganda system accompanying the country’s economic reforms and social pluralization.
In the Internet age more specifically, online audiovisual and textual content providers were
given a temporary breather before being brought under regulations to which their traditional
counterparts were subject.
Viewed in the long arc of regulatory moves leading to China’s
provincial web, initial inaction similarly reflects the government’s ‘lack of will’ and ‘selective
Shambaugh, China’s propaganda system; Lee, The global and the national of the Chinese media;
Joseph Man Chan, Administrative boundaries and media marketization: A comparative analysis of
the newspaper, TV and Internet markets in China, in Lee (ed.) Chinese Media, Global Contexts, 159–76.
Li, Zoning China; Angela Xiao Wu, The evolution of regime imaginaries on the Chinese Internet,
Journal of Political Ideologies 25(2), 2020: 139–61.
enforcement’, rather than negligence or incompetence.
It is also in this sense that what we
document here coheres with the state-led conglomeration of legacy media, which Yuezhi
Zhao aptly calls ‘regulated marketization’, that was underway for years.
The state’s attempt
to induce viable innovation by creating room for bottom–up experimentation and
competition finds yet another instantiation in the digital journalism ventures in the 2010s.
Seemingly pushing the boundary for critical reporting and commentary, they were backed by
provincial governments (e.g. Shanghai-based Pengpai).
After this unruly period, the state’s regulatory actions from the turn of the century
created multiple governing structures that suppressed certain forms of competition, directing
consolidation toward provincial portals. To begin with, websites of discrete legacy media
outlets ceased being competitors. Instead, these media organizations aligned behind
provincial portals via financial, content, and personnel support. This change, interestingly,
came after the state had turned to the increasingly resource-rich provincial governments to
fulfil a national agenda of ‘occupying the international Internet’.
Second, to tackle the minimum cost entailed in digital content reproduction,
regulations policed the line between news and non-news, and in so doing they precipitated
the dependency of commercial portals on the provincial web. The state-owned
telecommunication sector was also called upon to forgo its own ambition in content
provision and to provide provincial portals with preferential Internet connections.
Meanwhile, the provincial web adopted a portal model to which both private tech companies
and ISPs had contributed. As mentioned, the portal as a format was particularly attractive to
the Chinese online population, a substantial portion of which continued to be wide-eyed
newcomers disoriented in a cyberspace indexed according to the alphabet. The Chinese
portal format evolved as a well-tested assembly of arrangements aimed to please the user. It
assimilated the entertainment features that companies such as Sina and Sohu had developed
Also see Luzhou Li, How to think about media policy silence, Media Culture & Society 43(2), 2021:
Zhao, Communication in China.
Kecheng Fang and Maria Repnikova, The state-preneurship model of digital journalism innovation:
Cases from China, International Journal of Press/Politics, https://doi.org/10.1177/1940161221991779. We
should note that, unlike provincial portals, these experimental news outlets are not provincial media,
for they consciously hide regionality to attract national audiences.
by domesticating American originals, as well as those features addressing local life and
community utilities with which ISPs had been experimenting from the beginning.
Third, provincial portals achieved a kind of de facto non-competition among
themselves. According to policy discourse, news websites are protected on the web as a
special category because their content is nominally a public good.
Following the same logic,
the national and regional legacy media organizations behind these sites are not supposed to
view each other as competitors. As a norm, Chinese news websites share content and
hyperlink to each other. In fact, this so-called ‘union mode’ was celebrated as China’s major
strength in developing web content, especially as compared to the United States, or more
aptly Hong Kong, where websites fight one another and do anything possible to keep traffic
to themselves. Despite this grand vision, it was also widely observed that, under increased
pressure to generate revenue, Chinese news sites recognized that web traffic was up for
grabs. Further, the routine practice of sharing content easily led to content homogenization.
Much more acute for national-level news portals, these problems were significantly mitigated
at the provincial level. The Jiangsu portal was not only competing with its Guangdong
counterpart for users, it also ploughed deeply into the Jiangsu news scene, where no other
provincial portals were interested in harvesting its fruits. In short, subnational place-making
on the Internet, in this peculiar context, effectively stratified the market and created parallel
spaces for provincial portals to grow.
Rethinking the conservative turn of Chinese online cultures
Tracing the tortuous genesis of China’s provincial web from the late 1990s to early 2000s does
not only fill in a missing portion of Chinese Internet history. It also adds to our
understanding of the Chinese Internet in politico-economic and cultural terms. First, we
See 互联网信息服务管理办法 (Administrative measures for Internet information services
[promulgated on 25 September 2000]), http://www.gov.cn/gongbao/content/2000/content_60531.htm,
accessed 27 September 2021.
Peng, 中国网络媒体的第一个十年, 212–14.
Arguably GFW also functioned as a protective shield against potential competition from non-China
originated web content. However, analysis of global traffic finds minimal influence of the GFW,
compared to linguistic barriers and the content’s geographic rootedness (in this case, in mainland
China). See Taneja and Wu, Does the Great Firewall really isolate the Chinese?
suggest that China’s provincial web has inspired a shared ‘sociotechnical imaginary’ about
cyberspace that helped concretize the notion of cyber sovereignty.
Since 2010, Beijing has
been forcefully advancing the sovereignty-based Internet governance approach against the
multi-stakeholder approach campaigned by many international organizations.
mainstay in official documents, what cyber sovereignty actually means is still taking shape
amid competing discourses.
The rise of the provincial web played out as each of the
country’s constituent territories claimed a place in the digital world, collectively launching
China into cyberspace. This territorialization process may be seen as predating a long series
of better-documented measures, such as requiring local servers to have .cn domain names
and real-name user registration for online contribution and mapping the web onto physical
entities within the national territory. These ‘indexing measures’ jointly contribute to the legal
and perceptual foundation for the government’s subsequent push for cyber sovereignty as an
organizing principle in Internet governance.
Not only is the provincial web neglected in the existing scholarship, its politico-
cultural influences on Chinese web users, or more precisely, young provincial urbanites,
Let us dwell a bit on the regionality of provincial portals. It is first
and foremost a technological mediation of the ‘local’ determined by capital and class. Given
China’s rather class-based Internet service provision,
the consolidation of the provincial
web has in fact worsened the marginalization of underprivileged populations that began
with media marketization.
Further concentrating information and media resources within
It is through locally shared ‘sociotechnical imaginaries’ that societies engage with technological
systems and devise technoscientific policies. Sheila Jasanoff and Sang-Hyun Kim, Containing the
atom: Sociotechnical imaginaries and nuclear power in the United States and South Korea, Minerva
47(2), 2009: 119–46.
Rogier Creemers, China’s conception of cyber sovereignty, in Dennis Broeders and Bibi van den Berg
(eds) Governing Cyberspace: Behaviour, Power and Diplomacy, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield,
Jinghan Zeng, Tim Stevens, and Yaru Chen, China’s solution to global cyber governance: Unpacking
the domestic discourse of ‘Internet sovereignty’, Politics & Policy 45(3), 2017: 432–64.
Based on iUserTracker data from iResearch (https://www.iresearchchina.com/).
Zhao, Caught in the web.
Zhao, Communication in China.
provincial urban areas, it should not be romanticized as an ‘authentic’ expression of local
Yet this systematic catering to provincial urbanites as early as the 2000s may be key to
explaining the conservative turn of Chinese online cultures widely observed after the mid-
2010s. In Chinese Internet studies, the shift from marvellous explosions of liberal dissent to
manifest streams of conservatism has been attributed to the CCP’s political ‘mainstreaming’
endeavours in the 2010s. Government agencies and legacy media began to vie for online
attention by flocking to monopolistic platforms such as SinaWeibo and WeChat.
subsidy and directives, legacy media also began experimenting with innovative digital
reporting and mobile apps.
Provincial portals, which ascended in the early 2000s and
peaked in the mid-2010s, are the obscured forerunners of this elephantine world that is the
state-managed media sphere. These formal associations of giant, multi-functional portals
with propaganda departments went mostly unnoticed by the hundreds of millions who
frequented the portals. Named after regional cultures and heritages, the provincial portals
had colourful frontpages, creating a veneer very different from the trite images that younger
generations associated with traditional Chinese media.
This has further helped the
provincial web, itself benefitting from regulated non-competition, to better compete for
online attention against content produced by non-state sectors and average users.
In contrast to national-scale online venues where China’s cosmopolitan elites
cultivated their well-noted liberal sensibilities, the provincial web may have been the
stronghold fostering conservative cultural and economic sentiments in its provincial user
base. Media regionalization in the form of provincial communication matrix, which the
official parlance names so figuratively, seems to nudge regional online populations to the
Also see Miranda Joseph, Against the Romance of Community, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Wu, The evolution of regime imaginaries; Guobin Yang, Killing emotions softly: The civilizing
process of online emotional mobilization, Journal of Communication & Society 40, 2017: 75–104.
Haiyan Wang and Colin Sparks, Chinese newspaper groups in the digital era: The resurgence of the
party press, Journal of Communication 69(1), 2019: 94–119; Fang and Repnikova, The state-preneurship
model of digital journalism innovation.
The perceptual correspondence between a legacy outlet and its online presence was also
undermined once the provincial portal became a regional gateway subsuming output from multiple
national political mainstream. Our study hence echoes existing observations about China’s
economic reform in that economic regionalization does not necessarily lead to political
disintegration, as shown in the trajectory of Eastern Europe and the former USSR.
however, is that the provincial web’s influences over Chinese online cultures are not part of a
statist plan but have hinged on many contingencies. It all started with the government’s call
to build an online presence for its geographic regions, out of an urgency to fend off foreign
powers in a new global medium.
Our heartfelt gratitude goes to the late Tom O’Regan for his generous support and
encouragement. We also thank Di Zhou for her excellent research assistance. This article has
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