Internet and interest articulation in China: A theoretical re-examination
First Monday

Internet and interest articulation in China: A theoretical re-examination by Yu-Wen Chen

Borrowing concepts from classic game theory, this paper theoretically re–examines the impact of the Internet on interest articulation in China. I consider the Chinese state to be a monopolist interacting with a number of entrants, that is, individuals wishing to bring information relating to public goods into the public space. Instead of being a unitary monopolist, the Chinese state has opted for different strategies, depending on the perceived costs of conceding or fighting against entrants. The entrants, similarly, have different strategic concerns depending on how salient the issue is that they seek to bring up.


Interest articulation in China re–examined
What has the Internet changed?
Why do Chinese citizens articulate interests online?
Conclusion: Fitting theory into reality




Chinese citizens regard the Internet as a vital channel for obtaining political information and for understanding politics in China (Zheng and Wu, 2005; Giese, 2005, 2006). Also, cyberspace provides an important milieu for Chinese citizens to articulate their opinions and interests, thus creating diverse kinds of public spaces online (Leibold, 2010). Some empirical studies further proved that cyberspace has been used to stimulate collective actions, both online and off–line (Zheng and Wu, 2005; Zhang and Wang, 2010) [1].

This paper has a basis in the state of interest articulation in China as well as the existing discussion on the impact of the Internet in China. However, it seeks to re–examine the matter using concepts from classic game theory. I hope that my theoretical discussion will help clarify the kinds of strategies or actions that Chinese citizens would use (or have used) to express their interests in cyberspace. In other words, I aim to understand the logic of their strategic choices.

Before I start my analysis, I shall explain a number of terms that will be repeated throughout this paper. I am inspired largely by Krep and Wilson’s (1982) analysis of the interactions between a monopolist in a market and a number of business competitors (i.e., the entrants) wishing to access the market. In this paper, I often refer to ordinary Chinese individuals as “entrants” (or “potential entrants”) because they intend to “enter” a public domain to contend an issue of which the Chinese state (i.e., the monopolist) prefers to take control. When an individual voices a view in a public space, “interest articulation” takes place.

The phrase “interest articulation” has been proposed by scholars studying non–democratic regimes such as the Soviet Union and the former communist regime in Hungary. “Interest articulation,” as defined by Biddulph (1983), depicts the process whereby an individual or group (both informal and formal) attempts to affect the “agenda setting,” “decision making,” and “policy implementation” of the authorities (Biddulph, 1983). When interest articulation occurs, a kind of “grouping” emerges. Sometimes the boundary of such a grouping is better defined when it has a concrete number of members or constituencies. But the boundary can also be ill–defined, containing latent supporters who might not be easily spotted and would only emerge upon certain activation (Baumgartner and Leech, 1998; Brubaker, 2004; Zhu and Robinson, 2010).

Together with many observers of China, I call individuals and the group(ing)s that they form “the sub–system” in a metaphoric sense, while the authorities are called the dominant system (Kang and Han, 2008). I do not presume the existence of great tension or conflicts of interest between the sub–system and the dominant system. Rather, there are “spaces” where interests could be articulated and, through direct or indirect conveyance, reach the radar of the dominant system. I treat online public spaces as plural because the cyberspace is not a unitary space, and needs to be differentiated [2].

In the second part, I begin with a literature review of how interest articulation could occur in China and through which channels. In the third section, I further ask how the advent of the Internet has changed our understanding of interest articulation in China. My exploration leads to a modest finding on the impact of the Internet: that is, the Internet is mostly an extra or alternative venue for interest expression in China. It does not replace conventional channels for interest articulation. It is not realistic to completely separate online and off–line articulation. In real life, interest exchanges and bargaining occur through rounds of virtual and non–virtual interactions between individuals and policy–makers.

Bearing in mind that we cannot separate online collection actions from off–line actions, in the fourth section, I will depict the off–line and/or online interactions between a monopolist (i.e., the state) and a number of (potential) entrants (i.e., ordinary individuals) wishing to address their grievances and interests. This will lead us to understand why scholars have frequently observed ordinary Chinese citizens acting opportunistically to voice their grievances [3] and why the Chinese government has reacted with a mixture of strategies, from concession (both substantial and superficial) to suppression [4].



Interest articulation in China re–examined

When individuals detect some problem or violation of public good in society, collecting information and bringing it to light often require some involvement by governmental (including semi– and quasi–governmental) and non–governmental organizations (Dai, 2007). Based on a literature review, I have drawn a simple typology to depict when ordinary individuals might start to articulate a collective interest, thus stimulating the formation of “groups” or “groupings” (Figure 1).

In Figure 1, the Y dimension measures an individual’s preferred distance to the status quo. The further away an individual is from the status quo, the more likely this individual perceives that his or her interests lie in seeking policy changes. If an individual is indifferent towards the status quo and the policy alternative, his or her distance from the status quo is zero.


Figure 1: Typology of interest articulation in China
Figure 1: Typology of interest articulation in China.


The X dimension shows how autonomous an individual is when embedded in the system (White, et al., 1996; Read, 2008). If an individual is a member of or has connections to governmental, semi–governmental, or quasi–governmental organizations, this person is defined as having less autonomy. In this case, this individual can try to use his or her membership in the state–party system to express interests [5]. This individual does not need to seek other, less official means. This kind of person could also be an elite or cadre (Teets, 2009) [6]. In contrast, some individuals do not have such a “pre–condition,” thereby lowering their “relative likelihood” to first consider accessing the dominant system.

The lower–left corner depicts the situation in which a pro–status quo individual has access to the party apparatus and, therefore, lacks incentive to seek alternative channels of interest articulation. In some situations, these kinds of individuals could be party cadre or “problems” themselves. They not only are pro–status quo but also have interests in taming anti–status quo voices. They are called “pro–status quo extremist” in this paper. Pro–status quo extremists with access to the policy–maker have incentives to spread “their own version of truth” independently of their private information of the real “truth” in the hopes of increasing the likelihood that the status quo is maintained (Lohmann, 1995).

Scholars have debated whether the Internet is an instrument of suppression by the state or could facilitate the liberalization, or even democratization, of a state. I propose to move beyond this “either–or” question because what is more interesting is to ask in which situation the Internet could be used by the state to suppress individuals and when it could help individuals (or even the regime) to facilitate changes. In the case of the lower–left corner, both online and off–line channels could be used by pro–status quo extremists to guard their interests (de Kloet, 2002). The merit of the Internet is that it offers an additional channel for pro–status quo extremists to report and propagate their own version of truth.

Next, let us consider the lower–right corner. In such a scenario, a pro–status quo individual has no access to the party apparatus. Since individuals’ interests are aligned with that of the state, they have no incentive to call for changes.

The upper–left corner depicts the case of an anti–status quo person who has access to party apparatus, thereby preferring to use “the official” channel to express his or her interests and seek policy change. Influence could also be made through cronyism or bribing. From an alternative angle, we can say that individuals in the upper–left corner act as the link between the state and society. They could be conceived of as “weak interest groups,” as described by Chhibber and Eldersveld (2000).

The upper–right corner depicts the situation in which anti–status quo individuals have no access to the party apparatus. They are more likely to use alternative and unconventional venues for expressing grievances and call for changes.

Borrowing terminology which has been used by scholars to study interest group strategies in Western liberal democracies, I suggest that individuals in this corner are more likely to employ “outside strategies” so that communication among social interests, policy–makers, and citizens becomes visible to a wider audience. It is here that collective actions are staged and that actors attempt to attract the attention of a broader public to strengthen their claims (Beyers, 2004). This is different from “inside strategies” more frequently used by individuals in the upper–left and lower–left corners to directly negotiate with policy–makers (Kollman, 1998) [7].

When individuals seek more outside channels than inside channels, they are, in fact, attempting to raise the salience of their demands. There are two benefits to resorting to outside strategies. Firstly, outside strategies inform the policy–makers that the salience of an issue has grown (Kollman, 1998). This warns policy–makers that if they do not wish to see the conflict expand, they should consider yielding. Secondly, outside strategies signal supporters that their interests are being attended to, thereby strengthening belief in their cause, generating more solidarity among the constituents, and galvanizing support from latent sympathizers.

The Chinese state, at the same time, might be uncertain of the salience of an issue that could potentially attract more private individuals to articulate a collective interest. What the Chinese state has feared most in the past is the accumulation of private sentiments, which could topple and destabilize the function of society and thus pose a threat to the regime (Teets, 2009).

In reaction, the Chinese government has used different methods to prevent the articulation of a collective interest. One approach has been to suppress them. Another method has been to co–opt the collective action, taking them under state control of various communist party organs while, at the same time, allowing certain autonomy and expression of interests so as to pacify disagreements. In both strategies, the Chinese regime has demonstrated its fear of public opinions, especially the mounting salience of an issue that could invite collective actions and change the status quo (Teets, 2009).

Do outside strategies really give out the correct signal to the decision makers about the salience of an issue and, moreover, affect them to yield? Not necessary. In fact, we can consider outside strategies as a kind of mistake, because if they truly work to change policy, decision–makers must have misjudged when they chose to support an opposing policy in the first place (Kollman, 1993). Policy–makers failed to anticipate the citizens’ reactions. If individuals adopt outside strategies and fail to change policy, individuals wrongly estimated either the willingness of the collective to pressure decision–makers or the public pressure necessary to make decision–makers yield (Kollman, 1993; 1998).

Mistakes imply uncertainty (Kollman, 1993). That is to say, to comprehend the interactions between the Chinese state and individuals, one has to take into account the probability of beliefs and information each player holds. Hence, the effect of framing an issue of contention, as is often done in the study of contentious politics, matters.

In the fourth section, I will examine how players interact in situations in which they are not certain of their counterpart’s beliefs and preferences. Before I do so, however, let us first discuss how the advent of the Internet could have modified our understanding of interest articulation in China.



What has the Internet changed?

It is almost a cliché now to mention the following utilities of the Internet and why they change the logic of interest articulation: minimal operational costs, quick dissemination of information, and anonymity (Bimber, 1998; Krueger, 2006). Lower costs have been proven, by various scholars, to minimize the collective action problem. Furthermore, it could be attractive to ordinary Chinese citizens who often prefer not to be “seen” in any collective efforts, partly due to lack of trust in the society and partly due to fears of being punished by the state (Teets, 2009).

The benefits of the Internet are known to all actors, including actors favoring outside strategies, actors favoring inside strategies, and the state actor. However, the utility of the Internet to these actors varies. For the state actor, the Internet helps propagate the actor’s own preferred version of truth. For actors opting for inside strategies, the Internet is not so much an important channel for interest articulation, as “the official” venue might be sufficient.

In another way, the Internet could be attractive to individuals in the upper–right corner of Figure 1, those who have no formal or informal access to the party apparatus. The Internet provides additional cheaper and faster channels for them to bring awareness of their demands to the public and to policy–makers. By observing the occurrence of interest articulation online, state actors get an idea of how credible the information is that netizens seek to voice (Lohmann, 1995). Because of the public–good character of information expressed online, individuals’ decision to articulate a perceived collective cause online is subject to a free–rider problem. Each individual’s incentive to contribute is determined by the marginal effect of his or her contribution to the state’s decision. For every individual, the probability that his or her information will be determinant in the policy–maker’s decision is small. In other words, the size of an individual’s contribution is tiny relative to the benefits he or she expects from the state’s decision. The contribution paid by individuals will be small relative to the contributions that might be expected in other forms of exchange of interests, such as through inside strategies (Lohmann, 1995). It is in this vein that we realize that the impact of the Internet on the political behavior of Chinese citizens as well as on political outcomes is limited.

The Internet cannot effectively challenge existing models that predict political behaviors and outcomes (Woodly, 2008). What the Internet does change, however, is the cost and benefits of the actors’ calculations. Because of this, we cannot study online interest articulation independently, without taking into account parallel developments in the off–line reality. Although the virtual world constitutes a space in its own right, it is, after all, only an extension or a part of a real–life social space [8].

Current literature tends to treat the Internet as inherently value–laden, such as providing a tool for political changes. But if we understand the limits of the Internet on political changes in China, we come to realize that it is the actual usage of the Internet that gives the technology any political value or meaning, not the other way around [9].



Why do Chinese citizens articulate interests online?

Bearing in mind that online and off–line actions are hardly independent of each other, I delve into individuals’ logic for opting into online interest articulation. My analysis is largely inspired by Kreps and Wilson’s (1982) analysis of the interactions between a monopolist and an entrant in the context of market competition.

The Chinese state, in a way, can be conceived of as a monopolist, in that it is known to be reluctant to accept the pluralisation of private interests and any further manifestation of these interests in the public domain. This arises from the leaders’ fear that social actors could substitute the functions and power of the government or, even further, endanger the survival of the regime (Teets, 2009; Lin, 2001). Any group wanting to represent a section of society’s interests is not favored, if not entirely banned.

For instance, the Chinese government has set up an Internet police organization to monitor and control Internet surfers’ behavior. It is also well known that Google has collaborated with the Chinese government to block certain Web sites at “The Great Firewall of China,” as it is often ridiculed by the Western press and media, is by no means an exaggeration (Harwit and Clark, 2001; Freeman, 2010).

Also, I shall make a clarification regarding the concept of “entrants” in my analysis. In any collective action, there are different types of participants. For instance, Tilly (1978) discerned zealots, misers, opportunists, and run–of–the–mill participants. As well, Kelliher (1993) points out the differences between intellectuals, elites, and other non–educated participants in Chinese protest movements. One can also differentiate leaders and followers (both committed and uncommitted) in any collective actions (Yu and Zhao, 2006). Although I understand there are differences in terms of the types of participants in collective actions, I do not intend to explore this difference in this paper. The “entrants” that I refer to are the most representative group of participants in each collective action. They are not extremely latent bystanders but are either leaders or ordinary participants who would contribute efforts to their collective cause.

In the following sub–section, I try to theorize the interaction between an Internet user and the state. I let an Internet user (i.e., the potential entrant) moves first, choosing either to enter the public spaces by articulating interest online or to keep silent. If the entrant stays out, the state will not take any actions. In this case, I assume that the state obtains a “benefit” because its legitimacy is not challenged and it maintains its favored “order” in society.

One–sided uncertainty

What an ordinary individual cares about is whether the state will fight against interest articulation or not. Here, I would like to suggest that we treat “the Chinese state” as a multi–faceted actor, instead of one unitary actor. To put it simply, I propose to discern when the state is a strong actor and when it is not. According to my theoretical assumption, the difference between a strong and a weak state actor is based on the state’s perceived relative loss and gain of its actions, not in terms of state capacities.

There are situations in which the Chinese state perceives itself to be strong. It prefers to suppress than to concede to civil demands because it would have to pay more to acquiesce than to suppress. A typical instance is when contention directly challenges Chinese sovereignty. A sympathetic cause to the Tibetans’, the Uyghurs’, or the Taiwanese’ desire for self–determination, for instance, should be put down rather than tolerated, as calculated by the Chinese leaders (MacKinnon, 2008).

There are also occasions in which the Chinese state is a weak actor, meaning it pays more to suppress than to yield. For instance, the Chinese regime has hoped to punish any officials engaging in corruption. The Chinese state shares interests with victims of corruption and would prefer a sound monitoring system to tackle this problem (Dai, 2007). In this case, when an individual reports a grievance, it is more beneficial for the state to concede and reform than to fight against the entrant.

Strong and weak state actors have different strategic preferences. A strong state always prefers to fight entry. This is because the state would hope that fewer individuals would continue to join the public spaces online, or even off–line, in the long run. Hence, it is better to fight entry in the short run (Kreps and Wilson, 1982).

A weak Chinese state’s behavior is more complicated. When a potential individual stays out of the game, the state gains because it is not challenged and keeps its preferred stability and “social harmony.” If an entrant enters the game and the weak state concedes, the individual obtains a benefit, while the weak state loses its legitimacy and stability, hence setting its payoff to zero. Making a concession, however, is still a better payoff for the weak state than to fight. When a weak state fights, it has a negative payoff, while the individual’s payoff is also reduced. Anticipating this response, the entrant chooses between having no payoff, if it stays out, and a benefit, if it enters, and so it will enter.

In real life, however, the entrants are likely to be uncertain of the state’s payoffs. The best strategy for the weak state is not to let it be known that it is weak. An individual assesses the prior interactions between the state and other individuals, using these as a basis to determine whether he or she should join online articulation.

For the weak state, it is thus better to create a kind of “reputation,” making individuals believe that they may face a strong state. Although a weak state has more payoffs when conceding than fighting, in real life, it is more likely that a weak state would still fight from time to time. A weak state would use a mixture of acquiescence and suppression strategies to feign its “type” (Kreps and Wilson, 1982) in the hope that it can generate a kind of deterrence effect to prevent further contention. This is what the Chinese call a tactic of “killing the chicken to scare the monkeys” (Harwit and Clark, 2001; Yang, 2003).

Two–sided uncertainty

The above model considers the situation in which the Chinese monopolist state faces potential challenges from various individuals. The model depicts a situation in which there is one–sided uncertainty regarding the type of the Chinese state.

In real life, however, two changes could occur. We need to also take into account another model. In this other model, firstly, the state could play against the same individual many times. An individual could have multiple entry opportunities. For example, an individual could use online strategies a number of times, or they could use both online and off–line strategies to enter the public domain. This is plausible, as online and off–line actions are not entirely separable.

Secondly, in this alternative model, the uncertainty is two–sided, meaning that the Chinese state is also unsure of the type of individual. Individuals can be broadly categorized into two types. The discerning criterion is whether and how much an individual’s (private) interests can be aggregated to become a collective (public) interest. An individual whose interests could find resonances in other individuals’ interests is a strong entrant. A weak entrant means that his or her interest does not truly represent the interests of another larger collective “out there.”

The strong entrant would fare better to enter than to stay out because the payoff of choosing the former action is higher, even though he or she knows the state will probably fight (Kreps and Wilson, 1982). The logic behind the strong entrant is that there are others who share the same interests, making their common cause a salient and strong one. The regime is supposed to be more willing to listen when facing a collective demand like theirs. So, a strong entrant would prefer to fight.

If the individual and the state both prefer to fight (i.e., strong state vs. strong entrants), they could end up in a classic “chicken game” wherein both actors would pressure the counterpart to surrender before they would themselves give up the fight, even if it is clear at the outset that each side will henceforth pay a short–run loss for their behavior (Kreps and Wilson, 1982).

The interactions between the Chinese regime and the Chinese Democracy Party, Free Tibet Groups, the Uyghur diasporic networks (Chen, 2010) and the Falungong movement are typical examples. Take the Falungong movement, for instance. The entrants are strong in the sense that they can find resonances among a group of like–minded individuals. Before it was cracked down by the Chinese regime in late 1999, Falungong had its own domestic Web site and bulletin boards online. Supporters at home and abroad were able to communicate and form networks through e–mail messages. The most well–known collective action it called upon was in early 1999, when 15,000 supporters from different corners of the country gathered in Zhongnanhai, the Communist Party’s headquarters in Beijing (Bi, 2001). This was the largest demonstration in Beijing since the 1989 pro–democracy protests in Tiananmen Square (Bi, 2001; Kalathil and Boas, 2003).

Chinese leaders were stunned by Falungong’s ability to assemble in Zhongnanhai. Fearing that Falungong could challenge the power of the regime, the state was strong in this case because it considered that it would need to pay more to concede than to suppress. Falungong was outlawed and suppressed thereafter. The confrontation between Falungong and the Chinese government has not faded due to the crackdown, though. It has been, instead, “transported” abroad through Falungong’s overseas sympathizers and followers. This is a typical example of how a strong state and strong entrants end up in chicken games (Bi, 2001).

Weak entrants, by contrast, will randomize strategies. Although weak entrants are better off when stay out, to maximize their chance, they might consider feigning their type by entering the game. This, consequently, becomes a kind of bluffing strategy. The purpose is to mislead the state, making the state think that the entrant could be a strong type. Thus, the weak entrant might have the chance to get acquiescence from the state if the state does take the cue seriously.



Conclusion: Fitting theory into reality

What have we learned from the above theoretical exercise? To start with, a strong state always has more incentives to fight, while the strong entrant also favors entering the public spaces over staying out (at the outset). If an actor is weak, be it the state or the entrant, then a randomized strategy is better because it confuses the counterpart, with the hope of raising the chance of obtaining acquiescence.

For instance, when both the state actor and the entrant(s) are weak, both actors are likely to opt for a randomization of strategies. This “banal” interaction, in fact, often occurs in daily life.

The Chinese government is weak in this scenario because it obtains a higher payoff if it allows the release of minor discontent via online expression, so that the discontent would not accumulate into larger forms of protests.

Chinese citizens are weak in the sense that most of them simply hope to have the freedom to express their views. They do not truly represent any interests of another larger collective “out there” (Harold, 2008; White, 2009; Freeman, 2010). Interest articulation is fragmented and does not become unified and salient enough to challenge the state.

In the situation when both the state and the entrants are weak, both actors would use a mixture of tough and soft strategies. For the weak state, it would monitor online expression and exercise certain censorship, but sometimes is also willing to make expedient concessions to disruptive behaviors online. Some “not–so–correct” activities are tolerated in reality (Chen, 2007).

For the weak entrants, they also have a mixture of soft and tough strategies. Sometimes they might take explicit positions to demonstrate their obedience or defiance, while other times they might just use a rather submissive rather than confrontational methods to talk about a lament online [10].

Apart from looking at the constellation of the state and the entrants’ strategic choices from a static perspective, we can also examine the change of both players’ choices across time. For instance, in many public–good crises, we see that the state has turned from being a strong one to a weak one, thus altering the interactions between the state and the entrants.

There are numerous public–good crises, such as the 2003 SARS crisis, the 2008 melamine–tainted milk scandal, and the 2005 explosion at a chemical plant that caused a major spill of poisonous chemicals into the Songhua river in northeast China (Bruyninckx, et al., 2007; Zheng and Wu, 2005; Zhu and Robinson, 2010; Yang, 2006). In these crises, the state was originally a strong player interacting with a number of strong entrants wishing to reveal the truth of the crises. So, a kind of chicken game took place at the outset.

Take the 2008 melamine–tainted milk scandal for example. In 2004, there had been reports of infants and children sickened by certain milk products. The authorities originally released a “black list” of industries from which the contaminated products originated but later removed some “heavy–weight” industries, such as the Sanlu Group, from the list. In the state–owned off–line and online news, there were even news reports to assure the citizens of the good quality of milk products manufactured by these industries.

Continuous complaints from inflicted consumers and efforts by some journalists culminated in the breaking of the scandal in 2008, leading the World Health Organization (WHO) to refer to this incident as the largest food safety event the WHO had had to deal with in recent years. The incident further led many countries to cease importing Chinese dairy products in 2008. There were acerbic comments on various online forums and chat rooms. Questions were also raised concerning China’s food safety and the government’s inability to safeguard consumers.

During this process, the Chinese state turned from strong to weak because it actually recognized that it would fare better if it managed the actual crisis (as expected by the individuals) than denied or suppressed the problem.

Turning into a weak player, the state thus opted for randomizing its strategies. The authorities made certain concessions to pacify public discontent while, at the same time, exercised censorship on some selective citizens to deter further followers.

As for the individuals, they were strong entrants since the outset of the crisis because their grievance represented the aspirations of actual victims and sympathizers. Netizens tried to share knowledge of the milk products in order to help themselves and others. Although online public opinion cannot be the “independent variable” in the Chinese government’s decision to probe into the scandal, it is at least an “intervening variable” for urging policy–makers to become more accountable and credible to the public [11].

Confronted by criticism and scepticism at home and abroad, the Chinese government and leaders finally apologized in public and conducted a probe into the situation by the end of 2008 [12].

There are different ways to study online interest articulation in China. In this paper, I have opted for using concepts from classic game theory to examine this matter because I think rational choice theory has a rigid framework, allowing for the re–exploration of different actors’ perceptions, preferences, and options. I am sure there are other approaches one can use to look at this issue. Even within game theory, there are a variety of games that we may use to examine the same issue. I do not intend to claim that my theoretical option is the sole option to study this issue, but I do expect that my theoretical re–examination has provided an interesting perspective into an ongoing debate, allowing us to generalize the logics of the Chinese state and citizens’ behavior in this fast–growing information age. End of article


About the author

Yu–Wen Chen is an Assistant Research Fellow at the Institute of Political Science at the Academia Sinica in Taiwan and honorary research fellow at the Institute for Human Security at La Trobe University, Australia.
E–mail: yuwenjuliechen [at] yahoo [dot] com



For financial support for my project on “The Rise of Group Interests and Evidences of Interest Articulation in China” (Taiwan NSC98–2917–I–564–147), I would like to thank Taiwan’s National Science Council. James Leibold at La Trobe University in Australia has commented thoroughly on my earlier draft. I wish to thank him for his assistance and encouragement.



1. Most Chinese online behavior is actually apolitical communication and entertainment (Sima and Pugsley, 2010). Articulating political interests online is not common, but it is the focus of this paper. I owe this view to James Leibold.

2. I owe this view to James Leibold.

3. As White (2009) illuminates, current Chinese grievances are often “based on perceived or real theft by lowly officials of ordinary citizens’ conventional rights to jobs, wages, land, or normal family life. They are seldom based on assertion of new claims.”

4. I understand that Internet usage is not equally spread in China and remains a privilege of most urban and well–off populations (Freeman, 2010). This digital divide does not pose a problem to my research purpose. My focus is on theorizing the interaction between the state and individuals who have the capacity to use the Internet.

5. Some scholars advocate the differentiation between the party and the state while studying China (Yang and Li, 2009). Although I recognize the difference, for reasons of analytical expediency, I do not make further distinction in this paper.

6. Elites include entrepreneurs–turned–cadres and cadres–turned–entrepreneurs.

7. Inside strategies are similar to what O’Brien and Li (2006) call “the rightful resistance.” It is a “rather tame form of contention that makes use of existing (if clogged) channels of participation and relies heavily on the patronage of elite backers” (O’Brien and Li, 2006).

8. The purpose of my paper, accordingly, is not to create a brand new rational choice model that stresses the power of the Internet on our study of political sciences. Rather, I intend to discuss how cost and benefits are changed in our current understanding of the occurrence of collection actions with the arrival of the Internet and to apply this to the case of China.

9. I would like to thank James Leibold for sharpening my arguments here.

10. It is harder to find existing case studies of this kind of banal daily interactions. The reason is simple. Most researchers do not see any substantial value of exploring a phenomenon that is banal.

11. Although there was a small minority of Chinese netizens calling for support for the Sanlu Group’s products — because they wished to support industries of their own region — the majority of “entrants” in this incident questioned the government’s actions and demanded clarification.

12. CCTV, 2008. “Government annouces a list of industries which produce melamine–tainted infant milk,” 16 September 2008, at, accessed 30 November 2010 (in Chinese); Beijing Youth Daily, 2009. “What is the biggest highlight in the food safety law?” 2 June 2009 (in Chinese).



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Editorial history

Received 29 November 2010; accepted 23 December 2011.

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This paper is in the Public Domain.

Internet and interest articulation in China: A theoretical re–examination
by Yu–Wen Chen
First Monday, Volume 17, Number 1 - 2 January 2012

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