Xiao Qiang of China Digital Times has now posted his excellent essay originally written for the Wall Street Journal about how the role of technology in China's recent anti-Japanese protests. The government certainly allowed these protests to happen, and even encourages the rise of anti-foreign and especially anti-Japanese nationalism in Chinese cyberspace as a way of deflecting people's frustrations away from their own government. Nonetheless, Xiao believes that the internet and wireless technology that made these protests possible will ultimately do more to break down the Communist Party's control - despite all the impressive efforts to control and filter what Chinese people can see and do on the internet.
...the use of technology in these protests is likely to have a wider impact on Chinese society. Despite the silence of the official media in reporting the anti-Japan demonstrations, many online bulletin boards and Web blogs have engaged in lively debate about Sino-Japan relations, Chinese nationalism, and the goals and impact of the demonstrators. Many articles also criticized the crude form of nationalism seen in the protests and questioned the motives of the government’s propaganda in giving anti-Japanese sentiment some political space.
By providing space for a pluralistic debate on such a heated topic, the Internet allows rational voices to be heard, and may ultimately help aid the development of civil society. As information technology becomes ever more widely available in China, it is sure to be increasingly used by activists to bypass government control. Instead of being used as a control device to strengthen the power of an authoritarian regime, the Internet may yet play a part in forcing a political opening in China.
(See this comprehensive report by my Berkman colleagues and the Open Net Initiative for more information on China's internet control methods.)