June 13, 2008

What has China’s earthquake done to its internet?

People say the Chinese internet is mostly an entertainment network. But looking at what happened online during the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake reveals a Chinese internet with a depth and soul and much, much more.

Post-earthquake, the Chinese internet was rich in news and comment; it displayed new, creative applications; and spoke in a more tempered, unified voice. Was this a breakthrough moment to a more robust, mature Chinese internet?

We can learn from a similar experience on the American internet, which also showed big online changes following the events of September 11. Some effects evaporated; others stuck.

We can watch for lasting effects on the Chinese internet, including by focusing on the popular myth that Chinese users chafe under internet controls and management. The evidence suggests not for now, but will this myth become a reality as the Chinese internet appreciates its own new strength?