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The story of Qi Shi Ma: Online discussion and community engagement in urban China
Unformatted Document Text:  - 6 - editors had just begun to create a space for meaningful political discourse for community members. More recent research found that the Internet functions as a supplement and substitute for traditional representative communication. Both citizens and politicians go online to directly express their own opinions. The Internet highlights subversive movements and displays the tension between the elite and the masses (Papacharissi, 2009). To summarize the on-going debate, Papacharissi (2002) explains the paradox of the Internet as the public sphere: It is the existing structure of social relations that drives people to repurpose these technologies and create spaces for private and public expression. The Internet does possess the potential to change how we conceive ourselves, the political system and the world surrounding us, but it will do so in a manner that strictly adheres to the democratic ideals of the public spheres…Our political experience online has shown that so far, the internet presents a public space, but does not yet constitute a public sphere. It is still a useful tool. (pp. 21, 23) Therefore, the discussion of the relationship between the Internet as communication technology and the development of democracy in society should be made concretely. For example, researchers have documented the special importance of online media in societies that are in political transition (Semetko & Krasnoboka, 2003; Kulikova & Perlmutter, 2007). More local level research is needed to understand the consequences of online political deliberations within existing social structures. This idea actually echoes Dewey’s (1927) notion that democracy begins from community. Public sphere research of the Internet in China Similar to the debates about the Internet’s promise of democracy, public sphere Online discussion and community engagement in urban China

Authors: Liu, Zhengjia.
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- 6 -
editors had just begun to create a space for meaningful political discourse for community 
members. More recent research found that the Internet functions as a supplement and 
substitute for traditional representative communication. Both citizens and politicians go 
online to directly express their own opinions. The Internet highlights subversive 
movements and displays the tension between the elite and the masses (Papacharissi, 
2009). To summarize the on-going debate, Papacharissi (2002) explains the paradox of 
the Internet as the public sphere:
It is the existing structure of social relations that drives people to repurpose 
these technologies and create spaces for private and public expression. The Internet 
does possess the potential to change how we conceive ourselves, the political system 
and the world surrounding us, but it will do so in a manner that strictly adheres to the 
democratic ideals of the public spheres…Our political experience online has shown 
that so far, the internet presents a public space, but does not yet constitute a public 
sphere. It is still a useful tool. (pp. 21, 23)
Therefore, the discussion of the relationship between the Internet as 
communication technology and the development of democracy in society should be made 
concretely. For example, researchers have documented the special importance of online 
media in societies that are in political transition (Semetko & Krasnoboka, 2003; Kulikova 
& Perlmutter, 2007).  More local level research is needed to understand the consequences 
of online political deliberations within existing social structures. This idea actually 
echoes Dewey’s (1927) notion that democracy begins from community. 
Public sphere research of the Internet in China 
Similar to the debates about the Internet’s promise of democracy, public sphere 
Online discussion and community engagement in urban China


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