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Ideas and ideologies competing for China's political future

How online pluralism challenges official orthodoxy

Unlike any other Chinese leader since the beginning of the reform era, Xi Jinping has worked on crafting a unified national ideology with the aim to strengthen the ties between China’s citizens and the Communist Party of China (CCP). The Xi leadership tries to rally support around the “China Dream,” the vision of China as a global player, and it promotes the “China Path” as an alternative to market economies and liberal democracies.

Although partially successful, the propaganda offensive has so far not yielded the desired result: a broad-based societal consensus on China’s future course. A new publication by the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) shows widely differing views within Chinese society on China’s developmental model and its global role.

For their report, “Ideas and ideologies competing for China’s future,” Kristin Shi-Kupfer, Mareike Ohlberg, Simon Lang and Bertram Lang analyzed debates in Chinese social media and conducted a survey among predominantly urban Chinese netizens. Even though party-state propaganda played a dominant role, debates in online chat groups such as Weibo or Tianya Net displayed a wide range of opinions despite censorship and repression of dissent.

Patriotism may be a uniting theme in these forums, but netizens are divided over the foundations of national strength. While some would like to root China in historic traditions, others promote technological advancement as the only path to global competitiveness.

Views of the “West” are equally ambivalent. China’s widespread nationalism is not identical with the anti-Western sentiment the CCP attempts to stir. 

In the survey that accompanies the study, 62 per cent of respondents were in favor of a stronger global role for China. At the same time, the overwhelming majority had a favorable view of Europe (92 per cent) and of the United States (78 per cent). 75 per cent supported the “spread of Western values.” 1,550 internet users participated in the survey in the summer of 2016.

The Authors

The  Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS)is a Stiftung Mercatorinitiative. Established in 2013, MERICS is a Berlin-based institute for contemporary and practical research into China.

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