Reading thread is a new series offering personal journeys through the Marco Polo Project catalogue. This piece is the third in a series by Francis Beechinor, from the London University School of Oriental and African Studies. 

up the stairs

‘China – I’ve heard it’s just like ‘1984’.’ No, that’s wrong. Very wrong.

Many westerners I’ve encountered believe that Chinese people have no freedom of expression whatsoever, especially on the internet.

If they do express themselves with a degree of independence on any topic at all, police will blast into their bedroom in the middle of the night and steal them away to a menacing ministry of some sort. ‘Yes officer, I’m coming. I just need to put my pants on.’

Simply by scrolling through various articles on the Marco Polo Project website, it’s obvious that such generalisations are not true. Censorship exists, topics are taboo, and serious police intimidations do happen. But original, innovative and critically reflective material is also published every day in China.

To further celebrate the Marco Polo Festival of Digital Literature, we have gathered some fascinating pieces on internet pluralism and online expression.

Enjoy and in the future, don’t take Orwellian comparisons at face value.


Media power, media pluralism, and media governance – 媒体权力,媒体多元主义与媒体治理圆桌会议

by Zhang Tianpan, 3rd April 2014

Zhang Tianpan, who will be appearing at the Marco Polo Dig-Lit festival, seems to be big on social action and drive.

Previously, we’ve seen how he empathised with the Shamate, the hipster sub-culture on the rise in China. Now he’s talking about how the use of ‘opinion writing’ on the internet needs to change.

Incessant ramblings on Weibo and other social media sites need to stop, more action is needed too. You need to talk the talk, walk the walk; have a bark and a bite to really change things.


Who will set linguistic norms on the internet? – 网络语言由谁立规范

by Guo Weiqing, 7th May 2012


Often, internet censorship, along with Tiananmen and the Cultural Revolution, are favorite China-related conversation topics in the West. All of which contribute to the shallow ‘1984’ stereotype certain westerners have of the Chinese intellectual environment.

This piece gives a nuance to the way we think about China’s censorship.

It isn’t all removing the names of controversial politicians and anything to do with Tibet; some Chinese censors are also striving towards a linguistic standard which the internet in some ways hinders.

The cyber world must be a linguistic-nightmare for officials, people are constantly using slang, dialectical phrases, traditional and simplified Chinese.


20 years on, how the internet has reshaped modern China – 二十年,互联网重构现代中国

by Zhang Tianpan, 2nd May 2014


Zhang Tianpan strikes again! Only this time, he’s gone all post-modernist on us!

How has the internet changed our lives? Zhang focuses on the sociology of our circumstances where we learn less from the old and more from the young.

Has anyone seen the Spike Jonze movie ‘Her’? I think this movie captures the ‘light’ culture Zhang talks about perfectly. Nothing is solid, it’s all based on thin air.


Online literature is dead, let’s start burning the paper – 网络文学已死,有事烧纸

by Wei Yingjie, 9th July 2013


The death of online literature seems to be a common theme amongst Chinese writers. In a previous post, I spoke about the dynamics in the Wang Xinyu and Jianhan Qiushui pieces.

Wei Yingjie, on the other hand, reminisces on a past where internet literature truly flourished. The turn of the millennium, where the internet was a literary land of milk and honey.

Perhaps, to take on Jianhan’s view, online literature simply needs to adapt to a new form in order to revive itself?


What does internet pluralism amount to? – 网络价值多元主义能否成气候?

by Muran, 25th July 2014


Muran commonly writes about the effect of the internet and social media in China, you may have spotted the articles on Weibo being ‘a good thing’ or questioning whether it’s a ‘populist paradise’.

This article is no exception and Muran does not fail to pose an equally magnificent question: ‘what does internet pluralism amount to?’

So what does it amount to? If you could be so kind and help translate this article, we will find out in due course.