Social Media Makes A Quiet Society More Cynical?
Two women have been the center of social debate this past week in China. One is the first Chinese female astronaut Liu Yang who was sent into space in the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft, the other is a woman who was forced to have abortion after her second pregnancy because it violated China’s One-Child Policy and she did not have the money to pay the $6,300 fine.
The Shenzhou-9 spaceship was sent to space successfully on June 16. While the ecstatic news filled the official media, social media focused more on a quite disturbing photo of a 23-year-old woman lying on the hospital bed with a dead fetus, which looks just like a sleeping kid beside her mother.
The abortion happened on June 2 but the news was not revealed until later. This photo, which one may think would be censored by the government, was surprisingly available to everyone. Outrageous comments and discussion soon filled Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter)’s newsfeed. People started to question: What’s wrong with our society? Why we can send a female astronaut to space but we can also kill a woman’s child? Some people started to question if the “One-Child Policy” is still feasible today, as it has been commonly considered an anti-human right policy by the Western world.
However, counterargument appeared later. A discussion on Tianya.cn, one of China’s earliest online bulletin which usually fosters challenging opinions against the “official news,” questioned whether people should blame the local official that forced the abortion or blame the young couple who broke the law to pregnant for the second time even though they knew they would not be able to afford another birth permit. What’s more, some Internet users dug even deeper and found out that the woman was under legal age when giving birth to her first child who was a girl. In some Chinese people’s mind, giving birth to a girl is still considered less favorable than a boy. Thus, some Internet users on Tianya.cn wondered maybe this was the real reason why the couple ventured to break the law in order to have another child--hopefully a boy; but after realizing the second child would also a girl, they gave up instead of finding ways to pay the fine.
We still don’t know which is the real reason behind the issue. But what is known now is that three local officials were suspended by the central government in Beijing, perhaps due to the enormous pressure prevailed on social media. After all, it is a sad story because an innocent life was taken when she was almost ready to see the world. China’s One-Child Policy is always debatable and perhaps unbearable to some people outside the political and cultural context. Hence, it is not surprising at all that the Western media covered this news almost exclusively from the perspective of the controversial nature of One-Child Policy—hardly anyone mentioned the counterargument mentioned above.
On the other hand, it is obvious that the introduction of social media has changed the pattern of social discourse in Chinese society. While this is a common effect brought by social media, it is especially significant in China as it has provided more freedom of speech to a society which has strict Internet surveillance and media censorship. Is the proliferation of social media in China making people more cynical? Perhaps. It generates all kinds of debates; civic contributors show two sides of an issue; those who have access to sensitive information dare to reveal it to a larger-than-ever audience (before being caught by the Internet police, of course). Eventually, people become excited and frustrated at the same time--they are excited because they see so many possibilities within an issue; they are frustrated because no one seems to be believable anymore and no one knows who’s telling the truth. There are only more and more opinions accumulating in the grassroots on the cyberspace.
It seems that social media in China not only makes people more informed but also helps cultivate people’s critical perception of issues. Even though there may never be a satisfactory answer, at least people have taken on more initiative in recognizing and judging issues rather than passively absorbing everything the authority says.