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National Research University Higher School of EconomicsStudent ThesesVisual Humor on the Internet as a Factor of Public Sphere Development in China (2013-2014)

Student
Title
Supervisor
Faculty
Educational Programme
Final Grade
Year of Graduation
Mariya Mustafina
Visual Humor on the Internet as a Factor of Public Sphere Development in China (2013-2014)
School of Asian Studies
Master’s programme
8
2014
The problem of freedom of speech in China, being in the focus of attention of Western human rights activists, has been partially solved with the introduction of Web 2.0 with the options of commenting, editing and adding information by the users anonymously, which has been considered by many to be the beginning of public sphere development in China. Online censorship has been preventing this new type of public sphere from developing its potential; however, the spread of visual materials has become one of the few effective methods of avoiding the censorship. This thesis, taking Nancy Fraser’s interpretation of public sphere concept and the postmodernist understanding of an image as a text for its theoretical basis, identifies the influence of Internet-based visual humor on the framing of public opinion and development of a separate Internet-based public sphere in China.The object of the research is the Internet-based visual humor as texts representative of the state of the Chinese public sphere. The subject of the research is visual techniques and topics characteristic of the humorous images present in the medium of Chinese social networks.To test a hypothesis that the expressive potential of Internet-mediated visual humor facilitates the establishment and active development of a separate Internet-based public sphere under the conditions of strict censorship policy, the visual analysis of 121 images was done. 60 uncensored images were taken from China Digital Times website, and 61 deleted images were taken from WeiboScope and ProPublica projects, the period of interest was defined as the years 2013-2014, which correlates with Xi Jinping’s chairmanship in the CPC. The results of the research indicate that images circulating in the Chinese cyberspace can represent the common opinion of the most socially active groups of population. Editing of the already existing images equals the expression of one’s opinion, and the act of re-posting indicates the agreement of other users with the opinions expressed. The most popular topics of humorous images related to sensitive content are critique of officials, social problems and censorship. The widespread use of indices and symbols enables social networks users encode their messages into visual form that is not easily traced by the censors, and therefore facilitates further development of the space of social networks as the public sphere.Future development of the topic will allow further research of verbally non-revealed public opinion, the Chinese system of censorship and the ways of its avoidance.The thesis includes three chapters: the first one defines the choice of theoretical basis, the second one explores the current state of censorship practice in Chinese Internet sphere, and the third chapter presents the results of the image analysis. The thesis includes two tables, three graphs, fourteen figures and five appendices.

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