Exercising freedom of speech behind the great firewall: a study of judges’ and lawyers’ blogs in China

Author: Anne Cheung

In: Harvard International Law Journal Online, 2011, v. 52, p. 250-291.

Abstract:  In order to better understand the relationship between the power of the Internet and the exercise of free speech in China, this study has chosen to examine the blogs of 42 judges and 13 public interest lawyers in the period between January 1, 2007 and December 31, 2008. Both judges and lawyers represent two unique groups of professionals, where the former are often perceived to be government representatives while the latter are seen as guardians of people’s welfare. The focus of the study, therefore, is on an analysis of these two groups of legal elites and how they have made use of their unique roles to open up a professional public sphere on the Internet and to act as a go-between in coordinating a match between the state and the people. Through passing on messages of contention and dissatisfaction from the people to the ruler, and in reminding both of them of the significance of law, the legal and political boundaries set by the authorities are being pushed, challenged, and renegotiated.

Drawing on existing literature on boundary contention and the Chinese cultural norm of fencun (decorum), this study highlights the paradox of how one has to fight within boundaries so as to expand the contours of the latter for one’s ultimate freedom. Judging from the content of the collected postings, one finds that, in various degrees, critical voices can be tolerated. What emerges is a responsive and engaging form of justice which endeavors to address grievances in society, and to resolve them in unique ways both online and offline.

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