ABSTRACT

This unprecedented flood of public outrage agitated many observers inside and outside China due to its sheer scale and the fact that these millions of microbloggers “congregated” online without being mobilized by any organization. Set only months after the uprisings in the Arab region and at a time when social media were widely hailed as “liberation technology” (cf. Diamond & Plattner, 2012) and the driving force behind the so-called Twitter revolutions both in Western media and scholarly discourse (Christensen, 2011; Lotan et al., 2011; Morozov, 2009; Shirky, 2011; Sullivan & Xie, 2009), Western media practitioners were fast to draw lines to the Arab Spring, hoping to spot a major step towards a Chinese “microblogging revolution” (Buckley & Lee, 2011; Chin, 2011; Yi, 2011). Such interpretations were rarely based on a critical assessment of what had really happened, however. In this chapter, we take a step back and critically assess the following questions: Why exactly had “Wenzhou 723,” as the incident became known in China, become the largest “online mass incident” ( wangluo quntixing shijian ) since the advent of Chinese microblogs? What were all these people blogging about?