Informing the government or fostering public debate?
How Chinese discussion forums open up spaces for deliberation
This article focuses on a popular form of civic practice in China: casual political talk that occurs in online spaces that are not ostensibly political. We investigate how Chinese citizens engage in politics through a comparative analysis of everyday talk on health issues across three popular online discussion forums: a government-orientated forum (Qiangguo Luntan), a commercial-lifestyle forum (Tieba), and a commercial-topical forum focused on parental advice (Yaolan). Our findings show that conventional deliberation directly involving conflictual and resistant attitude against state authorities is not prominently embraced by Chinese citizens in everyday online settings. However, communal and less confrontational forms of discourse are important for the proto-political talk to turn political, thus serving as prerequisite conditions for the emergence of an online public sphere. We argue that to explain how the public sphere emerges in everyday (non-political) spaces in China, it is essential to take communal discursive forms into account.