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First published online November 30, 2021

Localism in Internet governance: The rise of China's provincial web


Often analysing ‘the Chinese Internet’ as a national entity, existing research has overlooked China's provincially oriented web portals, which have supplied information and entertainment to substantial user populations. Through the lenses of the critical political economy of media and critical media industry studies, this article traces the ascendance of China's provincial web from the late 1990s to the early 2000s by analysing industry yearbooks, official reports, conference records, personal memoirs, archived webpages, and user traffic data. We uncover interactions between Internet service providers, legacy media organizations, commercial Internet companies, and the central and local governments – each driven by discrete economic interests, political concerns, and imaginaries about the new technology. Delineating the emergence and consolidation of China's provincial web, our study foregrounds the understudied political economy of online content regionalization at scale. Further, it sheds new light on Chinese media policy, Internet governance, and Internet histories, especially the widely noted conservative turn of online cultures after the mid-2010s.

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Published In

Article first published online: November 30, 2021
Issue published: July 2022


  1. media policy
  2. Internet governance
  3. regionalization
  4. propaganda
  5. cyber sovereignty
  6. localism

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Published online: November 30, 2021
Issue published: July 2022



Luzhou Li


Angela Xiao Wu, Department of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University, 239 Greene Street 8F, New York, NY 10003, USA. Email: [email protected]

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