In an increasingly digital world, one of the fundamental tasks of education is to ensure that children understand technology and use it intelligently, both online and offline. And in much of the world, digital literacy is about giving children the knowledge, skills and attitudes to be safe and independent in cyberspace.
In China, however, controlling the undesirable implications of digital information is not only a matter of individual well-being but also of regime security. In this context, what is the concept of digital literacy mean?
When Chinese tech bosses and internet pundits gathered in Beijing in July 2022 for a conference on how to “better protect minors in cyberspace”, attendees discussed the kind of issues that would concern parents and educators everywhere – issues like internet addiction, cyberbullying and online malpractice. Zhang Bin, a senior researcher for internet giant Tencent, was quoted in English coverage by CGTN as stressing the need to “reduce the risk of harmful content being available to underage users, while educating them about the threats online so they can be more vigilant.
But all of the conference’s key approaches to digital literacy, or wangluo suyang (网络素养), were deeply tied to the much more fundamental goal of ideological and political control. This tangle of priorities is evidenced time and time again in the Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of digital literacy.
When former Vice Propaganda Minister Wang Shiming (王世明) addressed the youth conference, he linked young people’s digital literacy to “online civilization building” (网络文明建设), a a term visibly linked in CCP rhetoric to the unwavering leadership of the Party and the need for its “firm grasp of the power of ideological discourse.” State media did not report the remarks in other languages.
Wang’s remarks were a textbook case of priority entanglement, in which what appeared to be substantive discussions of online behavior and child welfare revolved around the Party’s paternalistic goals. “We must ensure that young people’s hearts are for the Party, that they love hard work and that they are well brought up,” he said, “and we must actively implement the socialist core values and the traditional culture to enrich young people’s online lives and shape their positive and healthy online values.
The former propaganda minister’s language of “hearts for the party” (心向党) often sits alongside discussions of digital literacy and the need to “build an online civilization.”
On June 27, the Cyberspace Administration of China held a promotional conference on “Building Civilization Online”. At the meeting, Wu Haiying (吴海鹰), vice president of the All-China Women’s Federation, said that her group, which was only a women’s rights organization, had done its part to promote culture. digital technology and implement Xi Jinping’s “important ideas”. on cybersecurity – by organizing a special campaign called “Women’s Hearts to the Party – Welcome the 20th National Congress” (巾帼心向党·喜迎二十大). The aim of the campaign was to “regularly strengthen the belief and confidence of the masses of women in listening to the Party and respecting the Party.”
At the same conference, Wang Hongying (汪鸿雁), a senior official of the Chinese Communist Youth League, spoke of “digital literacy” as a central goal of “building online civilization”, which was also about the CCP’s need to “continually improve.” the ideological [nature]accuracy and efficiency of online [public opinion] tips.”
In other words, digital literacy is about creating online users, including young people as an essential component, who are sensitive to the CCP’s information control policies and goals. Love of the Party is the first principle of the civilized and digitally educated Internet user.
But the most obvious manifestations of this connection between the Party, people’s hearts and digital literacy are happening at the grassroots level in China, where digital literacy and education initiatives are rife.
When a primary school in Chongqing Municipality held an event to promote digital literacy in April 2021, the focus was on this issue vexing all loving parents concerned about their child’s online habits: the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party. “On the day of the event, in addition to telling red stories”, the Chongqing Youth Daily The newspaper reports, “Students in Zhuangyuan Elementary School’s Digital Literacy Education Class participated in an activity titled “My Heart for the Party, Party History Children’s Paintings” (我心向党，童绘党史)”
The reporter described students waving their brushes as they painted depictions of the national flag and national emblem, or rendered other glories like the Chang’e 5 lunar mission or the bullet train.
These activities, which take place in a “digital literacy education classroom” in what was supposed to be a “basic education demonstration site” (教育基地示范点) in Chongqing for digital literacy , paint an accurate picture of what digital literacy means to Chinese people. leadership.
“Digital Literacy” in Official CCP Discourse
Although appearing earlier in more popular sources, the term “digital literacy” first appeared in official CCP publication. People’s Daily in July 2022, in an article on the dangers of cyberbars (网吧) for young Chinese people. The article, “Internet Bars Challenge School Education” (网吧挑战学校教育), expressed concern about issues such as “internet addiction” (网恋的痴迷) and warned against violent and pornographic content online .
After 2013, seeming to correspond to a more concerted control of online media and information under Xi Jinping’s CCP, coverage of digital literacy in the People’s Daily more frequently mentions “negative news” (负面信息) and “harmful news” (有害信息), and the need for “positive guidance” (正面引导), a more direct reference to political and ideological controls in addition to concerns of indecency or otherwise harmful content.
When the CCP released its Outline for the establishment of a rule of law society (法治社会建设实施纲要) in December 2020, Article 23 of the document dealt with “fostering an awareness of the rule of law” online, and addressed “online media literacy” and “education digital” as a matter of “promoting the main theme of the times and positive energy in society. The “main theme” (主旋律) and “positive energy” (正能量) are closely associated with the goals of the Party in terms of controlling the media and information in order to maintain its own ideological dominance.
In a March 2020 article in the People’s Daily On increasing the CCP’s “comprehensive Internet governance capability” (网络综合治理能力), Xie Xinzhou (谢新洲), director of Peking University’s New Media Research Center, wrote, ” When it comes to the Internet, positive energy is aggregate demand, control is the hard principle, and using it well is the real ability. Ultimately, “using it well,” Xie didn’t mean the netizens themselves, but rather the CCP, which recognizes the inherent risks of the internet, but also its potential benefits for governance.
Xie wrote, “Using the Internet well and controlling the Internet, demand that the governing bodies take the initiative to adapt to the trend of social information technology, strengthen their thinking on the Internet, raise their digital literacyand that they understand and correctly use e-governance methods.