Much of China’s political and literary history had been written to reflect the triumphs and sufferings of generations after generations of aspiring and practicing literati. Ever since the fall of imperial China, the Chinese intelligentsia has never ceased to identify itself as the inheritors of the Shidafu mantle with a rightful claim to political power. During the Mao era they were kept completely on the sidelines and sometimes brutally repressed. Since Deng’s reform 32 years ago, they have seen their livelihoods improve and liberties expanded significantly.
But modern China was established by the Chinese masses, led by the Communist Party, and today is run by political and commercial technocrats who are pointedly not literati and whose competency, though not perfect, is rather obvious. This has left this self-identifying and self-selecting group of people in a most awkward place: They are members of the intelligentsia living comfortably but without political power to which they feel a special entitlement based on long historical tradition. They have become pseudo-literati.
Not being able to go into politics, many pseudo-literati have over the years gone to work in China’s highly fragmented media industry. In that, they found themselves even more frustrated. Their desire to influence politics is restrained and sometimes repressed by the political authority of the central government. Such is China’s political system.
In their frustration they have bought into the Western ideological notion that the media must be independent of political authority and has the moral responsibility to check the power of the state. Combining this ideological conversion with their feeling of lost entitlement to power, they have appointed themselves as the rightful opposition to Communist Party rule. And they have found the partiality and extremism of the digital public square their most fertile soil. They have sought to interpret the venting of dissatisfaction on the digital public square as representative of the will of the people.