Baidu Tieba: A Reflection of Manuel Castell’s Theories

On: October 13, 2009
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About Siying Yang
When she was 21, she came to Amsterdam for New Media studies from China. Now she is 23 years old, she has graduated but still living in Amsterdam, specially doing social media marketing in fashion industry. She begins to fall in love with Europe since the moment she was born, and currently enjoys Amsterdam a lot. She will never give up supporting Liverpool FC and language study.


Manuel Castells is a sociologist, he was born in Spain and now is a professor in t the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and also a have taught in University of California, Berkeley. He especially researches into information society and communications studies. One of his greatest books is “The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture”, which include “The Rise of the Network Society”, ”The Power of Identity” and “End of Millennium” . I have primarily read the first two books when I was in my undergraduate university of China. As far as I know, in the year of 2002, Manuel Castells has been to China to give lectures and also communicated his ideas with many Chinese scholars about the globalization and China’s society flux. He showed his positive views on China’s highly development but also mentioned the suitable control of the polarization between China’s economy and culture.

With the development of China, internet become one of the largest platforms for Chinese people from different areas to communicate and interactive. Manuel Castells claims that humanity society has three basic features, they are the total of information, sharing of information and the communication of information. Then Network Society is organized with an information sharing purpose, but when groups of people become active in the virtual world, the purpose will sometimes become communication and interaction themselves. This theory is proved by “the biggest Chinese community over the global—“Baidu Tieba” (in English it is called Baidu Paste Bar), which is attached with the biggest and most popular searching engine of China: Baidu. The significance of Baidu Tieba is that it has abandoned the traditional way of discussion board, and become a group, a community with a same keyword. In the book of” The Power of Identity”[1], Manuel Castells thinks that Identity is a source of the meaning and experiences. Because of the communication through the internet platform, social groups could set up their own communication space to discuss a topic they are all interested in, so that relevant information, studies and researches are gather together gradually, which leads the existence of a virtual community. Virtual community helps to set up sense of community. People who take part in this kind of virtual community get identified by each other. Why Baidu Tieba becomes popular since there are a large number of discussion boards? Except the popularity of Baidu, I think it set up a “communal heaven”. It is essential to be identified in social network, and Baidu Tieba is the “communal heaven” according to Manuel Castells.

Generally speaking, Baidu Tieba has three characters: anonymity, keyword and creativity. The first one means that netiziens could show their opinions without signing up or signing in, which provides a relatively free environment to speak. The next two are definitely match Manuel Castells ideas. Baidu Tieba is made up of different small virtual communities; the way to divide the community depends on “keyword”. For instance, if I typed “Amsterdam”, I will access to a discussion board with the topic of “Amsterdam”, which named “Amsterdam Bar”, people who post here are all interested in this keyword ”Amsterdam”.  If I typed a new word which has never been posted before, the Baidu system will lead me to a new interface, and ask me to create a bar with this new word. All I need to do is just click “create it” and write the first post. A few days later, I will probably find that some people begin to post on this bar since they are interested in. Every keyword is a topic, which is described as one word, virtually covers all fields, like movies, TV programmes, countries, celebrities etc. Each topic means a community, because people who gather in relevant bars have the same interests, they could talk about the same things without any rules and even without knowing the names of each other. The creativity and keyword satisfy netizens and them identified by each other at the same time. In some other way, we can say that Baidu Tieba decreases the fact that the internet makes people lose their communality.

In his book” The Rise of the Network Society”[2], he analyzed that internet creates a “new communication system” that changes the basic dimensions of Human’s lives: space and time. And the flow space of internet blurs or even eliminates the boundaries of terrains, so that a local news could be expanded through the internet, and even become a national big news or world news finally. Baidu Tieba has been played a role of expansion for a long time. Every one who takes part in a bar could receive the same information equally, each person is a member of the Baidu village. Once a piece of news refers to a public interest, this news could be talked and posted in Baidu Baidu “>Tieba, and more people will begin to talk about, gradually, it can be found easily in every bars. Recently, some big news of China that have been discussed a lot in media even started from being spotted in Baidu Tieba.

During the time when Manuel Castells visiting China, in an interview with a journalist[3], he said that every country has its nationalism, including the United States, France. And internet reflects the reality society but not isolates from them. Basically, internet is the reality society itself. Laws exist in real lives, so does social networks. In the “communal heaven” Baidu Tieba, every bar has its own administrator to control people’s postings and meanwhile give people prize on excellent postings, which makes it possible that the community running like a society.

Globalization is also a vital idea of Manuel Castells, globalization connects the whole wide world through internet. However, what being connected are valuable things, which means that people get highly education or living in highly development environment could use the internet to communicate in an easier way, while other people are marginalized. It is obviously that in Africa, a large amount of people could not be globalized because they don’t even have internet. In China, polarization of the east and west is a big problem that troubles Chinese government for a long time. This is also a problem for us to solve. How can we involve more and more people equally into globalization? Baidu Tieba has broken some rule to some extends already; at least its anonymity and identity encourage people to get involved into a communal community. As far as Manuel Castells concerned, those people who are not involved into this internet globalization might be inclined to anti-globalization. However, the way of anti-globalization is still included in internets, because people always use network to protest globalization. If we considered a bar of Baidu Tieba as a globalization way, the way that people from other bars would come to protest since they have no interests in or being excluded would be still acted inside the social network itself.

Baidu Tieba is just an example from China’s social network. I attempted to connect it with the ideas of Manuel Castells, but it is still hard to conclude. He is a brilliant sociologist that gives a global view on the influence and direction of information age. I still cannot understand some of his ideas but would like to explore more on that.


[1]Castells, Manuel (1996, second edition, 2000). The Rise of the Network Society, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture Vol. I.

[2]Castells, Manuel (1997), second edition, 2004). The Power of Identity, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture Vol. II.


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