How COVID-19 Affects Democracy Discourses in China: Evidence from Weibo and Zhihu

Project: Research project

Project Details


How did COVID-19 affect the discourses of democracy on the Chinese Internet? With surging COVID-19 cases and deaths in Western democracies contrasting to the relatively quick defence in China, whether the democratic decision-making process is an optimal model in handling a large-scale crisis has been heatedly debated globally, including the Chinese internet. To understand the changes in online discussions on democracy in China, we analyze two most popular social media platforms in China: Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter) and Zhihu (Chinese version of Quora). We use the keyword-matching and machine-learning approach to select 336,351 Weibo posts related to democracy and COVID-19. For Zhihu, we crawl all 204 questions and 23,630 answers directly on democracy since 2011. We then classify each post from Weibo to one of three types of sentiments – positive, negative, and satirical – and one from Zhihu into positive and negative sentiment. We illustrate the temporal trends of sentiments and analyze the relationship among various democratic values and different countries. Our analyses draw several important findings regarding democracy discourses in China: 1) Since the outbreak of COVID19, the online discussion of democracy has drastically increased and then decreased; 2) since the period when COVID-19 was not effectively controlled in many democracies, the Chinese view of democracy has become more negative and cynical; 3) The negative and cynical sentiments are strong in the context of “Western” democracies; 4) When the discussion is about democratic values in China, the sentiments are more likely positive.
Effective start/end date1/09/201/09/24


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