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“How COVID-19 Has Affected Democracy Discourse in China” by Hanying Wei, Ji Yeon Hong, and Ting Chen

May 4, 2022 @ 9:00 am 10:00 am JST

Registration required!

Authors: Hanying Wei (HKUST), Ji Yeon Hong (HKUST), and Ting Chen (HKBU).

Abstract: How has COVID-19 affected the discourse on democracy in China? COVID-19 cases and deaths surged in Western democracies while China mounted a relatively quick defense. This has led to heated debate globally, including on the Chinese internet, over whether the democratic decision-making process is an optimal model for handling a large-scale crisis. To understand COVID-related changes in online discussions of democracy in China, we analyze the country’s most popular social media platform, Weibo (the Chinese version of Twitter). We use a keyword-matching and machine-learning approach to identify 333,213 Weibo posts related to democracy and COVID-19. We then illustrate trends in sentiments toward democracy and democratic values and analyze the content that triggered negative or satiric sentiments among Chinese internet users. Our analyses draw several important findings regarding democracy discourse in China: 1) Following the outbreak of COVID-19, online discussion of democracy drastically increased and then decreased, but has remained at a higher level than before the COVID crisis; 2) Following many democracies’ failures to effectively control COVID-19, the Chinese view of democracy has become more negative and cynical; 3) The negative and cynical sentiments are strong in discussions of Western democracies, but sentiments are more positive when the discussion refers to democratic values in China.

Discussants: Yue Hu (Tsinghua University) and Margaret E. Roberts (UCSD).

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