Authored by: Eileen Le Han

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Citizen Media

Print publication date:  October  2020
Online publication date:  October  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138665569
eBook ISBN: 9781315619811
Adobe ISBN:


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The emergence and growth of Weibo (‘micro-blog’) in China is the product of an intertwining set of changing socio-cultural conditions. These include the sophisticated mechanisms of state control, the dynamism of the market economy, the collective need to access global and local uncensored information, and the public respect for tradition and remembrance. Weibo is thus placed at the interface between control and resistance, the global and the local, the past and the present. Since it was first launched, Weibo has become an important site for different forms of participation of Chinese people in public life. During the first stage, ‘collective witnessing’ or Weiguan (‘spectate’), citizens became actively engaged in ongoing events, and were empowered to expose social injustices and hold those in power accountable. In the second stage, known as ‘modernity debate’, two large segments of the Chinese public spontaneously started debates about social and political issues pertaining to the country’s evolution towards a modern nation state. The third and most recent stage, which presents Weibo as an ‘interest-based network’, has brought about a significant turn away from politically sensitive topics towards the consolidation of business model of growth, catering to diverse interests. As an ‘event-driven’ platform (Han 2016) capitalizing on the technological affordances of publicness, Weibo was initially promoted by its operators as a news medium, with media and journalists as its essential user base. Today, it represents an important barometer of public opinion. Weibo’s capacity to enhance the visibility of topical issues and serve as a source of raw data has attracted a significant amount of scholarly attention. Some researchers have examined the government’s engagement in this platform and shown how, contrary to conventional wisdom, the Chinese state largely censors calls for collective action, but it is generally tolerant of critical views of the government. Other scholars have focused on the various forms of interplay between government and citizens that Weibo has enabled. Weibo, for example, has also been widely studied as a social contentious space, activism and collective action, and resistance against the official propaganda. Other specialists, however, have shown that Weibo may also reinforce power differentials and the voice of influential users. Finally, Weibo has enabled the application of traditional mass communication theories such as framing and agenda-setting, and been studied as a ‘semantic network’ generating public discourses about key social issues such as privacy.

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