Internet and Politics in China: Taking stock and moving forward – University of Copenhagen

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Internet and Politics in China: Taking stock and moving forward

Co-organized by the Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, Asian Dynamics Initiative, and ThinkChina, University of Copenhagen

9 May, 11:00 – 16:00

Location: South Campus, University of Copenhagen, Karen Blixens Vej 8, 2300, Copenhagen, Denmark (detailed location TBC)

Registration: Please register here

This conference aims to critically reflect on the current discussion on internet and politics in Greater China. What have we learned from existing scholarship in the field? What are, or would be, emerging research topics and themes to study the internet and politics in contemporary China? How can we consolidate the status quo and move the field forward beyond, for instance, the case of China and contribute to a broader theoretical discussion? Speakers come from different disciplines, including political science, economics, sociology, and communication, and discuss and debate their up-to-date research and thoughts on the issue. We are also planning a special issue in an international peer-reviewed journal as the outcome of this conference.


The deadline of the registration is April 26.





11:00 – 11:10 Introduction (Jun Liu, University of Copenhagen)


Theme 1: Online Discussion and Deliberation in Great China and Beyond


11:10 - 11:40 Keynote speech

Digital Media and Right-Wing Populism in China: A comparative perspective

Ralph Schroeder, Oxford University, UK


11:40 - 11:55 Q&A


12:00 – 12:45 Lunch break


12:45 - 13:30 Research presentations (15 mins presentation + 15 mins Q&A)

Digitalizing Political Representation: The Cases of China and Russia

Anna Shpakovskaya, Universität Duisburg-Essen, Germany

Online discussions in China: public deliberation or echo chamber?

Rony Medaglia, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark


13:30-13:40 Break


13:40- 14:25 Research presentations (15 mins presentation + 15 mins Q&A)

Civic Hackers in Taiwan: Can online deliberation further democratize democracy?

Emilie Frenkiel, Université Paris-Est Créteil, France

Discussing International Relations on the Chinese Internet

Nicholas Olczak, Stockholm University, Sweden


14:25 - 14:35 Break


Theme 2: Protest and Censorship in the Digital Sphere


14:35-15:05 Keynote speech

Social Media and Protests in China

David Strömberg, Stockholm University, Sweden


15:05 – 15:20 Q&A


15:20 – 16:00 Research presentations (15 mins presentation + 10 mins Q&A)

Explicating Emotions in Online Activism

Nian Liu, University of Copenhagen, Denmark & Renmin University of China, P.R. China

Deleting More Than Text: Multimedia censorship in Weibo

Jun Liu, University of Copenhagen, Denmark


16:00 Conclusion, Thank You's (Jun Liu, UCPH)




Digital Media and Right-Wing Populism in China: A comparative perspective

Ralph Schroeder, Professor in Social Science of the Internet, the Oxford Internet Institute, UK

Abstract:Populism is currently on the rise in different parts of the world. Yet it seems contradictory to seek populism in China, since the two defining features of populism, anti-elitism and an exclusionary notion of 'the people', are absent. However, versions of these two features can be found: there are protests against some parts of the elite that fail to champion 'China first' policies. There is also exclusionism towards certain ethnic groups, but even more so against foreign 'enemies' that fail to recognize China's greatness. There is another, deeper aspect, that combines anti-elitism and exclusionism: the key achievement of the Chinese regime is the extension of social citizenship benefits. Populism concerns the perception that elites are responsible for an unjust distribution of these benefits; accruing these benefits for a cosmopolitan urban few and excluding the deserving and increasingly disenfranchised many. Systematic comparison with populisms elsewhere is difficult but also revealing. Digital media are also useful here, since they yield powerful clues about the grievances of “the people.”


Digitalizing Political Representation: The Cases of China and Russia

Anna Shpakovskaya, postdoc, Universität Duisburg-Essen, Germany

Abstract:With the main focus on digitalization and political representation in the authoritarian contexts, this paper demonstrates that alternative online platforms for representative communication are being established in the Chinese and Russian cyberspaces. It is argued that these new platforms not only transform conventional forms of political representation but also create new representative patterns. More specifically, the author argues that the proliferation of the new communication technologies (ICTs) has been transforming the relationships between representatives and represented as well as between the state and society in more general sense. 

In this paper the author addresses four key issues. First, the specificities of political representation in authoritarian context and the impact of the new technologies are discussed in the light of the Western theory of political representation. Second, the development of the cyberspace management in Russia and China over the recent years is introduced. Third, the focus is shifted to the implications of the new ICTs for the representative-represented dynamics in China and Russia. Finally, the author extends the discussion to the issues of fieldwork in the two countries. The paper is based on the extensive field work in Russia and China in the period of 2017 to 2019, analysis of digital materials and ample secondary sources.


Civic Hackers in Taiwan: Can online deliberation further democratize democracy?

Emilie Frenkiel, Associate Professor, Université Paris-Est Créteil, France

Abstract: The wave of rapid expansion of participatory and deliberative devices in the world has recently slowed down as they have proved extremely difficult to organize and their impact on public policy has been so far quite limited (Blondiaux & Fourniau 2011, Sintomer 2011). Activists from the open source community have worked on new tools and initiatives to remove these barriers. In the wake of the Sunflower movement, a group of civic hackers have created online tools to encourage Taiwanese authorities at different levels to make their actions more transparent and to facilitate the participation of citizens to various aspects of the decision-making process. This paper is based on a series of in-depth qualitative interviews with Audrey Tang, a leading member of this group who has since become a Minister in charge of digital affairs, including organizing binding online deliberation prior to law-making. It will present the philosophy of her civic tech group, g0v (gov zero), and the unusual official response to their actions. My main focus will therefore be the reasons for this rare co-optation of civic hackers by the previous and current Taiwanese governments and the early outcome of this collaboration; that is, the first laws decided upon in a fully participatory way thanks to online tools and government compliance.


Online Discussions in China: Public deliberation or echo chamber?

Rony Medaglia, Associate Professor, Department of Digitalization, Copenhagen Business School

Abstract:Social media and other types of digital forums are seen in contradictory ways. On the one hand, they have been heralded as facilitators of the creation of a digital public sphere where ideas are confronted, debated, and refined in an emancipatory process of public deliberation. On the other hand, they have been considered as creating echo chambers via facilitating filter bubbles of like-minded participants, a phenomenon that potentially leads to social fragmentation and opinion polarization. Which of these scenarios is currently occurring in China? Drawing on empirical findings on user behaviour on Chinese social media platforms and online forums, I will provide inputs for a discussion on the nature, peculiarities, and possible future developments in the Chinese digital public sphere.


Discussing International Relations on the Chinese Internet

Nicholas Olczak, PhD candidate, the Department of Economic History and International Relations, Stockholm University, Sweden

Abstract:On discussion forums (e.g. Strong Nation and Tianya Forums), as well as on Baidu Tieba and the Weibo micro-blogging platform, members of the Chinese public discuss the nation’s relations with other states as well as other international issues. While there has been considerable analysis of how the Chinese Internet functions as a medium for expression of nationalist, and particular anti-Japanese sentiment, less explored is how it is used to discuss other IR topics. In addition, much scholarship has explained the links between Internet discussion and government action using rationalist models of authoritarian responsiveness, but there has been less examination of how online social discussions can affect the dominant discourse around particular issues. This paper will present an initial mapping of the different discussions of IR-related issues taking place across platforms on the Chinese Internet, as well as some theorizing about how these discussions might affect China’s international behavior. 


Social Media and Protests in China

David Strömberg, Professor, the Department of Economics, Stockholm University, Sweden

Abstract: We study whether the explosive growth of social media in China 2009-2013 affected incidence of protests and strikes. Over these years, Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter grew from none to 500 million registered users. In previous work, we have shown that Sina Weibo contains millions of posts discussing protests and strikes, some with explicit calls for participation in collective action events. Here, we provide evidence that social media changed how collective action events spread across cities. Based on retweet information, we construct a network of information flows across cities. We develop a difference-in-difference methodology to estimate the impact of network interactions. We find that events start to spread across cities that are more closely connected through the social media network after the introduction of Sina Weibo. Further, we find that social media network increased the incidence of strikes and protests, using a difference-in-difference specification leveraging the staggered penetration of Weibo use across cities due to factors such as pre-existing mobile phone use.


Explicating (Moral) Emotions in Online Activism

Nian Liu, University of Copenhagen, Denmark & Renmin University of China, P.R. China

Abstract: Emotion has long been considered to occupy a crucial role in every phase of collective action and social movement from emergence to decline in classic social movement scholarship. Nevertheless, there is surprisingly scarce research on how different types and intensity of emotions present, evolve, surge, or decrease in online activism, which subsequently affects activists’ motivation and mobilization. To fill the gap, we take an online environmental activism about a carbon nine leakage event on the Chinese social media Weibo as the case and discern different types of emotion and their evolvements in this event. Our argument builds on the theoretical premise that emotions energize and orient online actions toward “moments of digital enthusiasm” (Gerbaudo, 2016), i.e. transient phases of intense, positive emotional mood emerging in political online conversations. Our dataset includes over 70,869 posts available between November 4 and 30, 2018, the period when carbon nine leaked into the environment, generated huge concern in society, and sparked fierce discussions on Weibo. Six types of emotions, i.e. happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, fear and surprise, their intensity, emotional orientation, and protest issues have been coded. Our analysis shows that anger and sadness dominate the whole period of online activism. Social media users expressed their agitation, frustration, and antagonism toward the authorities’ inaction, non-transparency, and censorship during the event, with their grievance and disappointment toward a declining moral responsibility of the government and the society at large.


Deleting More Than Text: Multimedia censorship in Weibo

Jun Liu, Associate Professor, Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, UCPH

Abstract:This study advances an important, yet understudied aspect of censorship: multimedia censorship deletion in the Chinese social media. We analyze and compare both censored and surviving posts in Chinese social media Weibo during the 2014 Umbrella Movement (UM) in Hong Kong, going beyond current text-dominated approach in censorship studies. Our results indicate higher levels of multimedia censorship deletion, with a severe crackdown on posts involving UM-related images. With a combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches, we also find evidence that image recognition mechanism would be employed to exert image censorship. We suggest that the censorship deletion rate in the Chinese social media should be higher than commonly revealed in censorship studies like King et al. (2013). Our analysis has significant implications not only to a comprehensive understanding of political censorship in Chinese internet, but also to information control and manipulation in the post-text era.


Speakers’ bios

Ralph Schroeder is Professor in Social Science of the Internet at the Oxford Internet Institute. He is also the director of its MSc programme in Social Science of the Internet. Before coming to Oxford University, he was Professor in the School of Technology Management and Economics at Chalmers University in Gothenburg (Sweden). His publications include 'Social Theory after the Internet: Media, Technology and Globalization' (UCL Press, 2018) 'Knowledge Machines: Digital Transformations of the Sciences and Humanities (MIT Press, 2015, co-authored with Eric T. Meyer), 'An Age of Limits: Social Theory for the Twenty-First Century' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 'Being There Together: Social Interaction in Virtual Environments' (Oxford University Press, 2010) and 'Rethinking Science, Technology and Social Change' (Stanford University Press, 2007). His current research interests include digital media and right-wing populism, and the social Implications of big data.

Anna Shpakovskaya, PhD, ( is Postdoctoral Research Fellow currently working in the German-French collaboration project “(New) Political Representative Claims: France, Germany, India, Brazil and China Compared”. Among Anna’s recent publications is (with Thomas Heberer). 2018. Shuzihua jishu xia zhengzhi daibiao de zhuanxing: zhongguo de anli ji qi lilun yiyi(The Transformation of Political Representation Through Digital Technologies: The Case of China and it’s Theoretical Implications), Guowai lilun dongtai (Foreign Theoretical Trends). No.10, pp. 68-77. Anna is based in the Institute of East Asian Studies, Duisburg-Essen University, Germany. For more info please visit:

Emilie Frenkiel is a political scientist with research focus on the Chinese contemporary intellectual debate on political change and ICTs. She is a co-editor in chief of and Dr. Frenkiel has recently published Conditional Democracy: The Contemporary Debate on Political Reform in Chinese Universities(ECPR press 2015) and a special issue about “Online political expression and participation of the Chinese from the diaspora and China” in Participations. Revue de sciences sociales sur la démocratie et la citoyenneté(Participations. Social Science Journal on Democracy and Citizenship,, 2017)

Rony Medaglia is an Associate Professor at the Department of Digitalization, Copenhagen Business School, and president of the Special Interest Group on E-Government of the Association for Information Systems (AIS). Rony’s research focuses on on digital transformations in the public sector, from the perspectives of organizational change, digital service provision, and citizen engagement. He has authored publications in several international journals, including Journal of Information Technology, Government Information Quarterly, Information, Communication and Society, the International Journal of Public Administration, and the Communications of the Association for Information Systems. Rony is a Research Fellow at the Lab for Digital and Mobile Governance at Fudan University, and has taught and conducted research at the University of the Chinese Academy of Science (UCAS), at Renmin University, and at Tongji University.

Nicholas Olczak is an international relations PhD candidate at the Department of Economic History and International Relations at Stockholm University. His PhD project is supervised by Dr. Karl Gustafsson and is part of a larger project titled ‘International Relations 2.0’ which explores the Internet’s impacts on IR in East Asia. The PhD study examines the ways in which public discussions taking place on the Chinese Internet influence Chinese Foreign Policy in a range of different issue areas including Sino – North Korean relations, China’s actions in the South China Sea, China’s participation in international environmental governance, and China’s role in the international financial system.

David Strömberg is Professor at the Department of Economics, Stockholm University, Sweden. Professor Strömberg holds an ERC Advanced Grant for a project on the effect of the massive increase of social media on society, examining protests and strikes, the promotion of local leaders and the coverage of events censored in traditional media. His latest articles about censorship in the Chinese internet have been published inJournal of Economic Perspectivesand American Economic Review.

Nian Liu is a PhD student in School of Journalism and Communication, Renmin University of China, and now a visiting student in Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen. Her research focuses on emotions and online activism in China. She has recently published “Emotional Expression of Netizens in the Context of Online Public Opinion: A Case of the "School Bullying" Event in Zhongguancun Second Primary School” (2018) and “Mapping the Academic Field of Emotion Recognition Studies: A Scientometric Analysis in CiteSpace” (2017) in Journalism Bimonthly.

Jun Liu is an award-winning author and Associate Professor in the Department of Media, Cognition and Communication at the Centre for Communication and Computing. His research areas cover political communication, information and communication technologies, and political sociology. He has won several awards from the American Political Science Association and the International Communication Association and been a visiting scholar in Stanford University and Oxford University. His latest research outcome is a monograph titled Communication and Contention in the Digital Ageby the Oxford University Press.