Social Media in China

09 Mar

Note: The cliches and vernacular language referring to historic events are used to protect this innocent grad student, not to sound folksy.

Since I’m back in China, I thought I’d share some of my experience with social media here and dig deeper by discovering what some experts say on the topic.

When I first came to China to work in spring of 2009, I could access Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, anything I could think of. Yet 2009 was an important year because it was the anniversary of certain events that I won’t even type  here because who knows if I’d have internet tomorrow.

One by one these services disappeared and my colleagues, other Americans and Australians who teach here felt a kind of technology grief, a definite sense of loss and disconnection.

Chinese technology does offer some substitutes, but since I’m not literate in Chinese, I haven’t signed up for them. The government does allow and control social media. The main Web 2.0 services more or less parallel what’s found elsewhere. Weibo is like Twitter;  Ren Ren and QQ resemble Facebook; YouKu and TuDou are Chinese YouTubes.

The government does turn off these services and has websites turn off commenting at critical times like last spring when an official in Chengdu was up to no good.

To learn more, I read Thomas Crampton‘s article “Social Media in China: The Same, but Different.” From Crampton, I learned that:

  • Chinese spend a lot more time online than other developing countries. In fact, their usage resembles that of Americans and the Japanese.
  • China is the one Asian country where youth have more online than offline friends. (In most Asian countries face to face friendships outnumber online friendships.) The Chinese live a large part of their lives online.
  • The Web 2.0 services I’ve compared above aren’t exact mimics. Youku and Tudou carry more professionally produced videos, many of which are pirated. Given how much more online video compared to televised video Chinese watch, these services are the defacto broadcasters. They’re actually a lot like Chinese uses ideograms rather than an alphabet, a “tweet” on Weibo can contain around 4 times as many words as an English tweet. Weibo’s closer to a blogging platform than a microblogging one.While Ren Ren with its blue and white layout tries to be the Chinese Facebook, it has more competitors. Douban, Kaixin001, and QZone each attract a different demographic.
  • The Chinese learn about the internet through friends, who are loyal to a particular social media. Thus, Crampton asserts, they come to view the internet as YouKu or as Douban.

As far as the last item above, I think some elaboration is needed. My students seem familiar with many sites, not as many as Westerns, but they use Wikipedia (for plagiarism and, I hope, actual reserach), and they watch videos and play games online. I do take them to the computer lab to work on assignments and many of them go off task and use a variety of computer games,  email services and shopping websites. I think their view of the web is rather narrow, because they don’t learn to use computers in school. It’s clear that they’re self-taught, but they don’t only use one service.

I checked to see how universities and their libraries used social media and none of the three I looked at Shandong University of Science and Technology, where I work, Shandong University, a higher level school in this province and Tsinghua University, one of the top colleges in China, had links to Weibo, Ren Ren or other Web 2.0 services. In contrast colleges in Korea, like Sogang University do contain Facebook and Twitter links for the library.


Crampton, T. (2011). Social Media in China: The Same, but Different. China Business Review, 38(1), 28-31.

Further Reading


Posted by on March 9, 2013 in Practical


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4 responses to “Social Media in China

  1. 网站设计公司

    March 10, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    I don’t think the Chinese government really “control” the countries Social Medias, they monitor them, making sure that no one is talking bad about the government. Anything else is free and cool


    • smkelly

      March 10, 2013 at 6:27 pm

      Thanks for the clarification.


  2. tarynjones

    March 12, 2013 at 5:21 am

    Thanks for posting this viewpoint about social media elsewhere. I’m always interested in seeing how the internet situation is progressing over there – I happened to be in the capital in 2009 when that big anniversary that’s not being mentioned happened. I found it very frustrating/weird to be able to access facebook one day, and then not the other (more frustrating, seeing as I had just arrived from Canada and wanted to tell people I was ok, and then a few days later when I thought I’d broken my ankle). Then access to Hotmail went down….it was a very isolating experience, which made me reflect a little on how dependent we tend to be on electronic communication. That’s very interesting that Chinese students tend to have more on- than off-line friends.

    I look forward to seeing what else you might post about your social media experiences in China!


  3. Susan

    March 22, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    Last spring when a certain someone in Sichuan and his wife were under scrutiny the government closed the commenting functions of Weibo and 15 other sites.