Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Response to the U.S. Presidential Election on Chinese Social Media (I)

Four years ago, when Senator Barack Obama (at that time) and Senator John MaCainI were competing for the 44th President of the United States, I just went through the exhausting Chinese National College Entrance Exam and didn’t (actually, couldn’t, explain later) pay much attention to this extremely exciting event in our planet. Neither did 253 million Chinese netizens, because Sina Weibo, the first Chinese microblogging website, wasn’t launched before July 2009, and Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc don’t work in China. People could only learn about the election through traditional media channels and there was no way, effectively or efficiently, to observe how Chinese citizens understood and even discussed about this issue.

Things have changed a lot in the past four years.

According to the trends list on Sina Weibo, still the biggest microblogs service which has more than 300 million registered users now, #American Election is the fourth hottest trend, while #Obama is the fifth. Until the blog was posted, there are 763,891 “tweets” about “American Election”, 1,248,966 “tweets” if I searched “American presidential election”, 1,338,993 posts about Romney, and “Obama” had 21,218,726 search results on Weibo.

Compared to four years ago, the United States and China are more interdependent on the national and international strategy level, not only economically, but also in more ways than most of us might think. And Weibo has also become the most important online public sphere for observers to get a sense of public opinions in China. So it’s important to look more closely at how Chinese citizens perceive the presidential election, which, unfortunately, is not happening around them, but on the other side of the earth. I decided to explore this topic in at least two blogs. So the rest of this blog will mainly focus on Chinese netizens’ response to the debates.

Presidential debate is a fresh thing for most Chinese people. On Weibo, except opinions of news outlets, professionals and people who are especially concerned about international relations, most average citizens expressed more interest in the format, the procedure, and the poll result of the debates than their content. It seems people are too unfamiliar with presidential debate to give more notice to the acute China-bashing in the three debates. Another possibility is people, especially more informed citizens are already very used to lying in politics, a few of them even fact-checked that Romney profited most from his investments in China. Besides that, many tweets mirrored Chinese citizens’ critical envyand implicit expectation for more transparent leader election, such as this article from the Atlantic. On Renren, the Chinese version of facebook, users are engaged in sharing the debate videos as interesting learning materials, the motivation behind the behavior of sharing is very obvious and simple: one is curiosity to the American presidential election system; the other is to practice their English listening skills. But this is also understandable concerning most users on Renren are university students or even younger.  

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