Cover: Attitudes Toward Local and National Government Expressed over Chinese Social Media

Attitudes Toward Local and National Government Expressed over Chinese Social Media

A Case Study of Food Safety

Published Mar 4, 2016

by Douglas Yeung, Astrid Stuth Cevallos


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中文社交媒体上 对地方和中央政府 的态度: 食品安全案例研究

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المواقف من الحكومة المحلية والوطنية كما يتم التعبير عنها عبر وسائل التواصل الاجتماعي الصينية: دراسة حالة عن السلامة الغذائية

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Research Questions

  1. What can we learn about sentiment toward local and national government and Western companies from Chinese-language social media during the 2014 Husi food safety scandal?
  2. What barriers and caveats are there in performing a psycholinguistic analysis of social media occurring in an environment of government restriction and monitoring?

Psycholinguistic analysis of Chinese-language social media can help provide insight into the attitudes of Twitter and Sina Weibo users toward local government, national government, and Western companies. Because the issue of food safety engages important themes in Chinese domestic politics — including the watchdog role of the press and the challenges of effective oversight in an authoritarian system — this analysis focused on social media content discussing the July 2014 "Husi incident," a food safety scandal involving expired meat in McDonalds and KFC. Results suggested that Chinese-language social media users expressed more anger and sadness — but also used more words indicating positive emotions or feelings of kinship — when discussing the national government than when discussing the local government.

Discussions on openly accessible Chinese microblogging platforms may thus offer an avenue through which to gauge public opinion on issues of domestic politics, although their value may wane as a result of government attempts to curb the use of social media to mobilize individuals online into organized, politically motivated groups offline. This exploration of Chinese-language social media regarding food safety traces a preliminary road map to conduct such analysis, including a methodology for analyzing Chinese-language social media as well as a discussion of the promises and limitations of social media analysis in this unique context.

Key Findings

Chinese opinion is attuned to both local and national government responses.

  • Twitter posts on the Husi expired-meat incident had high rates of use for first-person singular pronouns, suggesting negativity regarding the scandal immediately after its occurrence.
  • Twitter frustration regarding the incident may have been directed less toward the local government and more toward the national government and U.S. companies.
  • Weibo users appear to have felt a greater sense of community and less depression or insecurity regarding the national government.
  • First-person singular pronouns were used in weibos discussing local government nearly twice as often as in those discussing the national government.
  • At the same time, Weibo users directed more expressions of anger toward the national government than local governments.
  • While very few weibos in the sample referenced America or U.S. companies (likely because of a delay in data collection), those that did contained far more posts about responsibility or blame than did those referring to Chinese entities.


  • Future studies could extend investigation of Chinese domestic platforms and social media platforms and address challenges of automated analysis.
  • Future studies might also explore more rigorous methods for selecting words used to categorize tweets.
  • Future studies might compare Facebook and Twitter users with users of more common Chinese platforms.
  • Other domestic issues, such as pollution and environmental concerns, may warrant similar investigation.
  • Given the possible use of research insights to further social control, researchers should consider the implications of how policymakers may use future findings.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report conducted by the RAND Center for Asia Pacific Policy (CAPP), a part of International Programs at the RAND Corporation.

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