Publication details [#63240]

Bolsover, Gillian. 2017. Harmonious communitarianism or a rational public sphere: a content analysis of the differences between comments on news stories on Weibo and Facebook. Asian Journal of Communication 27 (2) : 115–133.
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In exploring online political communication in China, many researchers apply theories produced in the West (especially that of the public sphere) without questioning their applicability in the Chinese context. Others assert that novel theories must be produced from the ground up, often basing these theories on traditional Chinese philosophies. However, the applicability of these approaches stays unproven. This inquiry employs a content analysis to compare comments on news stories on Chinese and Western social media sites. It finds that there is little evidence to back either the use of public sphere theory in China or the use of traditional conceptions of Eastern styles of communication. Chinese netizens were no more subtle or harmonious (if anything, they were more divisive) and were less likely to talk with others, try to understand others’ opinions or try to work towards consensus or resolution. Based on these findings, it is suggested that future research should try to build more appropriate theories based on an understanding of how political ideas are actually generated, transmitted and received in society, rather than continuing to apply foreign or ancient theoretical frameworks without a critical exploration of their applicability in their context of application.