The Public and Public Opinion: A Content analysis of Participants

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The Public and Public Opinion: A Content analysis of Participants and Their Participations in
Blogging Sphere in China
Siyuan Yin
Address: 1111 S. Laflin, Apt 1017
Chicago, IL, 60607
USA
Tel: 773-817-9304
Fax: 312-413-2125
Email: [email protected]
Biographical statement:
Siyuan Yin is a master student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of
Communication. She received her bachelor in Journalism from Peking University in China.
Her research interests include media and critical cultural studies, feminist theory, Internet and
democracy, media and working class in China.
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Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
Abstract
The Internet has provided opportunities for Chinese citizens to practice an “unofficial
democracy” (Yang, 2009) through their online civic engagement and political participation.
This study adopted a content analysis of a popular blogging website in China, and analyzed
the public and public opinion attributes of the participants and their participation from the
perspective of citizenship practice. The results revealed that the degree of the public and
public opinion in blogging sphere was low and it was not associated with the public affairs
attributes of the blogs, which lead to the conclusion that the practice of citizenship by
participants in blogging sphere was little and blogging sphere was oriented towards
entertainment and commercialization.
Keywords: Blogging, the public, public opinion, participants, participation, China
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The Public and Public Opinion: Blogging and Its Democratic Implications in Contemporary
China.
The democratic implications of the Internet in China have been highly praised as
promoting a form of “unofficial democracy” practiced by Chinese citizens (Yang, 2009,
p.221), for it invites and facilitates civic engagement and political participation, the access of
which is limited and highly controlled by the central government in offline political life. The
grassroots democracy shakes the domination of the state absolute power exerted by the only
ruling party in China. Internet has partly changed the relations between the state and its
citizens who actively engage with online civic and political actions, emerging as a new social
group in contemporary China: Chinese netizens.
One of influential forms of Chinese netizens’ civic engagement and political
participation is the online public deliberation. Wangluoyulun”, referring to online public
deliberation, has exerted significant impact on numbers of China’s political and social events.
Examples include online public activism for social injustice, like “Sun Zhigang incident” and
“Deng Yujiao incident”, public criticism on sensitive political issues, like corruption and
autocracy of Chinese government, public debate on moral issues, like human flesh search,
and among others. Public deliberation is viewed as a potentially alternative way to the voting
electoral democracy in authoritarian countries (Jiang, in press). In China, the online public
deliberation has the potential to promote the development of deliberative democracy.
There is no doubt that Chinese netizens play an significant role in promoting the
development of democracy in China by their active participation in civic and political life,
and resistance to the domination and control of the state power. Citizenship, refers to
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Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
conscious collective self-determination deriving from republic virtue, the practice of which
addresses the participation in a collective self-determination, rather than domination,
compliance or resistance in political action (Weintraub, 1997, p.11). To discuss the
democratic implications of the Internet and its participants in China requires a close
examination on Chinese netizens in terms of their practice of citizenship.
Blogging, as the outcome of web2.0 which greatly promotes interaction and
participation, has great democratic implications in penetrating agenda settings of mass media,
contributing to the disseminating information and promoting discussions and interaction.
Participants and their participations in blogging sphere constitute an essential part of online
civic engagement and political participation conducted by Chinese netizens. Despite its
significance, online public deliberations have been criticized to be heterogeneous and
fragmented and be replaced by mere exchange of tastes and preferences. In this sense, to
further analyze the democratic implications of blogging and its limitations in China, it is
necessary to discuss “the public” attributes of its participants and “public opinion” attributes
of their participation from the perspective of the citizenship practice as a republic virtue. The
study aims to discuss the Internet, Chinese netizens and their impact on democracy from a
new and quantified approach, by examination the degree of citizenship of online participants
in blogging sphere.
Literature Review
The Internet, blogging, and their democratic implications in China
The Internet as a new medium provides a space for citizens to participate in Chinese
political realm uninvited. Though “public space provided by Internet is not synonymous with
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a new public sphere” (Papacharissi, 2002), the Internet has positive potential for democracy,
for it promotes exchanging of information and opinions which is the precondition of all forms
of democracy. Although there is no institutional democracy in China, Chinese citizens
struggle for grassroots’ democracy by civic engagement and political participation which
promotes a form of “unofficial democracy” (Yang, 2009, p. 221). By “unofficial democracy”,
Raymond Williams said, “if people cannot have official democracy, they will have unofficial
democracy, in any of its possible forms, from the armed revolt or riot, through the ‘unofficial’
strike or restriction of labor, to the quietest but most alarming form - a general sullenness and
withdrawal of interest” (Williams, 1958, p. 315).
One of influential forms of Chinese citizens’ civic engagement and political
participation is the online public deliberation. “As with online public deliberation in China, it
is viewed as an authoritarian deliberation, for its political discourse and agenda is shaped by
the state. Though authoritarianism is not democratic, the deliberation on various social and
political issues “acknowledges greater civic and political speech freedom” (Jiang, in press). It
enables citizens to participate in online discussion on social and political issues. Discussions
in bulletin board systems (BBS) and other online uprising have addressed various social
issues. They are highly evaluated as creating a new form of public opinion in China (Qiang,
2004, p. 103-104). Democracy is not a precursor to public deliberation, instead, public
deliberation may be an alternative way to the voting electoral democracy in authoritarian
countries (Jiang, in press). In China, the online public deliberation has the potential to
promote deliberative democracy.
Blogging, as one of outcomes of the Internet in the era of web 2.0, has great political
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implications and positive impact on democracy in China. First, blogging penetrate the agenda
settings of mass media. In Chinese Cyberspace, blogs can become “influential news headlines
on large portal sites” (Yang, 2009, p. 105). As an alternative form of journalism, blogs
provides information and clues that sometimes lead to big stories (Luwei, 2006, p.48-49).
Blogs is viewed as one of the effective platforms of Internet to transform and intensify digital
mediatizing of social events (Hutchins & Mikosza, 2010). Second, blogging contribute to the
dissemination of information. Blogs and citizen media contribute to a more democratic
information order as a form of “representative” democracy (MacKinnon, 2008). In political
blogs, bloggers actively participate in discussions related to politically sensitive topics,
provide different opinions of the social events and criticized the misconduct of government
(Zhou, 2009). Third, blogging promote discussions and interaction. Because of the computer
system that enables social dissemination and reception, these personal created contents can
enter wider domain and generate discussion among netizens. One specific form of blogs,
J-Blog (journalist’s blog), which promotes interactivity between journalists and readers,
broadens the flow of free information in China (Gao & Martin-Kratzer, 2011). Blogsphere
creates new space for public discourse to be expressed and viewed (Kay, 2009).
The public attributes of participants in Blogging sphere
E-participation could generate a more deliberative democracy in which the public are
more inclusive in political participation in public affairs and policy issues (Coleman, 2005).
To closely examine the democratic implications of blogging in China, it is necessary to
discuss “the public” attributes of the online participants. I address the “public” from the
republican-virtue approach, which sees the “public” realm in terms of political community
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and citizenship. According to Weinraub (1997), “at the heart of ‘public’ life is a process of
active participation in collective decision making within fundamental solidarity and equality.
‘Public’ means ‘political’, referring to a world of “discussion, debate, deliberation, collective
decision making and action in concert” (p.11). Citizenship, referring to conscious collective
self-determination deriving from republic virtue, had not appeared until a hundred years ago
when the concepts of “democracy” and “science” were introduced to China. “The practice of
citizenship
is
inseparable
from
active
participation-directed
or
mediated-
in
a
decision-making community maintained by solidarity and the exercise of republican virtue;
citizenship entails participation in a particular king of community: one marked by, among
other things, fundamental equality and the consideration and resolution of public issues
through conscious collective decision making” (Weintraub,1997, p.12-13).
To discuss the public in terms of citizenship has great democratic implications in China.
Different from the western philosophical belief of the rationality, equality and
self-determination of individuals, upon which is built western democracy, traditional Chinese
philosophy, Confucianism, emphasizes the strict hierarchy, order and rank among individuals
who need to be educated and tightly managed by the state, upon which is built autocracy
lasting thousand years in ancient China. The practice of citizenship addresses the
participation in a collective self-determination, rather than domination, compliance or
resistance in political action (Weintraub, 1997, p.11), which can be adopted to address the
relations between citizens and the state in online sphere to see the potentiality of Internet to
nurture the citizenship that entails “a conscious collection self-determination” towards the
domination of the state in China, when citizens gain more opportunities and freedom in civic
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engagement and political participation to promote an “unofficial democracy” in China.
“Bourgeois public sphere presupposed that the public is made up of private people with
autonomy based on property and social labor who gather together and participate in
rational-critical discussions on the social issues with the society, and the public is considered
part of private realm. The public excludes women and lower classes (Habermas, 1962/1989).
Habermas claimed that mass media had transformed the public sphere into “a sphere of
cultural consumption”, the expanding market made the consumption replace “rational-critical
debate”. He criticized that “the public is split apart into minorities of specialists who put their
reason to use nonpublicly and the great mass of consumers whose receptiveness is public but
uncritical. Consequently, it completely lacks the form of communication specific to a public.
(Habermas, 1962/1989, p.175).
Blumer defined “the public” from the perspective of different types of collective
behavior. His four types of “elementary collective groups” are the acting crowd, the
expressive crowd, the mass and the public (Blumer, 1969, p.78). The public refers to a group
of people who confront an issue, are divided by their different or opposing ideas, and
participate in discussion over the very issue. The acting crowd is a group of people who
organize themselves towards a common object of activity due to extreme rapport and mutual
excitement without disagreement. The expressive crowd is essentially like the acting one
except that it lacks a common goal. The mass is constituted by “detached and alienated
individuals who face objects which are interesting or puzzling”, and these anonymous
individuals seldom interact with each other, and they act as individuals (Blumer, 1969, p.87).
The prominent difference between the public and the crowd lies in whether there is a
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Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
disagreement to make an argumentative discussion and rational consideration.
Applied these definitions of the public to China’s Internet sphere, the concept is
defined as a group of people getting together to have discussions on public affairs, which
emphasizes the aspects of the public in terms of civic engagement and political participation
beneficial to China’s “unofficial democracy”. By public affairs, I contrast “public” with
“private” as: “what is individual, or pertains only to an individual, versus what is collective,
or affects the interests of a collectivity of individuals” (Weintraub, 1997, p.4). The
operationalization of the concept of “the public” is to analyze whether there are discussions
on public affairs when people get together. If they are not public affairs oriented or there are
no argumentative discussions or deliberative consideration but extreme rapport and mutual
excitement on the issues, these people are not considered as “the public”. To discuss the
relations between the public and their civic engagement and political participation, I
categorize the issues of the blog into civic issues and political issues. Political issues refer to
affairs related to the state government activities, including politics, policy, conduct and
misconduct of government, government manipulations in economic and cultural domains.
Since China is an authoritarian country and the government power is pervasive in all domains
of social life, the state government adopted here is a broad term which contains the
Communist Party, military force, government and legal systems. Civic issues in this context,
refer to issues that are relevantly independent from political power, including some economic
and cultural activities. By analyzing the public attributes of online participants and the
relationship between the two categories of public affairs and the public attributes of the
followers, I aim to discuss the degree of citizenship in blogging sphere and the democratic
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implications of Internet in contemporary China.
Public opinion attributes of participation in blogging sphere
Though online public deliberation has the potential to promote deliberative democracy,
it is not without limitations and disadvantages. The easy access provided by Internet makes
online discussions heterogeneous and fragmented. It is criticized that deliberative discussions
in online public sphere have been replaced by “unreflective nationalism and popular
prejudices” (Li, 2010). The reciprocal conversation online tends to be replaced by mere
opinion-expression; and the Internet has the orientation toward an “online-shopping mall”
instead of a space for deliberative discussions (Papacharissi, 2010, p.124). In this sense, it is
necessary to discuss the democratic implications of blogging in terms of public opinion from
the perspective of the citizenship practice, as the considerations and collective decision
makings on public affairs by the public.
Public opinion is a collective opinion formed out of different opinions held by different
groups in the public. The process of controversial discussion makes this collective opinion
rational and the discussion deliberative. Public opinion or public deliberation is manipulated
by interest groups to influence the “detached and disinterested spectator-like body” in the
public (Blumer, 1996, p.92). Habermas (1962/1989) provided an “empirical specification of
public opinion in a comparative sense” (p.244). He distinguished two domains of
communication, which are the “informal, personal and nonpublic opinion” and the “formal,
institutionally authorized opinions”. The informal opinions are shaped within a group small
talk as “exchange of tastes and preferences”. The formal ones are officially or semiofficially
authorized as announcements, speeches and so forth (p.245). Public opinion can be generated
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only when these two are mediated by critical publicity, and public opinion is measured by the
following standards, “the degree to which it emerges from the intraorganizational public
sphere constituted by the public of the organization’s members and how much the
intraorganizational public sphere communicates with an external one formed in the publicist
interchange, via the mass media, between societal organizations and state institutions”
(p.248).
Habermas’s emphasis of definition of public opinion on critical publicity and
distinctions from informal and formal opinions can be adopted to measure “online public
opinion” in Internet sphere in China, to distinguish from the state authorized announcements,
public agenda manipulations and mere exchanges of tastes and preferences pertains only to
individuals. The definition of public opinion, applied to measure the consideration and
discussions of the public in Internet sphere, is the deliberative discussions, arguments or
rational opinion on public affairs generated by the public. The operationalized definition of
public opinion is whether there are deliberative and argumentative opinions formed by the
public.
Participants in blogging sphere can be categorized into bloggers who write blogs and
the followers who view, share and comment blogs.
The blog followers’ participation, as
essential constitutions of blogging sphere, is a significant part of civic engagement and
political participations of Chinese citizens’ online participation, which should be carefully
examined. By analyzing the blogs, bloggers’ followers and their comments with content
analysis, I aim to analyze the extent of the public and public opinion in blogging sphere, and
their particular relations with two categories of public affairs, to discuss the democratic
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Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
implications of Internet in terms of the degree of citizenship among Chinese netizens in
blogging sphere in China.
RQ1. To what degree can the followers as participants in blogging sphere be viewed as
the public?
RQ2. Is the degree of the public of each blog associated with the public affairs
attributes of the blogs?
RQ3. To what degree can the comments on blogs be viewed as “public opinion”?
RQ4. Is the degree of the public opinion of each blog associated with the public affairs
attributes of the blogs?
Method
“
Sina.blog.com.cn” is one of the most popular blogging websites in China. According
to the ranking of influential bloggers run by the website based on the number of click-rates,
there are 1000 recorded bloggers whose blogs’ click-rate is from 5030,000 up to
1427,660,000, which indicates its popularity and high attention among Chinese netizens. The
blogging website is famous for celebrities’ blogs, including writers, actors, journalists, and so
forth. The topics of blogs range from merely personal expression on personal stuffs to
opinions on social issues related to politics, economy and culture. Popular grassroots’ blogs,
which gain popularity from their opinions on social issues, is another characteristic of “Sina”.
Sample
To discuss RQ1 and RQ2, the unit analysis is each blog. Since the followers vary with
each blog of different bloggers, I firstly adopt stratified random sampling of 1000 recorded
bloggers, and randomly select five bloggers from every 100 of the total numbers of the
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Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
bloggers according to the ranking, and the sample is 50 bloggers; secondly, I randomly select
two blogs from the each of sample bloggers’ blogs, and the total sample is 100 blogs; thirdly,
I randomly select 100 comments of the followers from each blog, and the total sample is
10000 followers’ comments. Comments whose number is less than 100 are coded according
to its exact number. Each comment is a representative of a follower. As with RQ3 and RQ4,
The unit analysis is also each blog. The samples are the same with RQ1 and RQ2.
Procedure
The operationalization of the concept of “the public” is to analyze whether there are
discussions on issues when people get together. According to this definition, the two nominal
variables I adopt to measure the extent of “the public” are “public affairs-oriented” and
“discussions-based”. By “public affairs-oriented”, I mean the follower’s comments are
related to the public affairs presented in the blogs. Public affairs, refers to affairs which are
collective or pertain to interests of a collectivity of individuals rather than only pertain to an
individual. By “discussion-based”, I mean the comments are rational or argumentative
consideration or expressions, rather than extreme rapport or mutual excitement which are the
characteristics of the crowd. With these two variables, I will examine the percentage of the
followers that can be viewed as “the public” of each blog and then calculate the average
percentage, to analyze the degree of it in blogging sphere (see codebook). The issues of the
blogs are categorized into civic issues and political issues, upon which I will analyze whether
the public affair attributes of the blogs exert impact on the degree of the public of the blog
followers, to analyze the netizens’ civic engagement and political participation.
As with public opinion, the operationalized definition of public opinion is whether
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there are deliberative and argumentative opinions on public affairs generated by the public.
Since the selected samples of comments are from the followers identified as the public by
RQ1, the variable adopted to measure the opinions of the public is “deliberative opinions”,
referring to deliberative discussions, arguments or rational opinions rather than mere
exchanges of tastes and preferences pertains only to individuals (see codebook). I will
examine the percentage of comments that are identified as “online public opinion” of the
samples, and then analyze the relationships between two categories of public affairs and the
degree of the public opinion in blogging sphere.
Intercoding Reliability
Reliability for all content analysis variables was calculated using the Perreault and
Leigh (1989) reliability index: Ir = {[(Fo/N) – (1/k)][k/(k–1)]}0.5, for Fo/n > 1/k, where Fo is
the observed frequency of agreement between coders, N is the total number of judgments and
k is the number of categories.
The interceding reliability between the two coders was 0.9 which reached a significant
level.
Results
RQ1:Degree of The Public in Blogging Sphere
The first research question asks about the degree of the public in blogging sphere, that
is, the average percentage of the followers who participate in discussions on public affairs
post by the blogger. The content analysis showed that only about one third of the blogs’
topics (36%, N=100) were related to public affairs, and about two thirds of them (64%,
N=100) were only pertains to individuals, for example, travel diary, public relations for
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Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
celebrity and so forth. Table 1 shows the percentage of the blogs that are related to public
affairs (see table 1)
The results showed that the average percentage of the comments by each blog that were
identified as discussion-based was about 39.5% (M=39.5, SD=28.176, N=100), and about
60.5% of them were merely extreme rapport, mutual excitement, or unrelated stuffs among
others. Table 2 shows the average percentage of the comments post by the followers of each
blog that are discussion-based (see table 2).
The results showed that the percentage of the blogs’ follower that were identified as the
public were only 18.75% (M=18.75, SD=30.238, N=100) which is low, but the degree of the
public of the followers for each blog varied to a great extent from zero to a hundred percent.
Table 3 shows the degree of the public attributes of the followers as participants in blogging
sphere (see table 3).
RQ2: Is the degree of the public of each blog associated with the public affairs attributes of
the blogs?
Content analysis showed that among those public affairs discussed in the blogs, over
half of them were about civic issues (58%, N=36), which included health information, car
market, stock, discussions on cultural values and so forth, and less than half were about
political issues (42%, N=36), including armed force, territory conflicts, government policy,
the Olympic Games, the Asian Games among others. Table 4 presents the numbers and
percentages of the two categories of public affairs discussed in blogs (see table 4).
A two-way between-groups analysis of variance was conducted to explore the impact
of the two categories of public affairs of the blogs on degree of the public of each blog.
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Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
Affairs were divided into two groups, political issues and civic issues. The main effect for the
categories of public affairs, F (1, 28) =.20, p=.66 did reach statistical significance. Table 5
presents the results of analysis from two-way ANOVA, which demonstrates the relations
between the degree of the public of each blog and two categories of the public affairs
discussed by bloggers (see table 5).
RQ3: The Degree of The Public Opinion of The Comments Post by Followers in Blogging
Sphere
The results showed that the percentage of the followers’ comments that were identified
as the public opinion was only 11.35% (M=11.35, SD=21.141, N=100) which is low, but the
degree of the public of the followers for each blog varied to a great extent from 0 to 85%.
Table 6 shows the degree of the public opinion attributes of the blogs’ comments in blogging
sphere (see table 6).
RQ4: Is the degree of the public opinion of each blog associated with the public affairs
attributes of the blogs?
A two-way between-groups analysis of variance was conducted to explore the impact
of the two categories of public affairs of the blogs on degree of the public opinion of each
blog. Results showed that the main effect for the categories of public affairs, F(1,28)=1.793,
p=.185 did reach statistical significance. Table 7 presents the results of analysis from
two-way ANOVA, which demonstrates the relations between the degree of the public opinion
of each blog and two categories of the public affairs of the blogs (see table 7).
Discussion and Conclusion
The goal of this study is to explore the citizenship of Chinese netizens in terms of their
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Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
civic engagement and political participation by analyzing the degree of the public and public
opinion in blogging sphere, in order to discuss the implications of the Internet for the
development and promotion of “unofficial democracy” in China.
In response to the first
research question, the results revealed that the degree of the public attributes of the followers
in blogging sphere was low, which resulted from the small scale of public affairs discussed
by the bloggers and the large range of the percentage of discussion-based comments of each
blog. About two thirds of topics addressed by bloggers were private affairs merely pertains to
the bloggers’ life, most of which served as public relations for celebrities, especially actresses
and actors who present their dairies, pictures and activities, as well as TV and company
products. Among them, actresses tended to post their pictures in blogs, which appealed plenty
of corresponding posts on their beauties and appearances. Some blogs created by offline
institutions serve as their portals to disseminate information and expand influence, for
example, Nanfangzhoumo (A commercial newspaper published nationally with great impact
in China, famous for its critical perspective), public security (An official blog created by the
ministry of public security as a portal at “blog. sina.com.cn”), airline stewardess (A blog
created to represent the airline stewardess as a group). Over half of the comments were mere
rapport, excitement and correspondence without any points of view, related information and
facts which are beneficial to reciprocal conversations; or advertisements, unrelated stuffs. For
example, “shafa”, “zhanzuo”,”cai”, “luguo” (phrases the followers use to respond to the
blogger without claiming any of opinions, information and facts, which are popular words in
China’s online forum); “I like you so much”, “you are so beautiful”. The followers emerged
and behaved like the acting crowd and mass, who organized themselves towards the bloggers
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Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
or the blogs with extreme rapport with seldom disagreement or behaved like anonymous
individuals with little interaction with each other (Blumer, 1969, p.84). The blogging sphere
tends to be entertainment and commercialization oriented, with only a small portion of public
affairs addressed and fewer rational and considerate discussions.
As with followers who are identified as the public, they generated deliberative and
argumentative discussions towards various public affairs. Those discussions conducted by the
followers, together with the bloggers, did make considerable contributions to their civic
engagement and political participation in blogging sphere, which cannot be neglected.
However, the low degree of the public in blogging sphere contrasted the optimistic view of
the democratic impact of Internet in China which is based on the assumed citizenship of
Chinese netizens. The opportunities provided by Internet for civic engagement and political
participation do not guarantee the practicing of citizenship by Chinese netizens. It would be
too ideal and assertive to assume the citizenship of Chinese netizens in their online
participation. As stated above, there is a lack of beliefs and philosophical roots in the
rationality and self-determination of individuals in China. In the past hundred years, Chinese
people have gone through the crumbling of feudal morality, voluntarism in Mao’s era (“where
true individualism is replaced by the party”) (Kristeva, 1974, p.111), the capitalism,
modernism, and postmodernism under the impact of globalization. Without applying the
republic virtue of western democracy to understand Chinese people in this context, it would
be difficult to deal with the relationship between the Internet, Chinese netizens and their
democratic implications in China.
The second and fourth research questions addressed the impact of two categories of
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Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
public affairs discussed by bloggers on the degree of the public attributes of the followers and
public opinion attributes of the followers’ comments. The results indicated that the degree of
the public and public opinion did not vary with the topics of the blog. The public affairs
discussed in blogs were divided into political issues which included government policy,
misconduct of the government like corruption, macro-economic issues that are closely
associated with government policy and activities, armed force, international relations; and
civic issues including social problems like “liushouertong” (Children of rural migrant
workers whose parents leave them in rural villages to earn money in cities. These children
lack care from parents, qualified education and basic medical treatment), health instructions
for daily life, discussions on cultural values and so forth. Either political issues or civic issues
discussed in blogs made no difference in the political participation and civic engagement of
its followers, which implied that the citizenship of the followers in political action in
blogging sphere was not associated with the issues addressed by the bloggers and they were
an independent force with significant democratic implications that should be closely
examined. Whether the Internet is beneficial to promote the practice of citizenship among
Chinese netizens needs further discussions.
The third research question inquiries the degree of public opinion of the follower’s
comments in blogging sphere. The results showed that there were only a few of the follower’s
comments identified as deliberative opinions, and most of the comments were mere
exchanges of tastes and preferences, utterance or extreme claims, which reaffirmed the
argument that deliberative discussions in the Internet have been replaced by unreflective and
popular prejudices and claims (Li, 2010). The entertainment and commercial oriented blogs
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Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
undoubtedly decreased the amount of public opinion in blogging sphere. Rational,
argumentative and critical view, judgment, debate and deliberations tended to be replaced by
tastes, preferences and utterance. Yet, there did exit some reciprocal conversations between
the followers and bloggers and among followers themselves to address the controversial or
significant public affairs, which merited attention and analysis. Another important finding
was that instead of claiming opinions, many blogs’ followers narrated their personal stories as
respond to the blogs’ topics, which indicated that not only those influential bloggers’ voice
could be heard but ordinary netizens’ narratives can enter a wider domain to appeal attention.
For example, in the blog “xiaoyapaolianghui” (A blog created by Xiaoya Wang, a famous
news reporter at CCTV, who created a blog to collect requirements and complains from
ordinary citizens and turned them in to the minister of China during the NPC and CPPCC),
nearly two thousand comments are about personal concerns, complaint and appeals reflecting
various social problems in contemporary China.
Limitations and Future Directions
This research had several limitations. First, I examined the public attributes of the blog
followers and public opinion attributes of their comments in blogging sphere which addressed
a particular group, the participants in “blog.sina.cm.cn”, which cannot represent the whole
population of Chinese netizens. Future studies can adopt comparative analysis of blogging
websites and other forms of online community, such as online forum, to discuss the
citizenship practice of Chinese netizens in different online spaces. Second, the number of the
comments for each blog ranges from zero to several thousand, which would impact the
results of analysis.
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Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
Findings of this study have great implications in discussing the relations between the
Internet and democracy in China. It pointed out a new quantified approach to analyzing the
Internet, Chinese netizens and their democratic implications by measuring the citizenship
practice of online participants.
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Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
Appendix 1
Table1
Descriptive Statistics for Public Affairs as The Topics of The
Blogs
Valid
Percent
Frequency Percent
Valid Yes
No
Total
Cumulative
Percent
36
36.0
36.0
36.0
64
64.0
64.0
100.0
100
100.0
100.0
Table 2
Descriptive Statistics for Percentage of the Comments That Are Discussion-based
N
Range
Discussion-based
100
Valid N (listwise)
83
Minimum Maximum
1.00
.00
Std.
Deviation
Mean
1.00
0.3947
Variance
.28176
.079
Missing =17
Table 3
Descriptive Statistics for The Degree of The Public in Blogging Sphere
N
Degree of the
public
Valid N (listwise)
Range
100
Minimum Maximum
1.00
.00
1.00
Mean
.1875
86
Missing=14
Table 4
Descriptive Statistics for The Two Categories of Public Affairs of The
Blogs
Frequency Percent
Valid Political issues
Civic issues
Valid
Percent
Cumulative
Percent
15
42.0
42.0
42.0
21
58.0
58.0
58.0
Std.
Deviation
.30238
Variance
.091
24
Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
Total
36
36.0
100.0
Table 5
Relations between Degree of The Public and Two Categories of Public Affairs
Dependent Variable: degree of the public
Source
Type III Sum
of Squares
Corrected
Model
Df
Mean Square
F
Partial Eta
Squared
Sig.
.204a
1
.204
.202
.656
.007
15.364
1
15.364
15.241
.001
.352
.204
1
.204
.202
.656
.007
Error
28.225
28
1.008
Total
44.099
30
Corrected Total
28.429
29
Intercept
politicalcivic
a. R Squared = .007 (Adjusted R Squared = -.028)
Table 6
Descriptive Statistics for The Degree of The Public Opinion in Blogging Sphere
N
publicopinion
Valid N
(listwise)
Range
100
Minimum Maximum
.85
.00
Std.
Deviation
Mean
.85 .113547
Variance
.2114138
.045
86
Table 7
Relations between Degree of The Public Opinion and Two Categories of Public Affairs
Dependent Variable: The Degree of The Public Opinion
Source
Type III Sum
of Squares
Df
Mean Square
F
Sig.
Partial Eta
Squared
Corrected
Model
.201a
2
.100
1.793
.185
.114
Intercept
.437
1
.437
7.808
.009
.218
politicalcivic
.201
2
.100
1.793
.185
.114
25
Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
Error
1.568
28
Total
5.295
31
Corrected Total
1.768
30
a. R Squared = .114 (Adjusted R Squared = .050)
.056
26
Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
Appendix 2
Codebook
Coder: ______SIYUAN
Check the appropriate name
______CAN
URL, data accessed:
Write down the complete URL of the site of each blog visited. Mark down the page of each
comment post by followers of each blog.
Measurement of “the public”
This section measures “the public” attributes of the blog followers. The operationalized
definition of “the public” is whether there are discussions on public by two nominal variables,
public affairs-oriented and discussions-based. When the content of the blog is identified as
issues related to public affairs, the next variable will be measured, if it is identified as
discussion-based, then the follower who made the comment will be identified as the public;
and if the blog is not related to public affairs, then the measurement stops.
Are the issues presented in the blog about public affairs?___Yes ___No
Public affairs refer to affairs which are collective or pertain to interests of a collectivity of
individuals rather than only pertain to an individual. The public-affair attributes of issues of
the blogs are measured by its dominant theme and the amount of the coverage about the
theme.
Examples of public affairs include: analysis on stock market, copyright conflict in Internet
age, opinions on Chinese government and other political issues, social problems,
controversial legal issues, moral issues and so forth.
Examples of private affairs include: self-exposures about the blogger’s life; exposures or
comments on merely personal stuffs about celebrities (pictures of their films, TV shows or
activities, which serve as public relations for celebrities) or other individual; advertisements
or public relation for corporations or organizations; individual literary works and so forth.
Is the public affairs addressed in the blog mostly related to political issues or civic
issues?
Political issues refer to issues related to government, conduct of government, politics, policy,
government manipulations in economic and cultural domains, and so forth. Examples:
comments, opinions or facts on conduct or misconduct of Chinese government, democracy,
political systems, political parties, political affairs, political activities; military activities,
armed force; legal system; the Olympic Games, the Asian Games; market activities
manipulated by the government and so forth.
Civic issues refer to economic and cultural activities relevantly independent from the
government control, including production, distribution and consumption of goods and
27
Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
services, practical and industrial uses and significance, capitalist material recourses; art,
literature, music, fashion, sports, entertainment and so forth.
Is the comment of the blog follower “discussion-based”? ___Yes ___No
Discussion-based means the comments should first be related to the issues of the blog, and
then they ought to be rational,argumentative or deliberative considerations, expressions or
opinions, rather than extreme rapport, mutual excitement or expressing unrelated stuffs. The
exact same comments posted by one follower is counted only one, and different comments
post by one follower are counted as the same number with the comments.
Examples for discussion-based: comments or opinions, like “the law has a lot of defects”, “he
is a victim of the government misconduct”, “which is better? socialism and capitalism”; put
forward questions or provide information or facts related to the issues; critics and so forth.
Examples against discussion-based: “shafa”, “paidui”, “zhanzuo”, (phrases to show the
follow is responding to the blog without claiming any of opinions, information and facts,
which are popular words in China’s online forum); merely show admirations and support to
the blogger (like “I like you”, “bless”, “congratulations”), post advertisements or unrelated
links, personal judgment about others’ appearance and so forth.
Can the follower of the blog be considered as “the public”? __Yes __No
If the comment post by the follower is identified as public-affair oriented and
discussions-based, then the follower is identified as the public.
Degree of the public: ____%
Count the number of the followers of each blog that are identified as the public, and then
calculate the percentage of them in the total sample comments of this blog.
The measurement of “Public Opinion”
This section measures the public opinion attributes of the comment of blogs. The
operationalized definition of public opinion is whether they are deliberative,
argumentative or rational considerations or discussions on public issues generated by the
public. The characteristics of public opinion are deliberative opinions, public-affair oriented,
and generated by the public. Since the samples are selected from comments post by the
followers identified as the public, which satisfies the two characteristics of public opinion,
then it is measured by the nominal variable, deliberative opinions. If the issue of the blog is
identified as deliberative opinions, then the comments of it can be identified as public
opinions.
Is the comment post by the follower who belongs to the public “deliberative opinions”?
Deliberative opinions refer to rational, argumentative, or critical view, judgment, belief,
appraisal, debate or deliberations, rather than utterance, extreme claims or mere exchanges of
tastes and preferences.
Examples for deliberative opinions: comments, critique, or opinions with related explanations
or evidence towards the affairs, “support, government should pay more attention to social
problems instead of football”,
28
Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
Examples against against deliberative opinions: utterance, personal attacks (“fangpi”,
“goutuizi”,”naocan”, “tamade”, ), extreme nationalism,
Can the comments post by the followers be counted as public opinions?____Yes
___No
If the comment is identified as deliberative opinions, then it can be identified as public
opinions.
Degree of the public opinion:___%
Count the number of the comments that are identified as the public, and then calculate the
percentage of them in the total sample comments of this blog.
Reliability for all content analysis variables was calculated using the Perreault and Leigh
(1989) reliability index:
Ir = {[(Fo/N) – (1/k)][k/(k–1)]}0.5, for Fo/n > 1/k
where Fo is the observed frequency of agreement between coders, N is the total number of
judgments and k is the number of categories.
This index accounts for coder chance agreement and the number of categories used and is
sensitive to coding weaknesses. Reliability scores can range from 0 to 1, with higher scores
indicating greater intercoder agreement.
Codesheet
Coder: ______SIYUAN
Check the appropriate name
______CAN
URL, data accessed:
Are the issues presented in the blog about public affairs?___Yes ___No
Is the public affairs addressed in the blog mostly related to political issues or civic
issues?
Political issues ___1
Civic issues____2
Is the comment of the blog follower “discussion-based”?
___Yes ___No
Can the follower of this blog be considered as “the public”? ___Yes ___No
The degree of the public __%
Is the comment post by the follower who belongs to the public “deliberative opinions”?
29
Running Head: THE PUBLIC AND PUBLIC OPINION
Can the comments post by the followers be counted as public opinions ?___Yes
___No
Degree of the public opinion: __%
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