Studying the Chinese Internet

Studying the Chinese Internet
Thursday 14 August 2014

China has the world's largest number of Internet users (there are over 600 million Chinese speaking Internet users), a vibrant web-based economy and social media landscape, and a government intent on managing the technology's social and political effects. The Studying the Chinese Internet workshop (held 31st July and 1st August) brought the nascent study of the Chinese web to the ANU with presentations by researchers from China studies, computer science and the social sciences.

Lexing Xie, Jin Han and Jiaying Zhao

The event was co-hosted by ADSRI and the Australian Centre on China in the World (College of Asia & the Pacific). The organisers were Robert Ackland (ADSRI), Dr Wai Yip Ho (visiting ADSRI on an Endeavour Fellowship), Sarah Logan (School of International and Political Studies, CAP) and Ryan Manuel (Australian Centre on China in the World, CAP).

Jonathan Zhu and Robert Ackland

The first day of the workshop was a small group training session run by Robert Ackland, involving an introduction to social network analysis and hands-on training in the NodeXL and VOSON tools for collecting and analysing social media and WWW hyperlink network data. The training session was attended by 12 participants. Professor Jonathan Zhu (Director of the Web Mining Lab, City University of Hong Kong), who was the keynote speaker on Day 2 of the workshop, also gave a guest lecture at the training session.

Jerry Watkins and Chong Han

The second day of the workshop was held in the Australian Centre on China in the World (CIW), and was attended by around 35 participants. The day commenced with opening comments by CIW Director, Professor Geremie Barmé. This was followed by Professor Zhu's keynote presentation which provided a fascinating overview of the Chinese social media landscape, summarising the key insights that have been provided by research to date and what research gaps still exist.

Lennon Chang and Wai Yip Ho

The remainder of the day was presentations by other researchers on a wide range of topics, from using hyperlink network analysis to study HIV information delivery in China (Robert Ackland and Jiaying Zhao, ADSRI) to Chinese Internet governance (Ryan Manuel, CIW).  Two presentations focused on different aspects of Chinese identity and the web: Jerry Watkins (University of Canberra) and Chong Han (University of Western Sydney) presented on using social media to study identity formation of professional Chinese migrants in Australia, while Wai Yip Ho (Hong Kong Institute of Education) and Robert Ackland (ADSRI) showed how Chinese web data can be used to provide insights into the everyday life of Chinese speaking muslims. ANU PhD student Jin Han (National Institute of Mental Health Research) received some media coverage for her joint research on using social media data to identify depressed individuals in China. ANU computer scientist Lexing Xie presented on her project on the use of Sina Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter) for analysing real-world events. The topic of Lennon Chang's (City University of Hong Kong) presentation was 'human flesh search' which is a Chinese form of Internet-enabled crowd sourcing, often involving vigilantism. The day was finished with Michael Jensen and Wei Si's (University of Canberra) presentation on the demographics and geography of Chinese internet users, in the context of changes in political attitudes and consumer practices.

Michael Jensen and Wei Si

Ryan Manuel



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