Prominent scholars and professors from around the country convened at a China Town Hall meeting Monday night to focus on the impact of social media on U.S.- China relations.
Min Jiang, a Chinese Internet specialist from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Sida Liu, University of Wisconsin professor of sociology and law, held a panel on social media, and two other UW professors addressed topics related to social media in China in the panel to start the night.
Topics addressed at the panel included the effect of social media on leadership transitioning in the upcoming Chinese election, the impact of Internet use on civic engagement and the various impacts of social media sites like Twitter.
Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, was the main social media site the panel cited.
Liu, who has 8,000 followers on Weibo, studies lawyers, specifically Chinese lawyers, using social media to push for legal change.
Weibo is not the first generation of media for China, but it is the current cutting edge, he said.
Liu said lawyers have used Weibo to gain support in cases. One lawyer received so much support people flew from all over to appear at his trial.
“It is hard to predict how sustainable online mobilization is,” Liu said. “It is unpredictable what will happen.”
Jiang said China’s population totals 1.3 billion people, and of that population, 538 million people have Internet access.
“Weibo is a new phenomenon,” she said. “[Weibo] is becoming more and more important.”
With more than 1 billion people using mobile phones in China, there is now a vast structure of communication in which citizens are talking about politics, leaders and legal cases, she said.
Jiang presented common myths and misconceptions people have about China — among them was the portrayal of the relationship between China’s central government and people as one of opposition.
According to a Pew Internet Research study, 80 percent of Chinese citizens approved of the job the government was doing and 87 percent agreed the government should be the institution to regulate the Internet.
Jiang also gave a lecture following the panel discussion. She said Weibo, which has grown in popularity, has also spurred governmental change. As an example, she spoke on the Wenzhou train accidents in 2011 where dozens were killed. A local railway transportation bureau was responsible since signs were not working, leading to a head-on collision between two trains, she said.
Jiang said the local government tried to bury the train to hide the evidence, but many people involved began to tweet about it, resulting in more than 100 million tweets within a week. As a result, the minister of the railway was sacked.
To end the night, the National Committee on U.S.- China Relations hosted a live webcast of U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China Gary Locke, who is the first Chinese-American ambassador.
Locke touched on the importance of a fair trade relationship with China.
“We [U.S. and China] need to find a way to coexist and cooperate,” he said. “Our relationship is based on mutual respect and the benefit of healthy competition.”
Locke also stressed the importance of student engagement. There are 160,000 Chinese students studying in the U.S. and only about 16,000 American students studying in China, he said.
The key to a greater cooperation is people to people exchange, he said. The U.S. needs more people to come to China to gain an understanding of the culture, he added.
Locke said although U.S. and China have different cultures, languages and histories, everyone shares the same goal — a better life for citizens and their children.