Weibo to the Rescue? A study of social media use in citizen–government relations in China



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Emerald Publishing Limited


Purpose In this study, the authors explain citizens’ adoption of social media in citizen–government relations in China, a country that blends an authoritarian governance regime with limited tolerance of and responsiveness to online citizen participation. Design/methodology/approach Original survey data were gathered using a vignette survey among 307 respondents living in the People’s Republic of China. Multivariate analysis of the data was used to test four hypotheses and identify antecedents of Chinese citizens’ social media adoption for “thin” participation purposes. Findings Citizens’ perceived impact of “thin” participation, citizens’ skills and capabilities and citizens’ trust in institutions are significantly associated with citizens’ social media adoption. Social media anxiety was found not to be associated with Chinese citizens’ social media adoption. Research limitations/implications This study demonstrates how vignettes can be used to study adoption of technological and institutional innovations in an authoritarian governance regime and how in this context existing adoption theories can be extended with notions of institutional trust to adequately explain citizens’ adoption of technological and institutional innovations in citizen–government relations. Social implications Although some argue that social media activity could potentially mitigate democratic deficits caused by the state, in the case of China, the intertwinement of state and social media platform renders this argument unsustainable. Originality/value This study is one of the few systematic survey studies focusing on Chinese citizens’ adoption of social media in citizen–government relations.



Social media, Thin participation, Digital engagement, China, Adoption, Innovation