From Internet to Social Safety Net: The Policy Consequences of Online Participation in China

Forthcoming, Governance

78 Pages Posted: 28 May 2017 Last revised: 19 Dec 2018

See all articles by Junyan Jiang

Junyan Jiang

Columbia University

Tianguang Meng

Tsinghua University

Qing Zhang

Columbia University

Date Written: May 26, 2017


Internet-based platforms are increasingly being used by governments around the world to facilitate public engagement with citizens. However, it remains an open question whether participation through these platforms can actually enable citizens to influence policies. We address this question by studying the patterns and consequences of online participation at a major electronic petition platform in China, a country with the world's largest Internet-using population. Content analysis of over 900,000 petitions reveals that a substantial share of them concern lower-class issues and are originated from less developed rural and suburban areas. Linking variations in petition volumes to an original dataset of government policy priorities, we further show that online participation led governments to place greater emphasis on social welfare policies and to increase the coverage of a key low-income assistance program. These results underscore the potential of online participation as an important mechanism to improve the quality of governance.

Keywords: participation, inequality, internet, authoritarian regime, China

Suggested Citation

Jiang, Junyan and Meng, Tianguang and Zhang, Qing, From Internet to Social Safety Net: The Policy Consequences of Online Participation in China (May 26, 2017). Forthcoming, Governance, Available at SSRN: or

Junyan Jiang (Contact Author)

Columbia University ( email )

7th Floor, International Affairs Bldg.
420 W. 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

Tianguang Meng

Tsinghua University ( email )

Beijing, 100084

Qing Zhang

Columbia University ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

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