Public Sentiment on Chinese Social Media during the Emergence of COVID-19

42 Pages Posted: 31 Dec 2020 Last revised: 15 Mar 2021

See all articles by Yingdan Lu

Yingdan Lu

Stanford University

Jennifer Pan

Stanford University

Yiqing Xu

Stanford University

Date Written: March 12, 2021

Abstract

When COVID-19 first emerged in China, there was speculation that the outbreak would trigger public anger and weaken the Chinese regime. By analyzing millions of social media posts from Sina Weibo made between December 2019 and February 2020, we describe the content and sentiment of public, online discussions pertaining to COVID-19 in China. We find that discussions of COVID-19 became widespread on January 20, 2020, consisting primarily of personal reflections, opinion, updates, and appeals. We find that the largest bursts of discussion coincide with the January 23 lockdown of Wuhan and the February 7 death of Dr. Li Wenliang and contain simultaneous spikes of criticism and support targeting the Chinese government. Criticisms are directed at the government for perceived lack of action, incompetence, and wrongdoing—in particular, censoring information relevant to public welfare. Support is directed at the government for aggressive action and positive outcomes. As the crisis unfolds, the same events are interpreted differently by different people, with those who criticize focusing on the government’s shortcomings and those who praise focusing on the government’s actions.

Keywords: COVID-19, crisis, public opinion, government support, authoritarianism, text analysis

Suggested Citation

Lu, Yingdan and Pan, Jennifer and Xu, Yiqing, Public Sentiment on Chinese Social Media during the Emergence of COVID-19 (March 12, 2021). 21st Century China Center Research Paper #2021-04, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3757135 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3757135

Yingdan Lu

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Jennifer Pan

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Yiqing Xu (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

HOME PAGE: http://yiqingxu.org

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
490
Abstract Views
2,151
rank
75,841
PlumX Metrics