Public Sentiment on Chinese Social Media during the Emergence of COVID-19
42 Pages Posted: 31 Dec 2020 Last revised: 15 Mar 2021
Date Written: March 12, 2021
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
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