Management School PhD student Ring Xu fascinated university staff and students interested in developments in the digital economy with her presentation on what’s happening now in social media in China. More than 513 million people use the internet in her country. But that impressive figure is dwarfed by China’s total population of 1.4 billion and means around a third of Chinese people are currently online. Most are under the age of 30.
What are they doing? Ring presents compelling evidence that many of them, just like young people around the world, are obsessed with social media. The statistics are compelling. A quarter of all social media users in the world are Chinese. And material in the Chinese language now makes up 24 percent of the Internet.
Ring has four reasons for this explosion in Chinese social media. Many families are forced to live apart, as many young people may work or study away from home, good broadband links are affordable, China’s one child policy means many young people turn to friends rather than siblings and there is suspicion of mainstream government-controlled media.
As Ring explains, there are no Facebook, Twitter and You Tube in China, but their Chinese equivalents are better in some ways, not second best. Sina Weibo, the phenomenally popular Chinese website most similar to Twitter has a facility for users to re-post adding comments and pictures to the original message. And, of course, 140 characters in the Chinese language convey far more meaning than 140 letters.
She says many young people enjoy receiving and passing on discount vouchers and codes so they can snap up top fashion items at bargain prices. “I haven’t bought anything at full price online after I followed those Weibo accounts which broadcast discount codes every day,” she declares.