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From Netizen to Citizen: Netizen Empowerment and Political Activism among Chinese Americans

  • Author(s): Shao, Yiming
  • Advisor(s): Johnston, Noel P
  • Ramakrishnan, Karthick
  • et al.

Since 2010, Chinese Americans have been actively engaged in policy issues such as affirmative action organized through an ethnic social media called WeChat. Many scholarly works would predict that an immigrant with less than ten years of residence in the US, who speaks limited English and lives in a neighborhood with a small co-ethnic population, is less likely to be politically active. However, it is the very group described above that passionately joined many offline protests and demonstrations in the past decade. Many social movements start with online activities, but some failed to make a substantive impact in the offline world. How does this netizen movement transform into impactful political engagement as citizens? This study will ask the following research questions to find out. Who are those Chinese activists? What motivates them to act? And to what extent is their level of political engagement? This study will use survey data, campaign contribution data, and ethnic social media chat group messages to answer these three questions. First, I will use the National Asian American Survey to explore the demographic characteristics of Chinese activists and answer the question “who are the Chinese activists?”. Second, this study will examine how WeChat and mainstream media news influence WeChat chat group members. Third, I will test whether Chinese voters living in the “majority Chinese” zip code are more likely to make a political contribution. For the first research question, this study found that Chinese Americans who use social media for political information may become more confident in their ability to influence policy outcomes, which motivates them to join offline protests. Moreover, when mainstream media and WeChat show opposing sentiments towards the same issue, Chinese “Netizens” are more likely to debate with strong emotions. Using campaign contribution data, this project also found that Chinese Americans living in a neighborhood with less Chinese population are more likely to make a political contribution, which is constant with political movements on popular press led by suburban Chinese parents. This project aims to shed light for future research on this area that collectively breaks the monolithic view of Asian Americans.

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