China is known around the world for many superlatives – “the biggest…, the highest…the most…”. It is a vast place with huge distances to cover, yet at the same time develops into an urbanized society with densely populated megacities like few other countries. With a population of more than 1.3 billion people, voices are everywhere. Its distinctive internet- and online-focused lifestyle is the newest trend around China – in fact, Chinese lifestyles have become so online, a new term to describe people glued to their phones and chatting with each other even in social situations has been coined as “di tou zu 低头族”, or “group of people bowing their heads”. By the end of 2014, nearly 650 million Chinese people were regular internet users, including an increase of more than 30 million people during 2014.
Blogs in China: famous people attract real attention
Social media is as popular in China as elsewhere in the world, and maybe even more so; netizens share tons of information across numerous online platforms. Within such a huge amount of people and thoughts that are portrayed online, personal blogs hardly have a chance to reach a high degree of attention unless the blogger themselves possesses a certain amount of popularity in advance. A good example is the famous young Chinese writer Hanhan – when he began writing blog articles Hanhan quickly earned almost two million followers and readers; Jinglei Xu, an A-list Chinese actress, also has 538,978 fans on her blog. These bloggers wrote about their lifestyles, gave opinions on new books or even new movies. Celebrities always get more attention, especially when it comes to scandal-related and/or celebrity affairs. For “normal” people, web users in China like to express their opinions about hot-button issues. A recent topic e.g. is the Gaokao (高考), the unified annual final high school exam in China, which is related to a lot of pressure for young Chinese students and very often causes a stir in society. Another hot topic lately is the stock market in China, with figures going up and down and affecting investors’ moods and even the world market like a roller coaster.
Censorship is invisible yet omnipresent in China
In spite of the vast amounts of shared material online, censorship plays an important role in China, resulting in many global online platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter being blocked. But there is always another way to “jump the wall”; most foreigners and a growing number of Chinese use Virtual Private Network (VPN) services to access these blocked sites. The Chinese government openly addresses the censorship topic – a key reason for this digital supervision is actually based on Chinese law – to ensure that potentially-sensitive content occurring online that might become a source of protest against the government or cause problems in the society is prevented. Recent rumors online even include that cities like Beijing or Shanghai are monitored by a thousand IT professionals who constantly look for potentially critical or sensitive posts, statements and contents, and delete it right away.
Nevertheless, blogging in China remains popular as proved by the staggering number of users – for the various Chinese blog platforms, here is the list of top 5 blog platforms till March 20th, 2013 based on number of registered users: (albeit not all users are active, and some could be duplicate accounts)
- QQ Space, users: 134,467,000
- Sina Blog, users:46,505,000
- 163 Blog, users: 16,103,000
- Ifeng Blog, users: 12,656,000
- Baidu Space, users: 8,523,000
Social Media sites like Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, is the trusted news source
Although the figures seem too big to imagine, actually traditional stand-alone blogs are already considered more or less “old-fashioned” in China. Instead of a typical blog, Weibo (microblog, like Twitter) has 167 million active users per month, or 76.6 million active users per day. It is hard to believe that so many people share their opinions and life stories on the same platform, with a wide variety of posts. Given the restrictive nature of press and media in China, it is a natural reaction by the public to find social media as an alternative outlet to express their views and even consider the platform as a trusted news source. Blog content which deals with the automotive industry particularly can be found on Weibo, mainly dealing with subjects like dealers, brands, services and media, across a wide-range of perspectives, be it corporate, customer exchange, and even service topics. In 2014 there were already 23 million car-interested people on Weibo who have posted more than 1 billion entries related to this topic.
Out of the mainstream: video platforms in China yet another important source of information
When it comes to video content the Chinese website youku.com (26 Million clicks per day) is the main source of videos. It is designed much in the style of YouTube. Also iqiyi.com (7 Million clicks per day) and tudou.com (16 Million clicks per day) are commonly used. Video contents are also under government supervision. But how does censorship become reality in China? Jing Chai, a famous journalist in China who used to be an anchor for the state-run China Central Television network (CCTV), recently shot to fame for reporting on the growing crisis of air pollution around Beijing with a video named “Under the Dome”. This video became so popular that it got more than 6 million clicks for the first post day. But a few days later the video had mysteriously “disappeared” from all video platforms in China, with no further explanations or reasons. But nowadays, once something goes online, it will never truly disappear. People can still find the full video on YouTube and other western websites.
WeChat, the innovative all-in-one-platform
Lately the main channel for information transfer is the mobile app WeChat. It is now used by more than 500 million people – or, almost 80% of the online population in all of China. It combines messaging, SNS, e-banking, and games etc. With its vast variety of new functions it exceeds the general expectations of a typical chat APP. WeChat has incorporated many functions from other SNS platforms, and has matured into an “all-in-one” product. Short video transfers with friends, which became popular on Facebook, The “Moments” function similar to Twitter, where you can share pictures and opinions with your friends, are good examples of how Wechat has continued to innovate. Wechat has recently even taken a further step to make their product more user-friendly – a payment function called “Wechat Wallet” has been developed where users can bind their bank and credit cards to the APP, and directly transfer/receive money to friends and even buy flight tickets. In fact, many colleagues in the OSK Beijing office pay each other back for meals out together with this function. And even cars like special smart editions are regularly offered for purchase on WeChat exclusively and sold out within hours.
Social Media channels as the main source of information and influencer of public opinion in China
In China people clearly have a stronger feeling for need to express themselves on alternative platforms compared to their western counterparts, and need to spread their opinions and thoughts online, given the restricted media landscape. A central part of the young Chinese individuality seems to include having a personal set of sources that you regularly catch up with, on the road or at home. From a western point of view this is a very progressive approach, but you also witness the subliminal war of attention – still, it can be described as shockingly amazing. Life becomes faster and more convenient with the explosion of information. But sometimes people also miss the feeling, that we get our news from newspapers, reading a book, or chatting with friends without the distraction of the latest “buzz” online. In the end, particularly in the dynamic and fast-paced lifestyle of China, one must find a balance between life online and still knowing when to unplug.