McCalpin, Matthew [Browse]
Senior thesis
120 pages


Flaherty, Martin [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
Over the past several years, online microblogging has emerged as the most popular form of public expression in China. Today, Chinese social media websites collectively boast more than 300 million users, or almost a quarter of China’s total population. Despite the Chinese government’s efforts to limit this new form of free speech through censorship and the Great Firewall, the public has found a new voice for popular expression. The Internet has become a means for Chinese people to demand greater political accountability. Most notably, political corruption has risen to the forefront of public discussion on Chinese microblogging websites. Although the Chinese government has strengthened its crackdown on corruption in recent years, its anticorruption efforts lack an effective standardized process necessary to enforce rule of law norms. Instead, the Chinese public has effectively leveraged microblogging websites as an informal legal mechanism to influence corruption investigations. This thesis assesses the relationship between online microblogging and political corruption in China to demonstrate the significant popular influence on corruption cases. Specifically, this thesis uses a mixed-methods analysis to prove how Sina Weibo (Weibo), China’s most popular microblogging website, significantly influenced the initiations of investigations of at least ten politically corrupt officials in 2012. Exploring the broader literature on the public opinion-adjudication relationship, this thesis first provides a theoretical explanation for using an informal legal mechanism like Weibo in China. It then offers historical context on China’s legal tradition, corruption problem, and media landscape to illustrate how corruption and microblogging trends emerged. The core of this thesis demonstrates Weibo’s significant effect on anti-corruption efforts in China in 2012 through quantitative descriptive analysis and qualitative case studies. Lastly, it explores the recent crackdowns on corrupt officials and microbloggers in 2013 to offer policy implications for both the U.S. and China in addressing these recent issues. Despite Weibo’s success influencing political corruption investigations in 2012, the more recent crackdown on microbloggers in 2013 provides new insight into the policy direction of President Xi. Initial hopes of greater political accountability accompanying the rise of microblogging and Xi’s anti-corruption efforts appear to have been replaced by the unfortunate acceptance of top-down authoritarian governance typical of past regimes. The Chinese people appear more cautious about using microblogging websites today. Meanwhile, political corruption still runs rampant within the Chinese Communist Party. New technological advances enabling more Internet freedom suggest the Chinese government’s censorship and firewall may be rendered useless in the next five to ten years. Yet today, China continues limit Internet speech and thus greater political accountability.

Supplementary Information