Tracy Zhang on Social Media in China

By Sheng Lee (@shengdanger)

Tracy Zhang is a traveling scholar from Shanghai, China. After earning her degree in Advertising, Zhang went on to teach. She has been a teacher for about five years now and has come to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh to sit in on a couple of Journalism classes.

This semester, she is a special guest in Dr. Sara Steffes-Hansen’s New and Emerging Media class. The class focuses on the rising trends in social media/networking, blogging culture and new media studies. To broaden the students’ perspective on social media as a global phenomenon, Dr. Steffes-Hansen asked Zhang to teach the class more about social media in China.

As the second largest country by land area, The People’s Republic of China stands as the world’s most populous country with a population of more than 1.3 billion! Practically the biggest country on Earth with the most inhabitants, one must wonder how social media has shaped the culture of China, or rather how the culture has shaped its social media.

Due to government censorship, sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are banned in China. Instead, the social media industry is run by “local players,” Zhang explained. There are three top social networking sites in China just as there are three main players in the U.S.: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, but in China they are: Renren, Kaixin and Weibo.

Both Renren and Kaixin are the Chinese equivalent of Facebook. Renren launched in 2005 and Kaixin launched three years later in 2008. Because both sites allow users to blog, post photos and play online games like “Happy Farm,” Renren and Kaixin appeal to college students and young urban professionals.

Weibo, on the other hand, is the Twitter of China. It  allows users to micro-blog on a public platform as long as they stay within 140 characters. But in Mandarin Chinese, characters have more meaning, allowing users to say more with fewer characters.

Next Zhang talked about the Chinese equivalent of YouTube called Youku. Interestingly, only 30 percent of all videos on Youku are user generated. This means there are fewer homemade “stunt” videos, recorded pranks and just general shenanigans that go on on Youku. Most of the content are TV shows and Movies, so it doesn’t surprise me when studies show that the average American YouTube user spends 15 minutes online, whereas the average Chinese Youku user spends about one hour.

Zhang also mentioned Douban, an artsy website similar to Pinterest where mostly young artists share ideas on culture, music, fashion and film.


Then there’s the dying breed, the Myspace of China, Qzone. Mostly appealing to teens, Qzone was one of the earlier social networking sites in China, and like its American counterpart, it is being phased out by newer, more attractive competitors.

But what about the more intimate sites that facilitate online dating? China has got that too. A popular dating site in China is called Jiayuan. Attracting white collar professionals, Jiayuan requires that registrants have a four-year college degree in order to join. Also, in order for a candidate to be more credible, Jiayuan encourages its users to scan their ID card into the system to verify their identity. As Zhang explained, these precautions make the site a lot safer against sexual predators.

Similar to the U.S. and yet different in so many ways, China’s social media connects billions of people every day to share ideas, converse and fall in love.


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