Digital Methods to Explore Public Opinion on Chinese Social Media: Learning About Lai Chi Ying’s Arrest on Weibo

Abstract

We explore challenges and techniques to understand how and what public opinion about politically sensitive topics become visible on Chinese social media. This case study is based on a project exploring public opinion dynamics developing on the Chinese microblogging platform Sina Weibo in relation to media tycoon and Hong Kong activist Lai Chi-Ying. In the project, we explored and analyzed Weibo content talking about Lai Chi-Ying starting from his arrest in February 2020 and following relevant events until July 2021. In this case study, we specifically map the different stages of our research design, from query formulation to data capture, data pre-processing, and data analysis (i.e., text mining via sentiment analysis and word clouds). Ultimately, we aim to provide a toolkit/roadmap for the use of digital methods to collect and analyze data from Chinese social media, where most methodological literature is scarce and primarily in Chinese.

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