Political Rumors, Dis-, and Mis-information
Chengli Wang and Haifeng Huang. 2021. “When “Fake News” Becomes Real: The Consequences of False Government Denials in an Authoritarian Country.” Comparative Political Studies 54(5): 753–778
Abstract: Governments around the world, particularly authoritarian ones, often deny inconvenient or unfavorable information, calling it fake news or a false rumor, and yet what was denied often turns out to be true eventually. How will citizens react when the initial “fake news” is verified to be real? What are the consequences of false government denials for government credibility and citizen satisfaction? Using a survey experiment in China and a follow-up survey, we find that citizens can be persuaded by the authorities’ denials and reduce their belief in a piece of news that has been declared “fake.” But when the denied news turns out to be real, citizens will reduce their belief not only in the denial at hand but also in a similar denial in the future and reduce their satisfaction with the government. Thus, false denials have both immediate and lasting effects on government credibility and can erode citizen satisfaction with the government.
Jiangnan Zhu and Chengli Wang. 2021. “I Know What You Mean: Information Compensation in an Authoritarian Country.” International Journal of Press/Politics 26(3): 587–603.
How do people address the information gap that authoritarian regimes' strict information control causes? We argue that there exists an internally oriented information compensation approach through which people can glean extra information from official messages sent domestically. This approach does not violate state regulations directly and allows people to retrieve information not explicitly publicized by the government. We delineate the circumstances of internally-oriented information compensation using the case of China. We conducted trend and text analysis on the data of millions of individual-level actions of Chinese Internet search engines and social media users during a large anticorruption campaign that conspicuously claimed to crack down on influential corrupt leaders without naming them exactly. We show that some Chinese netizens were able to identify the unnamed high-ranking officials targeted by the campaign based on negative official reports about their family members. Some of the netizens even correctly predicted the downfall of the officials months before the government’s announcements. As the existing literature is increasingly concerned about the threat of digital authoritarianism throttling the free flow of information, our findings indicate that some authoritarian citizens, instead of passively accepting the government’s information control, acquired their own arts of information self-salvation. This, though not directly challenging the government, constitutes everyday politics under digital authoritarianism.
Xiaoyu Pu and Chengli Wang. 2018. “Rethinking China's Rise: Chinese Scholars Debate Strategic Overstretch.” International Affairs 94(5): 1019–1035.
Abstract: In recent years, some Chinese elites have started to rethink the strategies and tactics of China's rise on the global stage. Some scholars see the problems in the West as strategic opportunities for China. However, others worry that Beijing might have taken bold steps too soon. This article aims to provide an updated analysis of the Chinese scholarly debate on strategic overstretch. Similar to the economics of cost-benefit analysis, strategic overstretch occurs if the cost of maintaining the existing system exceeds the benefits. Most Chinese scholars agree that China's policy community should pay more attention to the topic of strategic overstretch, while they disagree on the extent to which China already has such a problem. Designing and implementing a prudent grand strategy is an enduring challenge for great powers, and Chinese scholars have taken different positions on the goals, means, and time horizon of China's grand strategy. We can't say that the Chinese scholarly debate has completely changed China's foreign policy, but there is a clear link between the rise of a cautious voice in the academic world and the moderation of China's foreign policy, even though China is still pursuing an ambitious foreign policy in a new era.
WORKING PAPERS AND WORK IN PROGRESS
“Whose news do you trust? Explaining competing trust in state-owned media versus rumors in China”
“US Embassy’s Public Diplomacy in Chinese Cyber Space”
"The making of the consultative bureau, local governance, and mass protests in the late Qing Dynasty, 1902–1911"