Ya-Wen Lei. 2020 "Revisiting China’s Social Volcano: Attitudes toward Inequality and Political Trust in China" (6 Socius: 1-21, Featured Article)
Existing literature suggests that, despite rising inequality in China, Chinese people tend to tolerate inequality, so it would be unlikely that rising inequality would cause sociopolitical instability. Few studies, however, have systematically explained Chinese people’s attitudes toward inequality, analyzed attitudinal changes over time, or examined the relationship between such attitudes and political trust. My analysis of national surveys in 2004, 2009, and 2014 yields three findings. First, critical attitudes toward inequality consistently correlate with a structural understanding of inequality and skepticism of procedural or institutional justice. Second, Chinese people’s attitudes toward inequality changed little between 2004 and 2009, but between 2009 and 2014, there was increasing criticality of both inequality and its seeming disjuncture with China’s socialist principles. Third, people who are discontent with income inequality in China are more likely than others to distrust the local government, and those who draw on socialism to critique inequality are more likely to distrust both the central and local governments. Together, these findings suggest rising inequality could have political ramifications.
Ya-Wen Lei. 2016 "Freeing the Press: How Field Environment Explains Critical News Reporting in China" (122 American Journal of Sociology 1: 1-49, Lead Article)
2017 Best Research Paper Award from the Asia and Asian American Section of the American Sociological Association
2017 CITAMS Paper Award Honorable mention, Communication, Information, Technologies, and Media Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association
2012 Outstanding Student Paper Award, The Section on Communication and Information Technologies, American Sociological Association.
2012 Graduate Student Paper Award, The Section on Human Rights, American Sociological Association.
2012 Katherine Luke Graduate Student Paper Award, Department of Sociology, University of Michigan.
This article examines critical news reporting in China as an instance of collective resistance in authoritarian contexts. It draws on field theory to understand why and how news media in certain localities were able to resist political pressure and report critically on important social problems, despite limited media freedom. Through a comparative study of six newspaper organizations in the three coastal cities of Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai, the article demonstrates the significance of local field environment for critical news reporting. The findings reveal how site-specific field environments can alternately enable or constrain collective resistance in an authoritarian context. In localities where the journalist communities were paired with a competitive newspaper market and less unified state agencies, the field environment allowed journalists to produce critical news reports. But when the local political and economic fields were less fragmented and competitive, respectively, the opposite was true.
Ya-Wen Lei & Daniel Xiaodan Zhou, 2015 "Contesting Legality in Authoritarian Contexts: Food Safety, Rule of Law and China's Networked Public Sphere" (49 Law & Society Review 3: 557-593, Lead Article )
Since the introduction of the Internet, China’s networked public sphere has become a critical site in which various actors compete to shape public opinion and promote or forestall legal and political change. This paper examines how members of an online public, the Tianya Forum, conceptualized and discussed law in relation to a specific event, the 2008 Sanlu milk scandal. Whereas previous studies suggest the Chinese state effectively controls citizens’ legal consciousness via propaganda, this analysis shows that the construction of legality by the Tianya public was not a top-down process, but a complex negotiation involving multiple parties. The Chinese state had to compete with lawyers and outspoken media to frame and interpret the scandal for the Tianya public and it was not always successful in doing so. Data show further how the online public framed the food safety incident as indicative of fundamental problems rooted in China's political regime and critiqued the state's instrumental use of law.
Ya-Wen Lei & Daniel Xiaodan Zhou,2015 "Embedding Law into Politics in China’s Networked Public Sphere" (The Internet, Social Media, and a Changing China, Jacques deLisle, Avery Goldstein, and Guobin Yang, eds., University of Pennsylvania Press)
This article reveals neglected aspects of the Chinese state’s legalistic legitimation strategy by examining how Chinese people engage with law and relate it to politics in China’s networked public sphere. In order to analyze this phenomenon, we first conducted a content analysis of the 2007–08 South China tiger scandal—a scandal that attracted national-level attention and aroused much discussion online. We decided to study this scandal given its relation to court decisions and problematic local government officials. The case allowed us to examine the ways in which netizens engage with law and the extent to which netizens relate problems about law to China’s political system. We qualitatively and quantitatively analyzed official news reports and texts produced by participants in a major online forum. To enhance the generalizability of our study, we also analyzed a nationally representative dataset—the 2008 Asian Barometer Survey. Integrating our findings based on content analysis of the South China tiger scandal and statistical analysis, we argue that the Chinese state’s legalistic legitimation strategy can backfire with the expansion of China’s networked public sphere, as the online public’s interaction with law and with one another in the public sphere enables citizens not only to uncover problems in China’s legal system, but also to connect these problems to the political regime more generally.
Ya-Wen Lei. 2011. "The Political Consequences of the Rise of the Internet: Political Beliefs and Practices of Chinese Netizens." Political Communication 28:291-322
* Winner of the First Prize in the Graduate Student Paper Competition of the 37th Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy.
This article addresses a long-standing question: What are the political consequences of the rise of the Internet and the attendant emergence of netizens in China, particularly in terms of China’s democratic prospects? Given the Chinese state’s firm control in the realm of traditional media, the Internet has been expected to bring about political and social change in China since its introduction. Although scholars have had divergent views on what this change might look like, there has been no systematic effort to produce representative evidence to address the debate. Examining a nationwide representative survey data set, this study finds that Chinese netizens, as opposed to traditional media users and non-media users, are more politically opinionated. In addition, they are more likely to be simultaneously supportive of the norms of democracy and critical about the party-state and the political conditions in China, while also being potential and active participants in collective action. This article argues that, despite the competent authoritarian state, a more decentralized media system enabled by technology has contributed to a more critical and politicized citizenry in China’s cyberspace. The Internet has made it possible for China’s media system to undertake a new, albeit restricted and contingent role as a communication institution of the society. As critical citizenry, China’s netizens constitute a new social force challenging authoritarian rule.