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By Dennis Nguyen & Bei Wang

This research project investigates the social and cultural dimensions of the digital transformation in the Chinese context. More specifically, it explores how Chinese users perceive and evaluate emerging technological trends such as artificial intelligence (A.I.), big data, blockchain, 5G, and the Internet of Things. Technology plays a central role in daily live in China, both for personal and professional purposes. The country hosts some of the world’s leading tech companies and Chinese society has adopted data-driven, automated solutions at a rapid pace over the past decade. 

Research on China’s digital transformation is growing especially in the intersection of business studies, economics, and international relations. However, a relatively under-explored but important subject is the social-cultural impact of digital technology in Chinese society.

The study connects here and has two main goals: First, to chart Chinese discourses on the perceived benefits, values, and risks that accompany the dissemination of novel, data-driven technologies in the country (and worldwide). Second, to critically review and revise misconceptions and stereotypes about Chinese digital society in the “global West” and especially in Europe. Chinese users’ relationship to technology is complex, nuanced and there is a public discourse on the value and risks of technology happening in China that remains largely invisible to the European-/Western “gaze”.

The main research questions are:

  • How do Chinese users perceive and evaluate technological trends in terms of benefits and risks?
  • How do Chinese news media frame A.I. in their reporting?
  • What are key differences between Chinese news discourses and user discourses on emerging technologies?
  • What are key differences between Chinese and “Western” discourses on technology?

The methodological approach combines qualitative, quantitative, and digital methods. As for the research population, the study zooms in on the Chinese “millennial”, a demographic that grew up with technology and experienced (as well as shaped) China’s digital transformation first-hand. The study has three parts:

  • A quantitative survey on Chinese users’ views on emerging technologies.
  • A framing analysis utilising automated content analysis on Chinese news reporting on technology.
  • A series of case studies that explore the social and cultural impacts on Chinese digital culture and -society.

Aside from several academic publications, the insights from the research will find direct use in the teaching of relevant study courses. The project aims also to actively involve students at different stages of the research process in form of related course assignments.

Photo by Li Yang

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