Reciprocal agenda setting in Chinese network society: a case study of Dr. Li Wenliang during Coronavirus Epidemic


This paper investigates the interaction between digital media and legacy media in Chinese network society. By extending agenda setting theory to both sphere of legacy media and citizen-dominated digital media, the paper chooses to study how the tension between new media and legacy media challenge the policy making in the current Chinese society. In particular, we choose the case of Dr. Li Wenliang, who was labeled as whistleblower by the legacy media and hero by the netizens during Novel Coronavirus epidemic in China, and investigate the conflict, interaction and compatibility relationship between the legacy media and citizen-dominated digital media in this case. In this paper, we adapt text analysis and experiment as the methods to identify different phrases of the two spheres’ agenda tensions and their transferring process into public agenda. We found the fact that the implication of the composite force of legacy media and citizen-dominated digital media on the public agenda permeates through not only in the audience’s cognition, but also in their attitude and behavior. The findings reveal what we call reciprocal agenda between the two spheres. The findings do not only extend our understanding of agenda setting theory, but also contribute to our knowledge of the unique Chinese society and culture in a digital age, reexamine the role of Chinese netizens in promoting the public agenda, and the relationship between the state, the audience and the media. They also coin the point of the blurring boundary between online and offline worlds in a network society, which we abandon to use as a binary framework in this study.