China Town Hall event focuses on impact of social media

While en route to Beijing in 2011 to begin his post as the new U.S. ambassador to China, Gary Locke stopped at a Starbucks in Seattle–Tacoma International Airport to buy a cup of coffee. A Chinese-American businessman snapped a photo and posted it on Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

Reposted over 40,000 times, the humble scene of Locke, with a backpack slung over his shoulders, unattended by anyone but his 6-year-old daughter, caused a sensation in China. Thousands of comments on the initial post contrasted Locke’s unassuming travel style with the elitist image of Chinese officialdom. The uproar inspired a commentary by the editor of the China Daily under the headline “Backpack Makes a Good Impression.”

On Monday, October 29, Ambassador Locke will discuss U.S.-China relations through a live webcast with audiences across the country, including a group at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where his remarks will be combined with a panel discussion and lecture on the growing impact of social media like Sina Weibo.

The events are part of the sixth annual China Town Hall, sponsored by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, partnering locally with the Madison Committee on Foreign Relations (MCFR). China Town Hall is a national day of programming on China, including a webcast being viewed at sites in more than 50 American cities.

In Madison, the events will be held at the Pyle Center, starting at 4 p.m. with a panel discussion in room 226, followed by a lecture at 6 p.m. and live broadcast at 7 p.m. in the Pyle Center’s AT&T Lounge.

Dr. Min Jiang, a Chinese Internet specialist from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, will join UW–Madison professors Zhongdang Pan (communication arts), Melanie Manion (political science and public affairs), and Sida Liu (sociology and law) for a panel discussion on “Information Revolution: Social Media in China.” This event is free and open to the public.

Professor Nicole Huang, director of the Wisconsin China Initiative, will moderate the panel, which will consider such topics as how social media have impacted the 2012 leadership transition in China, the degree to which Internet use impacts civic engagement, and how micro-blogs have mobilized the Chinese legal profession.

At 6 p.m., Dr. Jiang will give a lecture on “Micro-blogging, Micro-Power? Chinese Twitter and China’s Political Affairs,” followed by the webcast, in which Ambassador Locke will be speaking from Beijing and responding to questions emailed by audience members throughout the country.

The fee to attend the lecture and webcast is $20 ($10 for students). Attendees may register at the door or through the MCFR website.

– by Kerry G. Hill