Jing Zeng, Chung-hong Chan, Mike S. Schäfer
Contested Chinese Dreams of AI? Public discourse about Artificial intelligence on WeChat and People’s Daily Online

Information, Communication & Society, In Press: (publ. online before print)
ISSN: 1369-118X (print), 1468-4462 (online)

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become a prominent public issue, particularly in China, where the government has announced plans to turn the country into a global AI power. This study analyses public discourse about AI in China through the conceptual lens of public spheres theory and counter-public spheres. It compares the official AI narrative on People’s Daily Online with public discussion about AI on the social medium WeChat, where we assumed that official views would be challenged. Using a combination of qualitative and computational methods, 140,000 AI-related articles published between 2015 and 2018 were studied. Findings reveal that AI-related discourse on WeChat is surprisingly similar to that on People’s Daily Online. That is, it is dominated by industry and political actors, such as government agencies and technology companies, and is mostly characterised by discussions about the economic potential of the technology, with strongly positive evaluations, and little critical debate.