Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name



Political Science

First Advisor

Yumin Sheng


The Internet's political implications reach far beyond an advanced communication device in authoritarian regimes. The heated debate on the Internet's political potential in China is complicated by a lack of causal evidence demonstrated in the literature. Thus far, studies have only examined consequences of the rise of the Internet and the characteristics of netizens (wangmin), but they have failed to account for the possible transformative effect the Internet has on individual citizens. This study attempts to fill this gap by testing the impact of the Internet on rural Chinese villagers' political knowledge and political attitudes through a field experiment over a period of four months. Three computer centers in three villages of two different townships were set up for the experiment. The participants were randomly assigned to three groups. The treatment group was asked to read news for at least 15 minutes every time they visited the research sites. The placebo group used the Internet for entertainment purposes. The control group was not invited to use the Internet during the experiment but was informed about delayed treatment. Data analysis suggests that participants in the news group exhibited better political knowledge on the posttest, which has significant implications for their future political advocacies and engagement. However, the effect of the Internet on participants' political attitudes is less certain. Although the experiment results suggest that the short-term exposure to the Internet did not change participants’ political attitudes, the long-term effect of reading online news is not yet known. Indeed, during their interviews, participants revealed that reading online news and comments was an eye-opening experience for them. Participants also became more opinionated in discussing politics during interviews after receiving the treatment and interacting with various online contributors.