Research Associates

  • Florian Toepfl 

    Institute for Media and Communication Studies, Freie Universität, Berlin

    Dr Florian Töpfl heads a five-year (2014-2019) project on “Mediating (Semi-)Authoritarianism: The Power of the Internet in the Post-Soviet Space” at the Institute for Media and Communication Studies, Free University of Berlin. The project involves two PhD students and is funded by the German Research Foundation DFG in the framework of the Emmy Noether program. It will compare phenomena of internet-mediated communication and their political consequences mainly across three (semi-)authoritarian regimes in the post-Soviet world: Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.

    Dr Toepfl received his PhD in political science from the University of Passau in Southern Germany in 2009. Since then, he has been a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science; a researcher and lecturer at the Institute for Media Studies and Communication Research, LMU University Munich; and a postdoctoral fellow at the Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian and Eastern European Studies at Columbia University, New York. Dr Töpfl has also held visiting fellowships at the Aleksanteri Institute for Russian Studies, University of Helsinki, and in the Sociology Department at the Higher School of Economics, St Petersburg.


  • Stu Shulman

    Department of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst,  Amherst

    Stu Shulman (@stuartwshulman) is a scholar, inventor of DiscoverText, entrepreneur, D-level soccer coach, proud dad/son, CEO of Texifter, and Taoist garlic grower. Texifter builds web-based text analytics for individuals, groups, and crowds. Founded in 2009 after a decade of NSF-funded research, Texifter delivers collaborative power tools for sorting text. Social data, email, voice of the customer or employee, and other sources are collected over APIs or uploaded via spreadsheets. The flagship application is DiscoverText, which allows users to access Gnip Power Tracks for Twitter, Tumblr, WordPress, and Disqus.

  • Marina Svensson

    Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, Lund University, Lund

    Dr. Marina Svensson is Professor of modern China studies at the Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, Lund University, Lund, Sweden.

    Marina is the project leader of the interdisciplinary research project Digital China based in Lund that includes six additional scholars from different disciplines. The project runs 2013-2017 and is funded by the  Swedish Research Council. The project aims to unpack the many dimensions and paradoxes of networked authoritarianism and the impact of ICTs on Chinese society. The premise is a socio-constructivist understanding of technological developments that emphasize social processes, power relations, and agency among ICT producers, regulators, and users. The project studies the complex negotiations that take place between individuals, different groups of people, companies, and the Chinese state at different levels and in different areas. The focus is on developments and ICT use and regulations in the fields of education, the economy, media and communication, governance, and ICT industries. For further updates on activities, results and analysis of developments in China, see Digital China’s blog.

  • Florian Schneider

    Leiden University Institute for Area Studies, Leiden University, Leiden

    Lecturer for the Politics of Modern China, Leiden University Institute for Area Studies.

    Florian Schneider, PhD, Sheffield University, is the author of Visual Political Communication in Popular Chinese Television Series, which was awarded the 2014 EastAsiaNet book award. He is managing editor of the academic journal Asiascape: Digital Asia. His research interests include questions of governance, political communication, and public administration in China, as well as international relations in the East-Asian region. A recent project has dealt with staged mass-media events in mainland China, such as the Beijing Olympics, the 60th Anniversary of the PRC, and the Shanghai Expo. Currently, he is conducting a three-year research project titled ‘Digital Nationalism in China’, funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), in which he analyses how Sino-Japanese history is presented and discussed on China’s web. The project combines quantitative and qualitative methods, ranging from discourse analysis to hyperlink network analysis. Focusing on two cases, Digital Nationalism examines the stable, long-term networks surrounding the Nanjing Massacre of 1937, as well as the currently emerging, short-term networks on the ongoing Diaoyu/Senkaku Island dispute. These case studies demonstrate how Chinese animosities towards Japan are reworked in the service of community building, an activity beneficial both to the state and to private actors, although for different reasons. More generally, Digital Nationalism will confront current theories of political communication and ICT with the realities of the world’s largest national web, which is subject to effective control by China’s Party-state.

  • Christian Göbel

    Institute of East Asian Studies, University of Vienna, Vienna

    Christian Göbel is Professor of Chinese Politics and Society at the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of Vienna. His research is concerned with the adaptability of the Chinese Party-State to social, economic and political challenges. He is especially interested in effects of digital technology on local governance in China. In a project funded by the Swedish Research Council, he examines the emergence of virtual communication platforms that allow Chinese people to openly voice their grievances. Another project is concerned with the effect of these platforms on local governance. Data derived from expert interviews, expert surveys and web harvesting is processed by means of qualitative content analysis, machine learning techniques and inferential statistics.

  • Jesper Schlæger

    Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, Lund University, Lund

    Jesper Schlæger (PhD) is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, Lund University.

    Jesper’s research focuses on how digital information and communication technologies (ICTs) change the information flows between society and government in China. His current research project is entitled: How China puts an end to corruption: e-monitoring and empowerment. The project examines how Chinese government uses digital ICT through processes of e-monitoring and citizen empowerment to ensure administrative transparency and accountability with the goal of reducing corruption. To answer this question, the project – through a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods – attempts to disentangle the mechanisms through which ICT amplifies existing institutions, both formal and informal. His study thus contributes with a public administration perspective to the Digital China project.

  • Pontus Wallin

    Linnaeus University,  Sweden

    Pontus Wallin is a researcher specializing in the study of contemporary authoritarianism. He received his PhD from Linnaeus University in Sweden in 2014 with the dissertation Authoritarian collaboration: Unexpected effects of open government initiatives in China. The dissertation builds on field experiments conducted in China and explores how citizens participate in authoritarian governance online. Wallin teaches courses in Chinese politics, comparative politics, political theory and international relations. He currently resides in the Netherlands where he is associated with projects on authoritarianism at Amsterdam University and Leiden University.

  • Zifei Cheng

    Department of Town and Regional Planning, University of Sheffield, UK

    Zifei Cheng completed her PhD in Town and Regional Planning at the University of Sheffield, UK, where she worked with Prof. Hendrik Wagenaar. Her dissertation Dilemmas of changes in Chinese local governance: Through the lens of heritage conservation investigated Chinese local governance from a network approach and conflict resolution involving different key players in the society. Special attention was given to historical and cultural conditions underlying ‘authoritarian deliberation’, as well as increasing importance of information technologies in social interactions and policy process. Her research interests include public participation, community empowerment, and ‘the rule of law’ in everyday policy- and decision-making process, as well as interpretive policy analysis in the fields of urban governance and conflict resolution.

  • Yunya Song

    School of Communication, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong

    Dr. Yunya Song is Assistant Professor in the School of Communication, Hong Kong Baptist University. Yunya works in the areas of comparative research, cyberspace and international communication, and computer-mediated social networks. Yunya is the project leader of the interdisciplinary research project “Microblogging the Food Safety: How People Engage with Social Media to Support Health Information Needs in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China?” Building on the present study, the researchers aim to offer a rich description of Weibo and Twitter users in Greater China and their activities related to food safety discussion, and provide insights into how and why they use microblogs for health information. Yunya’s research is also concerned with netizen activism and discussion networks on Weibo, Facebook and online forums in Greater China.

  • Aofei Lv

    Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR),  Amsterdam University, Amsterdam

    Dr. Aofei Lv is a Post-Doctoral Fellow of the ERC funded research project on ‘Authoritarianism in a Global Age’ at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research of AmsterdamUniversity. She completed her PhD in School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow, UK, where she worked with Prof. Jane Duckett. Her PhD thesis, ‘Explaining Health Policy Change in China between 2003 and 2009: Actors, Contexts and Institutionalisation’, examines how and why health policy changed in China between 2003 and 2009 by focusing on three actors outside the political system, namely, experts, media and international organizations. Her research involves extensive interviews with Chinese health officials, journalists, health and social science experts, and representatives of international organizations in China. She argues that after the SARS outbreak, the experts, the media, and international organisations influenced the health policies as a ‘Policy Entrepreneurial Coalition’ (PEC), the result of which was a combination of normal and paradigmatic policy changes between 2003 and 2009.

    Her research interests are Chinese politics and society, social media, public policy, policy entrepreneurs, and authoritarian resilience. Her professional experience also includes managing public relations and official accounts on Weibo (for Scottish Centre for China Research) and Twitter & Facebook (for Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network).

  • Christopher Cairns

    Department of Government, Cornell University, New York

    Christopher Cairns is a PhD Candidate in Government at Cornell University. His dissertation project, titled “Authoritarian Adaptation to the Social Media Shock: Selective Censorship of Chinese Microblogs“, concerns why China (and other authoritarian governments) sometimes refrain from censoring social media during breaking incidents despite strong reasons for doing so, arguing that top leaders use such openness to signal to the public their commitment to policy decisions. China’s fine-grained control over critical online media spaces makes it a successful case of adaptation to this recent technological shock. The project draws on computer-assisted analysis of social media data and interviews with Chinese media practitioners to understand and measure the censorship process. Beyond the dissertation, Chris’s research interests include online nationalism and environmental politics, and the Internet’s impact on regime stability beyond China.

  • Maria Repnikova

    Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

    Maria Repnikova is a scholar of Chinese media politics, as well as comparative China-Russia media governance. She is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication, Project for Advanced Research in Global Communication. Her current projects compare state media management in China and Russia, as well as examine evolving patterns of crisis communication and official digital persuasion strategies in China. Maria holds a doctorate in Politics from Oxford where she was a Rhodes Scholar. Her work has appeared in Journalism and Post-Soviet Studies as well as in Foreign Policy and Wall Street Journal.

  • Rongbin Han

    School of Public and International Affairs, University of Georgia, Athens

    Rongbin Han is an assistant professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. He received his PhD in political science from University of California, Berkeley. Before studying in the U.S., he received a Master of Social Sciences from National University of Singapore, and BA in International Politics from Peking University, China. His research interests center on the intersections of contentious politics, media, and Chinese politics. His recent publications appear in China Quarterly, Journal of Contemporary China, and Journal of Current Chinese Affairs. His earlier article, “Path to Democracy? Assessing Village Elections in China” (with Kevin J. O’Brien, in Journal of Contemporary China), has been reprinted several times (in Grassroots Elections in China, Routledge and The Politics and Governance of China, Edward Elgar Publishing) and translated into Chinese and published in Foreign Theoretical Trends (国外理论动态). He is also one of the translators of the Chinese version of W. Phillips Shively’s The Craft of Political Research (6th Edition).

  • Baohua Zhou

    School of Journalism, Fudan University, Shanghai

    Baohua Zhou is a professor and assistant dean at the School of Journalism, Fudan University. He is director of the new media communication master program and associate director of Media and Public Opinion Research Centre at Fudan University. He was a visiting scholar at University of Pennsylvania (2011-2012). His research focuses on digital media, media effects, and public opinion. His current research projects include: social differentiation, media use, and citizenship engagement in China; ICTs and migrants workers; social media and journalism, and public opinion on social media, among others. His research has been published in Asian Journal of Communication, Chinese Journal of Communication, Communication & Society, and various communication journals in China.

  • Haifeng Huang

    School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, University of California, Merced

    Haifeng Huang is an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Merced. He studies comparative politics and political economy with focuses on media, public opinion, authoritarianism, and Chinese politics, using game-theoretic models, survey research, and/or experimental methods. His solo-authored papers are published or forthcoming in the American Political Science Review, British Journal of Political Science, Comparative Politics, and Journal of Contemporary China, among others. He has a Ph.D. in political science and an M.A. in economics, both from Duke University.

  • Zheng Chang

    Thinker WorkShop, Beijing

    Zheng Chang, graduated from the Department of Information Management, Peking University, and got his Master degree in Information Science in 2005. At the present, Zheng Chang is a co-founder of Thinker Workshop. Thinker Workshop is a civil thinker tank in China, and it focuses on Information and Internet Development and their impact on China’s political, economic and social changes. Currently, Zheng Chang is interested in Social Media Data Mining, Subculture in the framework of internet development and Industry 4.0. At the same time, Zheng Chang is writing a book about the progress of the information civilization in China.

  • Muzammil M. Hussain

    Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

    Muzammil M. Hussain is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, and Faculty Associate in the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Dr. Hussain’s interdisciplinary research is at the intersections of global communication, comparative politics, and complexity studies. At Michigan, Professor Hussain teaches courses on research methods, digital politics, and global innovation. His published books include “Democracy’s Fourth Wave? Digital Media and the Arab Spring” (Oxford University Press, 2013), a cross-national comparative study of how digital media and information technologies have supported the opening up of closed societies in the MENA, and “State Power 2.0: Authoritarian Entrenchment and Political Engagement Worldwide” (Ashgate Publishing, 2013), an international collection detailing how governments, both democracies and dictatorships, are working to close down digital systems and environments around the world. He has authored numerous research articles, book chapters, and industry reports examining global ICT politics, innovation, and policy, including pieces in The Journal of Democracy, The Journal of International Affairs, The Brookings Institutions’ Issues in Technology and Innovation, The InterMedia Institute’s Development Research Series, International Studies Review, International Journal of Middle East Affairs, The Communication Review, Policy and Internet, and Journalism: Theory, Practice, and Criticism. His website is, and he tweets from @m_m_hussain.

  • Tony Zhiyang Lin

    Department of Sociology, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

    Tony Zhiyang Lin is a writer, filmmaker, and an MPhil candidate in sociology at The University of Hong Kong. Tony’s research interests are about popular culture, social media and online activism. The current project he works on is to examine the discussions on Weibo and how this Chinese Twitter equivalence shapes the opinion landscape in China. Tony is also the author of his travel ethnography Of All The Bars On This Planet (這顆行星上所有的酒館) and the director of the award-winning documentary A City of Two Tales.

  • Kristin Shi-Kupfer

    Mercator Institute for China Studies, Berlin

    Kristin Shi-Kupfer is Director of the Research Area on Politics, Society, Media. Prior to taking on this position, sinologist and political scientist Kristin Shi-Kupfer worked as a research associate at the University of Freiburg’s Institute for Sinology. She gained her PhD from Ruhr University Bochum with a thesis entitled “Emergence and Development of Spiritual-Religious Groups in China after 1978”. From 2007 to 2011 she she was China correspondent for Profil (Austrian news magazine), epd (German Protestant Press Agency), and Südwest Presse, as well as a freelance reporter for other media like ZEIT Online, tageszeitung (taz), and Deutsche Welle in Beijing, People’s Republic of China. She focuses on digital society, religious policy, social change (social conflicts/protests).

    Her research currently focuses on spaces for social self-organization with a particular interest in faith-based and interest/hobby-based virtual communities and their related offline activities. Twitter: @gusiting.

  • Ali Honari

    Faculty of Social Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam

    Ali Honari is a research fellow at the department of sociology. He is in his last year of his PhD at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam . His research is concentrated on “The dynamics of off- and online political participation under repression” in the context of  the Iranian Green Movement between two elections (2009-2013). His central focus is on how people respond to state repression, using unique data from three waves of online surveys as well as qualitative interviews. Ali holds an MA in Sociology in the Faculty of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the Interuniversity Center for Social Science Theory and Methodology (ICS) at the University of Groningen. He finished his a BSc in electrical engineering from the Amir-Kabir University of Technology, Iran.

    Ali’s primary research interests include social movements, repression, social network analysis, online political participation, and Iran’s civil society. Using different digital methods and data from variety of sources, he has recently conducted a research project aiming to understand ‘social concerns of Iranians through online social networks.’ He has served on the editorial board of the prominent Iranian journals dedicated to social and political affairs such as ‘Goftogu’. He is a frequent contributor to several Iranian literati journals.

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