The WeChat social media platform from a foreign institution perspective: WeChat’s role as a soft power tool

Author/s Tatiana Mazali, Lorenza Scaldaferri
Publishing Year 2023 Issue 2023/65
Language English Pages 21 P. 69-89 File size 459 KB
DOI 10.3280/SC2023-065005
DOI is like a bar code for intellectual property: to have more infomation click here

Below, you can see the article first page

If you want to buy this article in PDF format, you can do it, following the instructions to buy download credits

Article preview

FrancoAngeli is member of Publishers International Linking Association, Inc (PILA), a not-for-profit association which run the CrossRef service enabling links to and from online scholarly content.

WeChat is the major Chinese social media platform, with over a billion users worldwide. Using WeChat is essential for Chinese citizens’ daily lives, and at the same time for foreign individuals, institutions, and companies entertaining rela-tionships with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In this paper, the authors an-alyse the role of the WeChat social media platform as a soft power tool. Through the case study of Politecnico di Torino as a foreign institution opening a WeChat Official Account, the authors explore the numerous purposes the platform offers and its impact on a foreign institution.

Keywords: WeChat, soft power, sharp power, social media platform, censorship, social control.

  1. Anzera G., Massa A. (2021), Media digitali e relazioni internazionali. Tecnologie, potere e conflitti nell'era delle piattaforme online, Guerini e Associati, Milano.
  2. Benney J. D., Xu J. (2018), The decline of Sina Weibo: a technological, political, and market analysis, in Kent M., Ellis K., Xu J. (Eds.), Chinese Social Media: Social, Cultural, and Political Implications (1st ed.), Routledge, New York, pp. 221-235.
  3. Boccia Artieri G. (2012), Stati di connessione. Pubblici, cittadini e consumatori nella (social) Network Society, Franco Angeli, Milano.
  4. Breslin S. (2016), China’s global goals and roles: changing the world from second place? «Asian Affairs», 47 (1), pp. 59-70. DOI: 10.1080/03068374.2015.112868
  5. Chan M. (2015), Multimodal connectedness and quality of life: examining the influences of technology adoption and interpersonal communication on well-being across the life span, in «Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication», 20 (1), pp. 3-18.
  6. Chen L.Y., (2022), Influence Empire: The Story of Tencent and China’s Tech Ambition, Hachette UK, London.
  7. Cosenza V. (2022), World Map of Social Network. -- Available at
  8. Deluca K.M., Brunner B., Sun Y. (2016), Weibo, WeChat, and the transformative events of environmental activism on China’s wild public screens, in «International Journal of Communication», 10, pp. 321–339.
  9. Edwards P. N. (2003), Infrastructure and modernity: Force, time and social organization in the history of sociotechnical systems, in Misa T. J., Brey P., Feenberg A. (Eds.), Modernity and technology, MIT Press, Cambridge, pp. 185-226.
  10. Flew T. (2016), Entertainment media, cultural power, and post-globalization: The case of China’s international media expansion and the discourse of soft power, in «Global Media and China», 1 (4), pp. 278–294. DOI: 10.1177/2059436416662037
  11. Gan C., Wang W. (2015), Uses and gratifications of social media: a comparison of microblog and WeChat, in «Journal of System and Information Technology», 17 (4), pp. 351–363. DOI: 10.1108/JSIT-06-2015-0052
  12. Gerlitz C., Helmond A. (2013), The like economy: Social buttons and the data-intensive web, in «New Media & Society», 15, pp. 1348–1365.
  13. Glaser B.S., Murphy M. (2009), Soft power with Chinese Characteristics. The ongoing debate, CSIS. -- Available at:
  14. Gunitsky S. (2015), Corrupting the Cyber-Commons: Social Media as a Tool of Autocratic Stability, in «Perspectives on Politics», 13(1), pp. 42–54. -- Available at:
  15. Hachigian N. (2001), China’s Cyber-Strategy, in «Foreign Affairs», 80(2), pp. 118–133. DOI: 10.2307/20050069
  16. Hagel III J., Singer M. (1999), Net Worth: Shaping Markets when customers make the rules, Harvard Business School Press, Brighton.
  17. Hao L., Ma N., Wan F., Wang Y. (2018), Analysis of the Development of WeChat Mini Program Conference Series, in «Journal of Physics: Conference series», 1087 (6). DOI: 10.1088/1742-6596/1087/6/062040
  18. Harwit E. (2016), WeChat: social and political development of China’s dominant messaging app, in «Chinese Journal of Communication», 10 (3), pp. 312-327. DOI: 10.1080/17544750.2016.1213757
  19. Hamilton C., Ohlberg M. (2021), La mano invisibile. Come il Partito Comunista Cinese sta rimodellando il mondo, Fazi, Roma.
  20. Helmond A. (2015), The Platformization of the Web: Making Web Data Platform Ready, in «Social Media and Society», 1 (2). DOI: 10.1177/2056305115603080
  21. Horwitz J. (2014), Tencent just unleashed a secret weapon for WeChat that will terrify China’s Android app stores, in «Tech in Asia». -- Available at:
  22. Hu Y. (2014), China’s tough new Internet rules explained. China File. -- Available at:
  23. Jacobs A. (2013), Rare protest in China against uranium plant draws hundreds, in «The New York Times». -- Available at
  24. 13/07/13/world/asia/rare-china-protest-against-uranium-plant-draws-hundreds.html
  25. Jun L, Zhang Y (2009), 小QQ大帝国 马化腾传奇 Xiao QQ Dadiguo Mahuatneg Chuanqi [Great Empire of Tencent QQ: Legend of Ma Huateng], Central Compilation & Translation Press, Beijing, China.
  26. Kemp S. (2022), Digital 2022: China. -- Available at:
  27. Lee J. (2021), The Connection of Everything: China and the Internet of Things, MERICS, China Monitor. -- Available at:
  28. Lemley M.A. (2021), The Splinternet, in «Duke Law Journal», 70, pp. 1397-2021.
  29. Li B., Wu Y., Jiang S., Zhai H. (2018), WeChat addiction suppresses the impact of stressful life events on life satisfaction. Cyberpsychol, in «Behaviour and Social Networking», 21 (3), pp. 194–198.
  30. Mao C. (2014), Friends and relaxation: key factors of undergraduate students’ WeChat using, in «Creative Education», 5, pp. 636–640. 8075
  31. Massa A., Anzera G. (2023), Soft power clashes? China in platform geopolitics, in Zhang S.I., Peng A.Y. (ed.), China, Media, and International Conflicts, Routledge, London, p. 41.
  32. Montag C., Becker B., Gan C. (2018), The Multipurpose Application WeChat: A Review on Recent Research, in «Frontiers in Psychology», 11 December.
  33. Negro G. (2017), The development of mobile internet. Weixin (WeChat): A killer application for Sina Weibo? in Negro G. (ed.) The Internet in China, Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp.193–208.
  34. Negro G., Balbi G., Bory P. (2020), The path to WeChat: How Tencent’s culture shaped the most popular Chinese app, 1998–2011, in «Global Media and Communication», 16 (2), pp. 208-226. DOI: 10.1177/1742766520923008
  35. Nye J.S. (2012), Smart Power, Laterza, Roma-Bari.
  36. Nye J.S. (1990), Soft Power, in «Foreign Policy», 80, pp. 153–171. DOI: 10.2307/114858
  37. Plantin J., De Seta G. (2019), WeChat as infrastructure: the techno-nationalist shaping of Chinese digital platforms, in «Chinese Journal of Communication», 12(3), pp. 257-273. DOI: 10.1080/17544750.2019.1572633
  38. Ruan L., Crete-Nishihata M., Knockel J., Xiong R., Dalek J. (2021), The Intermingling of State and Private Companies: Analysing Censorship of the 19th National Communist Party Congress on WeChat, in «The China Quarterly», 246, pp. 497-526. DOI: 10.1017/S0305741020000491
  39. Robinson D., Tannenberg M. (2019), Self-censorship of regime support in authoritarian states: Evidence from list experiments in China, in «Research & Politics», 6(3). DOI: 10.1177/2053168019856449
  40. Ruan L., Crete-Nishihata M., Knockel J., Xiong R., Dalek J. (2021), The Intermingling of State and Private Companies: Analysing Censorship of the 19th National Communist Party Congress on WeChat, in «The China Quarterly», 246, pp. 497-526. DOI: 10.1017/S0305741020000491
  41. Sandel T. L., Ju J. B. (2015), The Code of WeChat: Chinese Students’ Cell Phone Social Media Practices, in Wilburn T. (ed.), Communicating User Experience: Applying Local Strategies Research to Digital Media Design, Lexington Books, London, pp. 103-126.
  42. Srnicek N. (2017), Platform capitalism, Polity Press, Cambridge.
  43. Statista (December 9, 2022), Number of mobile internet users in China from 2018 to 2022 with a forecast until 2027. Retrieved January 24, 2023, -- from
  44. Su C., Flew T. (2021), The rise of Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT) and their role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in «Global Media and Communication», 17(1), pp. 67–86. DOI: 10.1177/174276652098232
  45. Tang M. (2019), Tencent. The Political Economy of China’s Surging Internet Giant, Routledge, New York.
  46. Tiwana A. (2014), Platform ecosystems aligning architecture, governance, and strategy, Elsevier, MA.
  47. Tu F. (2016), WeChat and civil society, in «Communication and the Public», 1(3), 343–350. DOI: 10.1177/2057047316667518
  48. Van Dijck J., de Waal M., Poell T. (2018), The Platform Society. Public Values in a Connective World, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  49. Walker C., Cardenal J.P. (2017), Sharp Power: rising authoritarian influence, National Endowment for Democracy (NED) forum report. -- Available at
  50. Wang X., Gu B. (2016), The Communication Design of WeChat: Ideological as Well as Technical Aspects of Social Media, in «Communication Design Quarterly», 4 (1), pp 23–35. DOI: 10.1145/2875501.2875503
  51. Zeng F., Deng G., Wang Z., Liu L. (2016), WeChat: a new clinical teaching tool for problem-based learning, in «International Journal of Medical Education» 7, pp. 119–121.
  52. Zhou J. (2019), China’s Core Interests and Dilemma in Foreign Policy Practice. «Pacific Focus», 34 (1), pp. 31-54.
  53. Zhu Y., Edney K., Rosen S. (Eds.) (2019), Soft Power With Chinese Characteristics: China’s Campaign for Hearts and Minds, Routledge, London. DOI: 10.4324/9781315208671
  54. Zuiderveen Borgesius F. J., Trilling D., Möller J., Bodó B., de Vreese C. H., Helberger N. (2016), Should we worry about filter bubbles?, in «Internet Policy» Review, 5(1). DOI: 10.14763/2016.1.401

Tatiana Mazali, Lorenza Scaldaferri, The WeChat social media platform from a foreign institution perspective: WeChat’s role as a soft power tool in "SOCIOLOGIA DELLA COMUNICAZIONE " 65/2023, pp 69-89, DOI: 10.3280/SC2023-065005