Exploring the Potential for Mobile Communications to Engender an Engaged Citizenry: A Comparative Study of University Students in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan

Part of the Mobile Communication in Asia: Local Insights, Global Implications book series (MCALIGI)


Over half of the world’s mobile subscriptions are in the Asia-Pacific region, yet the examination of the political implications of mobile phone use in the region is still in its infancy. Using a comparative framework and probability samples of university students in China (N = 896), Hong Kong (N = 794), and Taiwan (N = 982), this study examines different uses of mobile phones and their impact on several indicators of democratic engagement. Findings were very similar across samples. Informational uses of mobile phones were related to more political knowledge, while uses for political discussion were related to offline discussion, political participation, and civic participation. Mobile app use for political discussion was also significant and explained additional variance. While mobile information seeking was not related to either political or civic participation, additional analyses showed that the influence was indirect through mobile political discussion. The study furthers the literature by demonstrating robust relationships between mobile phone use and democratic engagement under different socio-political systems.


Mobile media Political participation Civic participation Asia 



This work was supported by grants from the C-Centre of the School of Journalism and Communication, CUHK (SS13572) for the China and Taiwan samples, and the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (CUHK/459713) for the Hong Kong sample.


  1. Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Boulianne, S. (2009). Does Internet use affect engagement? A meta-analysis of research. Political Communication, 26(2), 193–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brady, H. E., Verba, S., & Schlozman, K. L. (1995). Beyond SES: A resource model of political participation. American Political Science Review, 89(02), 271–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Campbell, S. W. (2013). Mobile media and communication: A new field, or just a new journal? Mobile Media & Communication, 1(1), 8–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Campbell, S. W., & Kwak, N. (2010). Mobile communication and civic life: Linking patterns of use to civic and political engagement. Journal of Communication, 60(3), 536–555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chan, W. (2014). Cell phones and umbrellas: Protesting Hong Kong-style. Retrieved September 1, 2015, from
  7. Chan, M. (2015). Mobile phones and the good life: Examining the relationships among mobile use, social capital and subjective well-being. New Media & Society, 17, 96–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chan, M. (2015a). Examining the influences of news use patterns, motivations, and age cohort on mobile news use: The case of Hong Kong. Mobile Media & Communication, 3(2), 179–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chan, M. (2015b). Mobile phones and the good life: Examining the relationships among mobile use, social capital and subjective well-being. New Media & Society, 17(1), 96–113. doi: 10.1177/1461444813516836.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chang, C. (2009). Political communication in Taiwan. In L. Willnat & A. Aw (Eds.), Political communication in Asia (pp. 72–92). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. China Daily. (2015). Chinese spend more than 40 minutes a day reading wechat. Retrieved July 2, 2015, from
  12. Chu, J., & Chan, H. (2015). 5 ways protesters organized #Occupycentral. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from
  13. CNA. (2014). People in Taiwan spend over an hour a day on Line, Facebook. Retrieved September 21, 2015, from
  14. CNNIC. (2015). Statistical Report on the internet development in China. Retrieved May 5, 2015, from
  15. Delli Carpini, M. X. (2004). Mediating democratic engagement: The impact of communications on citizens’ involvement in political and civic life. In L. L. Kaid (Ed.), Handbook of political communication research (pp. 395–434). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  16. Delli Carpini, M. X., & Keeter, S. (1996). What Americans know about politics and why it matters. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Dimmick, J., Feaster, J. C., & Hoplamazian, G. J. (2011). News in the interstices: The niches of mobile media in space and time. New Media & Society, 13, 23–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Duckett, J., & Wang, H. (2013). Extending political participation in China: New opportunities for citizens in the policy process. Journal of Asian Public Policy, 6(3), 263–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Duggan, M. (2015). Mobile messaging and social media 2015. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from
  20. Eveland, W. P. (2002). News information processing as mediator of the relationship between motivations and political knowledge. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 79(1), 26–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fu, K. W., & Chau, M. (2014). Use of microblogs in grassroots movements in China: Exploring the role of online networking in agenda setting. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 11(3), 309–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. GO Globe. (2015). Social media usage in Hong Hong – Statistics and trends. Retrieved October 5, 2015, from
  23. Hung, C. Y. (2015). Tradition meets pluralism: The receding Confucian values in the Taiwanese citizenship curriculum. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 35(2), 176–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kwak, N., Campbell, S. W., Choi, J., & Bae, S. Y. (2011). Mobile communication and public affairs engagement in Korea: An examination of non-linear relationships between mobile phone use and engagement across age groups. Asian Journal of Communication, 21(5), 485–503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lee, F. L., & Chan, J. (2009). Organizational production of self-censorship in the Hong Kong media. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 14(1), 112–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lee, F. L. F., & Chan, J. M. (2011). Media, social mobiization and mass protests in post-colonial Hong Kong. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Lee, F. L. F., & Chan, J. M. (2015). Digital media activities and mode of participation in a protest campaign: A study of the Umbrella Movement. Information, Communication & Society, online first.Google Scholar
  28. Lee, H., Kwak, N., Campbell, S. W., & Ling, R. (2014). Mobile communication and political participation in South Korea: Examining the intersections between informational and relational uses. Computers in Human Behavior, 38, 85–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Leung, L. (2007). Unwillingness-to-communicate and college students’ motives in SMS mobile messaging. Telematics and Informatics, 24(2), 115–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Leung, D. K. K., & Lee, F. L. F. (2014). Cultivating an online counter-public: Examining usage and political impact of Internet alternative media. International Journal of Press/Politics, 19(3), 340–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Leung, L., & Wei, R. (2000). More than just talk on the move: Uses and gratifications of the cellular phone. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 77(2), 308–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ling, R. (2008). New tech, new ties: How mobile communication is reshaping social cohesion. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  33. Martin, J. A. (2014). Mobile media and political participation: Defining and developing an emerging field. Mobile Media & Communication, 2(2), 173–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. McLeod, J., Shah, D., Hess, D., & Lee, N.-J. (2010). Communication and education: Creating competence for socialization into public life. In L. R. Sherrod, J. Torney-Purta, & C. A. Flanagan (Eds.), Handbook of research on civic engagement in youth (pp. 363–392). Hoboken: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. MIIT. (2015). 2014 Telecommunications Report (in Chinese). Retrieved October 1, 2015, from
  36. Mitchell, A., & Page, D. (2015). State of the news media 2015. Retrieved July 4, 2015, from
  37. NCC. (2015). The brief statistics of communications 2015. Retrieved September 21, 2015, from
  38. Ng, S. W. (2009). Transformation of students into active and participatory citizens: An exploratory study in Hong Kong. Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 8(3), 181–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. OFCA. (2015). Key communications statistics. Retrieved September 17, 2015, from
  40. Park, C. S., & Karan, K. (2014). Unraveling the relationships between smartphone use, exposure to heterogeneity, political efficacy, and political participation: A mediation model approach. Asian Journal of Communication, 24(4), 370–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Preacher, K. J., & Hayes, A. F. (2008). Asymptotic and resampling strategies for assessing and comparing indirect effects in multiple mediator models. Behavior Research Methods, 40(3), 879–891.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Price, V., Nir, L., & Cappella, J. N. (2006). Normative and informational influences in online political discussions. Communication Theory, 16(1), 47–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Putnam, R. D. (1995). Bowling alone: America’s declining social capital. Journal of Democracy, 6(1), 65–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rojas, H., & Puig-i-Abril, E. (2009). Mobilizers mobilized: Information, expression, mobilization and participation in the digital age. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 14(4), 902–927.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Scheufele, D. A. (2000). Talk or conversation? Dimensions of interpersonal discussion and their implications for participatory democracy. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 77(4), 727–743.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Schlozman, K. L., Verba, S., & Brady, H. E. (2010). Weapon of the strong? Participatory inequality and the Internet. Perspectives on Politics, 8(02), 487–509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Shah, D. V., Cho, J., Eveland, W. P., & Kwak, N. (2005). Information and expression in a digital age modeling Internet effects on civic participation. Communication Research, 32(5), 531–565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Singh, A. (2014). Mobile device usage: Singapore v/s Hong Kong. Retrieved September 13, 2015, from[singapore_vs_hongkong]/2/
  49. Tong, Y., & Lei, S. (2010). Large-scale mass incidents and government responses in China. International Journal of China Studies, 1(2), 487–508.Google Scholar
  50. Tuttlebee, W. H. W. (Ed.). (1997). Cordless telecommunications worldwide: The evolution of unlicensed PCS. London: Springer.Google Scholar
  51. Vissers, S., & Stolle, D. (2014). Spill-over effects between Facebook and on/offline political participation? Evidence from a two-wave panel study. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 11(3), 259–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wang, Z. (2008). National humiliation, history education, and the politics of historical memory: Patriotic education campaign in China. International Studies Quarterly, 52(4), 783–806.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wei, R. (2006). Lifestyles and new media: Adoption and use of wireless communication technologies in China. New Media & Society, 8(6), 991–1008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wei, R. (2014). Texting, tweeting, and talking: Effects of smartphone use on engagement in civic discourse in China. Mobile Media & Communication, 2(1), 3–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wei, R., & Lo, V. H. (2006). Staying connected while on the move Cell phone use and social connectedness. New Media & Society, 8(1), 53–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wei, R., & Lo, V.-h. (2015). News on the move: Predictors of mobile news consumption and engagement among Chinese mobile phone users. Electronic News, 9, 177–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wei, R., Lo, V. H., Xu, X., Chen, Y. N. K., & Zhang, G. (2014). Predicting mobile news use among college students: The role of press freedom in four Asian cities. New Media & Society, 16(4), 637–654.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Wen, W. C. (2014). Facebook political communication in Taiwan: 1.0/2.0 messages and election/post-election messages. Chinese Journal of Communication, 7(1), 19–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Yahoo. (2014). Internet use in Taiwan among different devices. Retrieved September 25, 2015, from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chinese University of Hong KongHong KongChina

Personalised recommendations