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Information from Abroad: Foreign Media, Selective Exposure and Political Support in China

  • Haifeng Huang and Yao-Yuan Yeh


What kind of content do citizens in a developing and authoritarian country like to acquire from Western free media? What are the effects of their potentially selective exposure? In a survey experiment involving 1,200 Chinese internet users from diverse socio-demographic backgrounds, this study finds that Chinese citizens with higher pro-Western orientations and lower regime evaluations are more inclined to read content that is positive about foreign countries or negative about China. More importantly, reading relatively positive foreign media content about foreign countries can improve rather than worsen the domestic evaluations of citizens who self-select such content. The article argues that this is because reputable Western media outlets’ reports are generally more realistic than overly rosy information about foreign socio-economic conditions that popularly circulates in China. Consequently, foreign media may have a corrective function and enhance regime stability in an authoritarian country by making regime critics less critical. The article also introduces a new variant of the patient preference trial design that integrates self-selection and random assignment of treatments in a way that is useful for studying information effects.



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School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, University of California, Merced (email:; Center for International Studies, University of St. Thomas (email: A previous version of this article was titled ‘Foreign Media, Selective Exposure, and Opinion Change in China’. For helpful comments, the authors would like to thank three anonymous reviewers, Editor Rob Johns, Junyan Jiang, Nikitas Konstantinidis, Patricia Maclachlan, Andrew Mertha, Graeme Robertson, Hans Stockton, Wenfang Tang, Wen-Chin Wu, Dali Yang and audience members at EPSA, MPSA, Cornell University China-Russia Workshop, University of Chicago East Asia Workshop and Zhejiang University Institute of Advanced Study in Humanities and Social Sciences (ZJUIAS). Huang would also like to thank ZJUIAS for hosting him as a visiting scholar in summer 2016 to work on the article. Replication data are available at and online appendices are available at



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Information from Abroad: Foreign Media, Selective Exposure and Political Support in China

  • Haifeng Huang and Yao-Yuan Yeh


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