President Xi Jinping is the most popular among a group of 15 commonly discussed public figures, a study of more than 1,700 college students has found. About 96 per cent of those students who mentioned the Chinese president or shared posts about him on Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, over the past two years showed a positive attitude towards him, a study by a Fudan University research team found. Though criticism of state leaders or the government is often quickly removed on social media platforms, which could have affected the result, researchers said it was still notable that so many students described Xi using favourable expressions. The researchers selected 15 commonly discussed public figures online and studied the posts of the 1,700 students on Weibo over the past two years to see who had been mentioned the most. They also studied how well liked each personality was, among those students who had mentioned them. “When mentioning the president, the words ‘Xi Dada’, which has positive connotations and bears a sense of closeness, was the most frequently used, rather than ‘Xi’ or ‘President Xi’, which are neutral,” said one of the researchers. Han Han, the author and racing driver; Wang Sicong, the outspoken son of one of the mainland’s richest men; and Jack Ma, the Alibaba founder, were the three most talked about public figures. Ma was the second most popular public figure after Xi. Ninety per cent of students who mentioned Ma said they liked and admired him, saying he represented young people’s passion for entrepreneurship, exploring the internet and their desire for wealth and success. Han, 32, was popular because of his individuality and talent in art and litreature, while Wang, the son of tycoon Wang Jianlin, attracted attention because of his sharp remarks and often unconventional behaviour, the researchers said. About 70 per cent of the students who mentioned Wang, 27, liked him because he was an unabashed individual, raised partly in the West, whose behaviour was sometimes at odds with traditional Chinese values. Wang created huge controversy on the internet in February, and was the subject of a lengthy critical commentary published by the state-run news agency Xinhua, by saying his main criteria for finding a girlfriend was that she had large breasts. Japanese animator and film director Hayao Miyazaki and the Chinese boy band TFBOYS came fourth and fifth in terms of the number of mentions by students over the past two years. Miyazaki, whose films include Spirited Away and The Wind Rises, was highly respected among students, with many saying his work gave them a warm, loved feeling. The research also found that young mainlanders showed less interest in public affairs and academic debates than the general public. The six people who the sample group least talk about were all intellectuals, including Fang Zhouzi and Kong Qingdong.