This paper reports on the analysis of results of a survey among Chinese citizens about their intended use of social media to interact with government agencies and associated motivations. Citizens’ use intentions were found to be correlated with citizens’ trust in officials, social influence (peer pressure) and anxiety, but not with trust in government. These results provide building blocks for an explanatory theory of citizens’ use of social media to interact with government, especially in an authoritarian regime like China’s system of public governance. This explanatory theory is consistent with an institutional perspective on technology use, in which use intentions and behaviours are explained by norms, practices and taken-for-granted assumptions, rather than by rational cost-benefit considerations. The paper is concluded with recommendations for comparative research on antecedents of social media in government-citizen relations in various governance systems.