This virtual ethnographic study explores how Chinese university students use social network sites (SNSs) to participate in civic activities. An ideal of active citizens is contrasted with good citizens (Crick) and insouciant bystanders. We find that students engage with the civic issues embedded in everyday life; their online civic preferences are often linked to their course of study; their participation may involve overcoming technological controls; and they have difficulty in translating their interest in life-politics (Giddens) from online to offline. We conclude that in China SNSs do open up space for civic participation by youth, but do not yet constitute an idealized public sphere (Habermas). Thus, there is a need to develop citizenship education that encourages young people to reflect on their online practice and develop critical online and offline civic participation.