Chinese New Media Cultures in Transition

Weibo and the Carnivalesque

by Minghua Wu (Author)
©2019 Monographs XVI, 204 Pages


Chinese New Media Cultures in Transition: Weibo and the Carnivalesque is an important contribution to international scholarship on Chinese social media and its role in empowering ordinary Chinese netizens to challenge and influence government and mainstream media policies and practices in ways not possible prior to the widespread availability of digital media. This book develops a new model for understanding Chinese netizens’ model of participation in online discussions—Carnivalesque Participatory Discourse—that integrates Bakhtin’s concept of Carnivalesque discourse with concepts drawn from the Chinese cultural context, Weiguan and Meizhi. The model is then applied to case studies of three different major social media events in China, illustrating the usefulness of the model and illuminating scholarly understanding of the features and social-political significance of Chinese online discourse. Chinese New Media Cultures in Transition demonstrates that participating in online discourse and communities in China that are not explicitly political but are playful and humorous can lead to citizen empowerment.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Chinese New Media Cultures in Transition
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Chapter 2. Carnivalesque Discourse: Analysing Civic Participation in Chinese Social Media
  • Chapter 3. Media Regulation: An Ongoing Campaign
  • Chapter 4. Weiguan and Meizhi: Modes of Civic Participation in Contemporary China
  • Chapter 5. Playing Word Games: Subversive Pleasures Through Civic Participation Media Events
  • Chapter 6. A Case Study of China’s 2011 High-Speed Train Accident
  • Chapter 7. Chinese Social Media, Empowerment and the New Sense of Entitlement: Case Studies of Panbi and Can I Swear?
  • Chapter 8. Conclusion
  • Appendix

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Figure 1.1. Weiguan Is a Form of Power

Figure 3.1. The Structure of Social Media Regulation in China

Figure 3.2. The Growth of Chinese Internet Users 2009–2017

Figure 3.3. The Demographic of Chinese Internet Users

Figure 5.1. Smiling Official Ahead of Wreckage during His Inspection of a Truck Crash

Figure 6.1. The Train Crash Between D301 and D3115

Figure A.1. Carnivalesque Participatory Discourse: Chinese Social Media Practices

| xi →


Writing this book was a long journey including a four-year sojourn in Australia, but I did not feel lonely because of so many people’s support and company. At the University of Adelaide, I would like to express my gratitude to the following people: Associate Professor Peter Pugsley, Dr. Sal Humphreys and Associate Professor Xianlin Song, Dr. Robyn Groves and Dr. Kate Cadman for their contributions to my editing skills in relation to Western academic logic. I would like to thanks my friends, Associate Professor Ying Jiang, Dr. Weimin Zhang, Dr. Maarten Rikken, Dr. Bei Guo and Ms Wei Gao, for their friendly and enlightening talk over hundreds of cups of coffee.

I owe many thanks to my parents: Fushen Wu and Guiyun Zhao. Here, I would like to express my deepest love to my mum Guiyun Zhao for her support for me to pursue a fulfilled life. I thank my sister, Jinhua Wu, for her encouragement and love. My special thanks to my son Siqi Qiao, born in the throes of my book writing. Finally, I would like to say thanks to my husband, Guifeng Qiao, for his understanding and support. I owe him an apology for my absence on his birthday and our anniversaries, and for letting him suffer loneliness in the four years of our long distance relationship.

Special thanks to colleagues in the School of Journalism and Communication, at Chongqing University, China. I am also grateful to those anonymous ← xi | xii → reviewers for their criticism and advice on the manuscript and who drew my attention to things I originally neglected. At Peter Lang, my gratitude goes to production editor Luke McCord, and assistant editors Megan Madden, Michelle Smith and Na Li.

Parts of Chapters Two and Five were previously published in an earlier version in “Public Humiliation: Carnival Marketplace and Discourse Power Shifting in Chinese Social Media”. In Song X., Sun Y. (eds), Transcultural Encounters in Knowledge Production and Consumption. Encounters between East and West (Intercultural Perspectives). Springer, Singapore. I acknowledge the publisher for permission to reuse parts of my own article.

The publication of this book is supported by the Fundamental Research Funds (Special Subsidy) for the Central Universities of the People’s Republic of China (Chongqing University, grant number 2018CDJSK07PT27). This study was also supported by Chongqing Social Science Program Project (grant number 2017YBCB060).

| xiii →


CCP Chinese Communist Party

CCTV China Central Television

CNNIC China Internet Network Information Center

CPD Carnivalesque Participatory Discourse

HFSE Human Flesh Search Engine

ICP Internet Content Provider

MII The Ministry of Information Industry

SARFT The State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television

SCIO The State Council Information Office

SPPA The State Press and Publication Administration

| 1 →

· 1 ·


1.1 Background, Significance and Research Questions

In 2011, a tragic high-speed train crash became the subject of a gripping social drama in eastern Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, China. Forty people were dead and over 172 injured in this accident. The government’s initial response to the train crash was to enlist disaster crews to bury the wreckage and explain this was for saving people more easily. Censors instructed journalists of all newspapers that they should not report this accident independently but should follow official media releases. In the immediate aftermath of the accident, some government officials used official media channels to claim that this accident was caused by a lightning strike. However, the general public was not convinced by this explanation and a huge outcry emerged in social media. One of the key players in China’s micro-blog environment, Weibo has emerged as a new social medium and transformed the way people communicate with each other. The Chinese micro-blogging community on Weibo swiftly uploaded images and video of the train accident, leading to a public call for an investigation. The outcry was taken up by the traditional mainstream media against the order of the Propaganda Department, and finally it formed a tidal wave of media protest. This high-speed train accident raised ← 1 | 2 → concerns about public safety and led to public outrage over censorship and corruption.

This episode demonstrated typical Chinese government behaviour and raised important questions about the media landscape, state power and citizenship in China. Social media was able to cut through the state’s usual control of information flows, raising questions about whether networked social media could generate larger social change through the Chinese media landscape. How does such social media use affect the relationship between the state and its citizens? What are the possibilities for change generated by the new modes of communication? Is it possible for this medium to weaken the control of the authoritarian state in any meaningful way? All of these questions are about shifts in power between citizen, commercial media and state media. They are about how citizens generate alternative voices and produce counter-power in a political and personal context in this new media environment. This book argues that social media is shifting the power relationships between citizen, commercial and state media and thereby empowering people through civic participation.

New media, that is, multi-directional digital networked communication, especially social media, transforms human life at the global level because it brings “communication capacities” (Van Dijk 2012, p. 16) and makes networks the basic unit of contemporary society (Castells 2011a, 2011b). Social media, with its high interaction among people in creating and sharing information, has become one of the most important activities in global communication. China has increasingly become a global superpower in the world economically and politically. Today, some scholars wonder what kind of paradigm China will bring to the world since it has a history and culture different from the West (Jacques 2009). What happens to China is of global importance and can redefine the future of the 21st century. It is not possible to understand most social and political issues in Chinese society today without understanding how the media influences insight into and discussion of these issues. Social media is a platform for understanding Chinese society, from how media operates and functions and which channels people get their information from, to how it affects their lives and how they communicate with each other.

Chinese social media provides a key space for ordinary Chinese people to get information and to voice their social and political concerns. In the new information era, there is no way to block or censor all the Chinese letters. Some sensitive issues such as ‘sudden’ incidents, like the high-speed train ← 2 | 3 → crash or urban protests, are no longer just reported according to ‘the official framework’. Consequently, interpretations of truth surrounding particular issues can be contested and subjected to negotiation with the state’s authorities through social media.

The incident described at the beginning of this chapter captures this transformation vividly. It raises questions about the control of the flow of information and challenges the structural inter-relationship between personal media connections, commercial and state media.

In the literature to date published on Chinese new media, two main themes are evident: one is that social media promotes liberal democracy and the other argues against such revolutionary change and suggests it may prolong authoritarianism. Optimistically, some commentators have suggested that the Internet offers tools of resistance to relatively powerless individuals to challenge the hegemonic rule of the Communist Party in China (Herold 2011b; Lei 2011; MacKinnon 2012; Yang 2009). However, when subversive expression confronts “real coercive state power”, changes seem more distant (Tang & Yang 2011, p. 688). Moreover, whether a given challenge can succeed depends on where the state and society interact and the strategies these actors adopt in engaging with each other (Yang 2014; Zheng 2007, p. 13). Because of a strong presence of government regulation in the media environment, there is limited discussion on micro-level or individual online political participation within the specific Chinese context (Dong, Liang & He 2017; Han 2016; Mou, Atkin & Fu 2011, p. 341). However, there have been a limited number of research studies on fundamental questions about contemporary life in China, such as how ordinary people participate in everyday life discourses in China, how subaltern voices can be constructed and heard, and what kinds of social and cultural transformations can be observed in everyday life.

The objective of this research is not merely to identify the main characteristics of Chinese civic participation, but to also show how Chinese citizens are influenced and constructed by culture, the media and social changes in contemporary China. Its central aim is to interpret those aspects of social media’s potential that could transform society using an analytical multidisciplinary framework that focuses on online civic participation. Overall, this book sheds light on the ways Chinese people exercise power through a Carnivalesque participatory discourse (CPD) in the social media sphere and how in this process the majority of ordinary Chinese enjoy subversive pleasures, promote information transparency and cultivate a new sense of entitlement. This book therefore draws upon several contemporary media events to show how ← 3 | 4 → this CPD operates in China to allow an important sector of its community to air their views on significant events, views that may challenge traditional state media reporting in some significant ways.

Research Questions

This book is animated by a number of research questions:


XVI, 204
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XVI, 204 pp., 7 b/w ill., 2 tables

Biographical notes

Minghua Wu (Author)

Minghua Wu is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at Chongqing University (China). She earned her PhD in media from the School of Humanities at the University of Adelaide (Australia). Her research focuses on the Chinese new media cultural transition, discourse and power, and cross-cultural communication.


Title: Chinese New Media Cultures in Transition
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