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Thursday, June 8 • 2:10pm - 2:30pm
Being Chinese Online – Discursive (Re)production of Internet-Mediated Chinese National Identity

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A further investigation into how Chinese national(ist) discourses are (re)shaped online on an everyday basis by diverse socio-political actors (especially ordinary users) can contribute to not only deeper understandings of Chinese national sentiments on China’s Internet but also richer insights into the socio-technical ecology of the contemporary Chinese digital (and physical) world. My enquiry aims at altering the focus of Chinese digital nationalism studies from merely fervent and political-charged online expressions of Chinese national sentiments to the discursive (re)shaping of the Chinese-ness via multiple socio-political actors’ everyday national(ist) discussions on China’s web. By making sense of how Chinese digital technologies’ affordances inform Chinese national(ist) discourses and their embodied national identities’ (re)production online, this study will be useful to both Chinese ICTs and nationalism researchers. This investigation will also uncover the underlying socio-political patterns and trends within the socio-technical context where significances of the Chinese nation are discursively (re)shaped online. Overall, it will offer significant implications for entities like the governments, corporations, news media and international organisations both in China and abroad concerned about socio-political impact of Chinese digital nationalism when dealing with problems about PRC. I adopt a discourse analytical approach to national identity and an ethnographic methodology with Sina Weibo (a Twitter-like microblogging site) and bilibili (a YouTube-like video-streaming platform) as ‘fieldsites’. The data collection method is virtual ethnographic observation on everyday national(ist) discussions on both platforms. Objects for observations on the two ‘fieldsites’ are dissimilar because of their differential socio-technical affordances. For Sina Weibo, observations centre upon targeted discussions on topics/objects that may evoke national(ist) sensibilities, whilst for bilibili, emphasis is located on ‘barrage’ comments and postings in the comments section attached to specific videos and other textual content which may elicit national(ist) feelings. On each ‘fieldsite’, I observe how different socio-political actors contribute to the discursive (re)generation of Chinese national identity on a day-to-day basis with attention to forms and content of national(ist) accounts that they publicise on each ‘fieldsite’, contextual factors of their posting and reposting of and commenting on national(ist) narratives and their interactions with other users about certain national(ist) discourses on each platform. Critical discourse analysis is employed to analyse data. From November 2021 to December 2022, I have conducted 36 weeks’ digital ethnographic observations with 36 sets of fieldnotes. Based on fieldnotes of the first week’s observations, I found multifarious national(ist) discourses on Sina Weibo and bilibili, targeted both at national ‘Others’ and ‘Us’, both on the historical and real-world dimension, both aligning with and differing from or even conflicting with official discourses, both direct national(ist) expressions and articulations of sentiments in the name of presentation of national(ist) attachments but for other purposes. Second, Sina Weibo and bilibili users have agency in interpreting and deploying concrete national(ist) discourses despite the leading role played by the government and the two platforms in deciding on the basic framework of national expressions. There are also disputes and even quarrels between users in terms of explanations for concrete components of ‘nation-ness’ and (in)direct dissent to officially defined ‘mainstream’ discourses to some extent, though often expressed much more mundanely, discursively and playfully. Third, the (re)production process of national(ist) discourses on Sina Weibo and bilibili depends upon not only technical affordances and limitations of the two sites but also, to a larger degree, some established socio-political mechanisms and conventions in offline China, e.g., the authorities’ acquiescence of citizens’ freedom in understanding and explaining concrete elements of national discourses while setting the basic framework of national narratives to the extent that citizens’ own national(ist) expressions do not reach political bottom lines and develop into mobilising power to shake social stability.


Zhiwei Wang

PhD student, University of Edinburgh

Thursday June 8, 2023 2:10pm - 2:30pm EDT
ARC E-13