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The politics of online wordplay: on the ambivalences of Chinese internet discourse

Huang, Yanning (2018) The politics of online wordplay: on the ambivalences of Chinese internet discourse. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Chinese cyberspace is vibrant with new expressions created and disseminated by Internet users. Generally light in tone, terms such as ‘Grass Mud Horse’ and diaosi (literally meaning ‘dick strings’) have been argued to constitute a playful and satirical form of speech exemplifying grassroots netizens’ carnivalesque resistance against the authoritarian party-state. Grounded in and informed by a historical review of the transformations of class and gender relations in China, my doctoral research goes beyond such a dichotomising framework by adopting a critical socio-linguistic perspective. Through extensive original discourse analysis, focus groups and in-depth interviews with a cross-section of the Chinese urban and rural youth population, I sketch out two major ambivalences of online wordplay in Chinese cyberspace, finding that, on the one hand, it simultaneously recognises and disavows the living conditions of the truly underprivileged—migrant manual workers; and, on the other hand, that it both derides the lifestyles of the economically dominant and also displays a desire for middle-class lifestyles. Interviews further reveal that Chinese Internet discourse articulates tensions between the stance of urban young men in the lower-middle class and that of urban young women in the middle class. The former reveals men’s anxieties and self-victimisation at what could be called the changing gender order. The latter emphasises women’s autonomy and aspirations with regard to ideal masculinities. I conclude that this latter stance is underpinned by an emerging ideology of ‘consumerist feminism’, which celebrates women’s empowerment but limits this to the private realm and to personal consumption. Finally, the thesis also takes into account the co-option of Internet discourse by corporations and party media and the ways in which this shapes the changing connotations of online wordplay and its bearing on the wider social order and power struggles in contemporary China.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2018 TYanning Huang
Library of Congress subject classification: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1990 Broadcasting
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Meng, Bingchun and Banaji, Shakuntala

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