China’s distinctive social media platforms have gained notable popularity among the nation’s vast number of internet users, but has China’s countryside been ‘left behind’ in this communication revolution?
Tom McDonald spent 15 months living in a small rural Chinese community researching how the residents use social media in their daily lives. His ethnographic findings suggest that, far from being left behind, many rural Chinese people have already integrated social media into their everyday experience.
Throughout his ground-breaking study, McDonald argues that social media allows rural people to extend and transform their social relationships by deepening already existing connections with friends known through their school, work or village, while also experimenting with completely new forms of relationships through online interactions with strangers, particularly when looking for love and romance. By juxtaposing these seemingly opposed relations, rural social media users are able to use these technologies to understand, capitalise on and challenge the notions of morality that underlie rural life.
Praise for Social Media in Rural China
'The two freely accessible books [Social Media in Industrial China and Social Media in Rural China] are conceived as introductions for the public at large, theoretical references being deliberately kept limited and relegated to the last parts. They offer the generalist reader very vivid and contextualised descriptions of social media usages in two very different milieus in China, but perhaps leave the more specialist readers craving more in terms of theoretical discussions and overviews of existing literature. They nevertheless represent an invitation to read the works of synthesis stemming from this collective research project, which ought to meet the demand for more theoretical generalisations'
Tom McDonald is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, The University of Hong Kong. He received his PhD in Anthropology from UCL in 2013 and has published numerous academic articles on internet use and consumption practices in China.
Introduction and field site: Down to the countryside
The Social Media Landscape: Visibility and economy
Visual Postings: Idealising family – love, marriage and ‘little treasures’
Relationships: Circles of friends, encounters with strangers
Moral accumulation: Collecting credits on social media
Broader relations: The family, the state and social media
Conclusion: Circles and Strangers, Media Moralities, and ‘the Chinese Internet’
Format: Open Access PDF
Publication: September 13, 2016
Series: Why We Post 5