Social Media In Rural China
Tom McDonald
Politics & Social Sciences
Social Media In Rural China

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, social media is already deeply integrated into the everyday experience of many rural Chinese people. 

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. 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.

Half Title
Introduction to the series Why We Post
List of figures
List of tables
Note on the text
1 Introduction and field site: Down to the countryside
Chapter outline: from circles to strangers
Ways of understanding social media in rural China
The problem of ‘the Chinese internet’
Social media on ‘the Chinese internet’
Internet use in rural China
Locating Anshan Town
Moral frameworks in Anshan Town
The town and its people: an outsider’s view
Households and families
Manual workers: from farms to factories
Service jobs: small-​private traders, government and enterprise
Travelling educated workers: from the town and from elsewhere
Elite: leaders and businesspeople
Homes, wealth and possessions
Urban connections: mobility and gender
Doing field work
Conclusion: the ideal life of Anshan Town
2 The social media landscape: Visibility and economy
Changing communications and rural informatisation in Anshan Town
Anshan Town’s social media platforms: affording visibility
Microblogs (Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo)
Non-​Chinese social media
Economies of access
Smartphones and mobile broadband
Home broadband connections
Work ​unit broadband
Internet café
Conclusion: Choice and constraint
3 Visual postings: Idealising family –​ love, marriage and ‘little treasures’
‘Treasure one ​hundred-​day photographs’: a wealth of variety
The desire for a ‘wealthy’ variety of baby photos
From print albums to Qzone sharing of baby photos
Love and devotion
Romantic memes: How teenagers talk about love online
Posting about one’s own love: legitimised experience of newly married couples
Expressions of thanks to parents (or friends?)
‘Shared’ values
4 Relationships: Circles of friends, encounters with strangers
Defining circles
A circle of schoolmates
Families online: absence of online parent–​child relationships
Class groups and QQ groups
Changing circles: high-​school, university and work
Seeking out strangers
Aliases, avatars and anonymity: bridging friends and strangers
Messily adding: encountering disorder
Romance among students
Social media in marriage: the stranger as the ‘third one’
Conclusion: Making moral relations
5 Moral accumulation: Collecting credits on social media
Gamification is not an explanation
Bureaucratic measures: The rules governing level accumulation (or how to get 2.89 days out of 9.5 hours)
‘Online time’: putting in the hours
Trading levels for invisibility
Paying for privilege
Levels on other social media platforms
User agency: the manipulation of accumulation
Staying logged in
Getting the help of friends
Multiple accounts
Paid membership
Accounting for accumulation: level accumulation and morality
‘Growing up’ and level accumulation
Understanding accumulation: the hard work of gambling
From money to morals: the appeal of cash-​less gambling on QQ
Conclusion: entrepreneurship, social media and social transformation
6 Broader relations: The family, the state and social media
Cause for control: Protecting nation and family
State-​level controls: The Golden Shield
Deleted posts and frozen accounts
Limiting youth access
Appropriate content: propaganda and patriotism
Tencent news: national news delivery via social media
Patriotic postings
Monetised media: business and friendship on social media
Social media for promotion
Conclusion: Making social media moral –​ from content to commerce
7 Conclusion: Circles and strangers, media moralities and ‘the Chinese internet’
Circles and strangers: individualistic relations
Media moralities
Understanding ‘the Chinese internet’ and its social media
Appendix –​ Methodology
Questionnaire A
Questionnaire B
Questionnaire C
Glossary of selected Chinese terms
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