Camera girl 2.0 : a study of Chinese women's online visual representation in the age of individualization


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Di MENG

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Awarding Institution
Award date15 Jul 2014


This project is a critical study of Chinese "Camera Girls" on social media platforms: women sharing self-generated visual representations on the Internet to initiate interactions with their audiences. These "Camera Girls 2.0" participate in the invention of a new form of interpersonal communication, cultivate a measure of celebrity, make use of the online platform to develop a sense of personal identity and autonomy, and creatively use self- representations on the Internet to raise public awareness concerning relevant social issues. This phenomenon has its origins in the explorations of late 1990s "homecamming" performances by mostly western women, here reconfigured by a younger generation of Chinese women through Web 2.0 platforms based around social networking, video sharing sites, personal blogs, and mobile microblogs. Through textual analysis, in-depth interviews and critical case studies of three discrete groups of young mainland Chinese women in Hong Kong, self-branded micro-celebrities, and online feminism advocates, this study explores the following questions: • How do young Chinese women use online space as a medium of selfexpression, self-exploration, and community building, and how are they empowered by new media technologies to create self-generated, Internet-based autobiographies? • How do they link the entrepreneurial opportunities of capitalism with their online visual representations, market themselves as "micro-celebrities," and merge their self-image with a postmodern brand identity in a consumerist context? And how are these self-branded micro-celebrities located within a media saturated world and increasingly individualized society. • How do Chinese feminist NGOs use women's visual selfrepresentations for emotional mobilization through Internet collective actions to promote and protect the rights of vulnerable groups, and raise pubic attention concerning women's issues? Also, what rhetorical strategies do online feminists use to bring attention to their causes and arouse public discussion on the politics of women's bodies? In order to investigate these questions, my study finds it very important to locate representative groups of young women against the larger background of Chinese society, where processes of individualization on a personal level have intersected with (and mutually influenced) the country's struggle to assimilate aspects of western modernity. Living within large-scale transformations of social and economic institutions since the late 1970s, Chinese citizens have also experienced equally radical changes in the dynamics of individual subjectivity, encountering versions of the "enterprising self" and "desiring self" (Rofel, 2007) that are new to the Chinese context. These transformations have brought with them new freedoms and expressive opportunities, while also burdening individuals with the pressure to succeed in a society defined increasingly in market-dominated terms, and unmoored from the protection of the welfare state, as well as the guiding knowledge of earlier generations. In this new world, Chinese individuals are forced to be proactive, self-initiated, and self-reliant, taking on more personal responsibility as well as the ability to cope with rapid social, cultural, and economic changes. In part because of China's one-child policy, and in conjunction with larger economic reforms, young Chinese women have achieved both a higher level of education and higher expectations for themselves. In this situation, they are more likely to aspire to write their own biographies, and feel a stronger urge for self-fulfillment and self-expression. Nevertheless, there is another aspect of this story. While China's "economic liberalism" (Liu, 2010) has brought about miraculous economic growth, some individuals are clearly better positioned to take advantage of new opportunities than others. During this era of new economic prosperity, a pattern of social restratification has gradually formed, and the gap between rich and poor is widening. The official policy labeled as "socialism with Chinese characteristics" has meant in practice that the state has retreated from direct oversight of most areas of the economy, while maintaining a strict "political authoritarianism" (Liu, 2010). In the reform age, the media have undergone extensive transformations in response to new norms of marketization and privatization. In part because of continued practices of relatively strict censorship of traditional mass media in China, and in part because of its inherent tendencies towards immediacy and interactivity, the Internet has become the preferred space for the public discussion of issues large and small. The individual-centered social media of Web 2.0 have created new opportunities for political expression and participation. Through the presentation of women's images that do not conform to mainstream media conventions, feminists advocate for the autonomy of women's bodies and the protection of vulnerable groups. In this study, through an observation and description some of these activities, the picture of young Chinese women using social media becomes more complex.

    Research areas

  • China, Individualism, Internet and women