From "Creative Auteur" to "Broiler Chicken": An Investigation into the Process of Chinese Wanghong Industrialization


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

View graph of relations


Related Research Unit(s)


Awarding Institution
Award date10 Dec 2021


Social media have rapidly changed the dynamics of celebrity cultures. A rising number of fame-seekers participate in the so-called “Do-it-Yourself (DIY)” celebrity plan, through which ordinary people emerge as social media influencers (SMIs) when they share valuable information on social media platforms. While interest in social media influencers is growing, there is a lack of agreement among both scholars and practitioners regarding the terms that define a social media influencer and the characteristics that distinguish the various terms (e.g., micro-celebrity, internet celebrity, instafamous, and YouTubers). Moreover, the majority of previous studies have looked at SMIs in predominantly English-speaking contexts, exploring SMIs’ self-presentation and self-branding strategies. In China, fame-seekers who want to be a Wanghong (Internet celebrity in Chinese, one type of SMIs) mainly collaborate with Wanghong agencies. These institutions guide them in performing highly industrialized online practices and offer opportunities to work with other stakeholders (e.g., brands, e-commerce platforms, and social media platforms) for monetization, which has resulted in Chinese Wanghong becoming a commercially successful and ubiquitous form of industry. Furthermore, as new media innovations emerge, such as live-streaming communication, multi-media presentations, and algorithms-based recommendations, the chances of average people gaining exposure on social media through their own efforts have decreased. Thus, a better understanding of the gradual standardization of the Chinese Wanghong industry is needed. The following research question has been proposed: How has the Wanghong industry evolved and thrived within the growing Chinese market and the dynamism of social media developments? More specifically, how have digital media technologies, the broader commercial environment, and sociocultural contexts shaped and later transformed Wanghong (in China)?

By answering this research question, this project aims to frame the ecological system of Chinese Wanghong as one that invokes a multilevel analysis. First, this dissertation starts with a systematic review of previous SMI literature to classify different terms for SMIs and offers updated definitions and characteristics of the various terms to better understand the growing number of digital content creators and their status. By identifying the uniqueness of Chinese Wanghong as a multi-dimensional concept, I place Chinese Wanghong at the center of attention of this dissertation. Subsequently, the following chapters explore the practices and dynamics of Chinese Wanghong from several key perspectives,

(1) how individual fame-seekers craft online popularity: At the initial stage, how did individual Chinese Wanghong attract others’ attention on social media?

(2) how Chinese Wanghong make money while keeping sustainable fame: Why do people like to buy from Chinese Wanghong? How do Chinese Wanghong maintain authenticity while selling goods?

(3) how Chinese Wanghong have been commodified as a profitable and standardized industry: What have been the changes in the Wanghong industry since professionals moved in? How do people in the Wanghong industry work and live? What are the power dynamics behind their fame-seeking practices?

Based on mixed methods, including a systematic literature review approach, the in-depth interviews, a quantitative survey, and offline ethnographic fieldwork combined with digital ethnography, this project reflects Chinese Wanghong’s fame-seeking practices and discusses the changes in the Wanghong industry, from ‘Do-it-yourself’ to ‘Do-what-they-say.’ This project also seeks to outline the evolving Wanghong ecology that cultural intermediation has created among Wanghong, social media platforms, and the Wanghong agencies.