The eyes of the internet : emerging trends in contemporary Chinese culture
China in the new millennium has witnessed the surge of the digital wave, which has played a pivotal role in reshaping the social and cultural landscapes. This dissertation employs institutional and content analysis to link the ascendance of Internet culture with the state-led marketization, commercialization, and modernization project. By systematically examining blog and Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs), two of the most dynamic online spaces in China, it brings to the fore the intertwining official, commercial, individual, and social forces conducive to the vitality, ingenuity, and diversity of Internet culture in China. The main body of this dissertation is divided into four chapters. Chapter one describes the developmental history of the Internet and blogging industry in China, and discusses how the rule of the attention economy dominates the industrial practice of commercial Internet portals. By taking Sina.com as a primary case study, this chapter elucidates how the strategic structuring of attention is paramount for Sina.com’s success in promoting celebrity blogs. In turn, celebrity blogging has fundamentally changed the social and cultural landscape of China. The following three chapters delineate three prominent cultural modes digital media have fostered: fun-seeking, trailblazing, and taboo-breaking. Each formulation epitomizes how a particular style of attention rule is implemented in online space. Chapter two investigates how the playful collective attention projected on an alternative media type fosters the birth of China’s first Internet celebrity: Furong Jiejie (Sister Lotus). Chapter three explores how the “attention-haves,” represented by such celebrities as Yang Lan and Xu Jinglei, innovatively capitalize on the attention rule and engage in new modes of cultural production via new media. In chapter four, I use blogs of Mu Zimei and Han Han as examples, and detail how their taboo-breaking practices disrupt preset parameters of social, cultural, and political norms. I contend their particular style of blogging greatly contributes to catching public attention and engaging in contentious issues, which further fosters the emergence of a literal public sphere in contemporary China.