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Playing politics digitally

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'Playing politics digitally: young Chinese people’s political feelings on social media platforms'

Wenhao Bi's paper 'Playing politics digitally: young Chinese people’s political feelings on social media platforms in the forthcoming special issue 'Cultural critique and the politics of identity for the journal Cultural Studies is now available online at

Wenhao is currently in his third year of PhD research at CIM and is a member of the Centre for Digital Inquiry. Abstract Young Chinese people’s reactions on social media platforms after the announcement of the 2016 Taiwan presidential election result have resonated with the Chinese government’s position on cross-strait relations. Given the depoliticized ideological condition in place, the passion in the spontaneous, self-organized posting of comments and political memes and its inconsistency with the general reluctance to be politically involved in everyday life raise questions about political expectations and the underlying factors. While Chinese social media count as one of the few realms accommodating possibilities and elasticity in public discussions and collective actions in the post-Tiananmen era, the commentary, and participation one finds involve the pretence and as-if-ness embedded in playfulness – the kind that conveys transgressive messages in milder tones while giving voice to scorns for, disagreements with, and parodies of the existing structure of governance. This paper probes into the approach of digital activism through online commentative spaces by examining the surge of such political comments and memes. It regards digital participation as a distinctive representation of young Chinese people’s political feelings within the everyday dynamics and emphasizes the condition of active participation under the ubiquity of political scrutiny and, hence, the necessity of playfulness. The tactic termed ‘playing politics digitally’ is coined to capture the obedience and twists working within the structural settings, to mark the middle ground between playfulness and seriousness in the digital platform, and to underline the ephemerality and instability of the precarious participation it offers to youth today. While playfully extracting and composing nationalistic/patriotic elements amid the emergence of civic engagement and a sense of empowerment or activeness, the temporal and disposable nature of such digital participation rehearses the possibility of citizenship among young Chinese people.