A study of online citizenship practices of Chinese young people
AffiliationMelbourne Graduate School of Education
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2017 Dr Jun Fu
This thesis is positioned at the intersection between studies of citizenship in China and studies of the Chinese internet. It complements these two bodies of scholarship by investigating young Chinese internet users’ online engagement through the lens of citizenship practice. More specifically, it looks into young Chinese internet users’ online activities to understand how they practice their citizenship online and what these practices mean to them as citizens. Thirty-one urban Chinese aged from 19 to 33 participated in the study. Online observation of participants’ social media homepages was carried out to collect data about their online activities, and internet-mediated audio interviews were conducted to explore their accounts of these activities. The results show that citizenship is practiced by participants online on two interconnected levels. The first is represented by their practice of online citizenship, defined by the norms and practices of the online community with which they engage. The second level is their practice of Chinese citizenship as it is manifest in their internet-mediated engagement with different social communities and networks. On each level, the citizenship practiced by participants can be understood in three dimensions, namely: citizenship learning, identity formation, and action for social change. Their practice of online citizenship is a process through which they learn about the norms and language practices of online communities through engagement with these communities, form their identity as online citizens by aligning their online activity to accepted online practices, and contribute to constructing an equal and tolerant online space rich in reliable information and diverse opinions. Participants’ Chinese citizenship was also practiced in three dimensions. First, it is practiced as a form of learning about Chinese society and their position in this society through internet-mediated social engagement. Second, their Chinese citizenship is practiced as identity performance, consisting of: 1) normalised identity performance on WeChat to consolidate identity in their physical lives, and 2) values-based performance on Weibo to form and maintain identity so as to navigate their lives in a drastically changing society. Third, their practices of Chinese citizenship are represented in their endeavours to improve Chinese society through internet-mediated social engagement. These practices are collectively shaped by three orientations of action, namely: angry youth, powerless cynics, and realistic idealists. These orientations are underpinned by the fluid and contingent subjectivity which unfolds in their engagement with the Chinese society which they experience in virtual and physical spaces. In sum, young Chinese people’s online citizenship practices illustrate a notion of citizenship that is little associated with the state. It is more of a social and cultural citizenship defined by the norms and practices of the socio-cultural communities with which they engage in their everyday lives. These norms and practices were learned through, performed in, and shaped by young people’s participation in these communities.
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