Shanzhai Online Videos in China: Governance and Resistance through Media




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This dissertation explores the production, circulation, and regulation of Shanzhai online videos in order to understand how people's everyday lives are governed and how the governing power is resisted through the media system in contemporary China.

This research is situated in the specific socio-cultural and historical context where Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) have proliferated among various social strata, where the media are both the propagandistic mouthpiece and a profit-oriented industry, and where people are encouraged to pursue their life goals under a neoliberal rationality that is pervasive in media.

I use a Foucauldian framework to examine the power modalities and power relationships manifested in the Shanzhai practices. I argue that both disciplinary power and the power of governmentality are found in this cultural practice. It is through the production, circulation and regulation of Shanzhai videos that power is exercised on different parties involved in this process as governance and resistance.

This power relationship, I argue, is explicated through a ritualistic view of the reality presented in the trans-media, trans-genre narratives that people internalize in order to develop specific ways of using media to pursue their life goals. Meanwhile, people also employ various strategies to negotiate for resources to achieve these goals. In these negotiations, power relationships manifested themselves as their actions upon each other. Ordinary people are disciplined through patterned uses of media to live their lives and governed by a neoliberal mentality to pursue their life projects on the Internet. However, there is more than one set of discourses with a claim to the "truth" about Shanzhai in Chinese media. Thus, people are also empowered to take advantage of this discrepancy to gain symbolic as well as material favors.

This study examined a nuanced and dialectic power relationship in contemporary Chinese society. First, it is found that people are both empowered and subjected to the ways they use media to pursue personal goals. Second, the resistance in the Shanzhai practices not only brought them symbolic power as much previous literature suggests, but also material resources such as media access and sponsorship. Last, the holistic view of the media system helps us situate Shanzhai online videos in the convergent media environment and draw a better picture of the web of power relationships.