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China and Inner Asia
In Session: What’s on the Chinese Internet? Moving from Grassroots Expression to Institutional Content Provision
2: Fantasizing Chinese Dreams: Alter-history Novels as Commodified, Personal, and Political Expression
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
University of Georgia, United States
Current studies on cyber politics in authoritarian regimes such as China tend to focus on limited scopes of topics and platforms—politically sensitive and contested content on social media sites. This paper, based on long-term observation of Internet literature, examines how such a largely commercialized and entertaining form of expression serves as a special realm of socio-political expression. Through investigation of a specific genre of Internet novels, alter-history novels, the paper shows how the state, the writers, the business platforms, and readers have together imagined and contested an ideal China in the literary realm (and in hypothetical or parallel universes). While such writings in general help legitimize authoritarian rule by echoing the official rhetoric of “Chinese dream” and allowing the Party-state to shape the public perception of itself, the production, distribution, and consumption of such works are highly personalized and commodified, allowing the flourish of multiple Chinese dreams in which China are made great (again) in various different ways that deviate and challenge the official discourse of Chinese dream. The paper argues that the plethora of nonofficial Chinese dreams manifest the historical, social, economic, technological, and political realities of today’s China. More specifically, besides reflecting the regulatory and control preferences of the state, online writing and reading is a technologically enabled experience that heavily driven by the literacy enthusiasm and monetary motivation of writers, business and risk calculations of Internet literature platforms, as well as the interactive and communal relationship among writers and readers.