Literary Celebrities and Media Ecologies in Modern China
3: Writing in the Age of WeChat: A Case Study of Huang Tongtong
Friday, March 25, 2022
9:30am – 11:00am EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Carleton College, United States
The second decade of the twenty-first century has witnessed the exponential growth of WeChat public accounts, which revolutionize the way original content is distributed and commodified. Existing scholarship has examined the extent to which this platform bears democratic potential, the role that WeChat plays in catalyzing new forms of civic engagement activities, and how it fosters the reinvention of propaganda strategies. By contrast, little critical attention has been devoted to the sociocultural implications of public accounts, particularly on how creative writing and literary fame are significantly reshaped via emerging technological platforms.
This paper addresses this gap in literature and takes Huang Tongtong, a former journalist who transitions into a celebrity writer, WeChat public account operator, and entrepreneur, as a case study. Huang’s career trajectory is representative of many journalists, who, amidst the drastic decline of commercial print media in the 2010s, begin to create their own media platforms on WeChat. Engaging in a close reading of Huang’s literary works and WeChat essays, this paper examines the ways in which WeChat-mediated authenticity factor into shaping literary fame in the contemporary era. Huang’s writings not only strike a chord with middle class readers who feel increasingly precarious about their status, but it also advocates an alternative lifestyle that inspires urbanites to pursue their passion. The many parallels between her WeChat essays and creative writing thereby showcase the cross-fertilization of media platforms and literary genres, new and old.