All Abstracts > A good China story or a wasteful practice: Chinese social eating livestreams under scrutiny
A good China story or a wasteful practice: Chinese social eating livestreams under scrutiny
Author | Affiliation:
Lina Qu | Michigan State University
Under the state mandate to “tell the China story well”, a multifaceted master narrative of Xi’s China is being constructed for its national subjects and global fans. This cause taps technological affordances of different media platforms and networks as well as transnational communities of different audiences. It illustrates the principle of China’s cultural governance and evinces its will to soft power under Xi. My research on this topic begins with the CCTV food documentary series A Bite of China or China on the Tip of Tongue, which has been resoundingly praised for “telling the China story well”. The great fanfare created by this food documentary, home and abroad, attests to the effects of employing symbolic values of Chinese cuisines in showcasing China’s new affluence.
A Bite of China presages the mushrooming of food visuals on Chinese social media, including social eating livestreams (chibo). What Roland Barthes terms the “communicative signs of food” convey a new message about Chinese affluence, facilitated by digital communication technologies. The sensational visuals of binge eating on chibo embody China’s material abundance and gastronomical indulgence, contributing to the narrative of Chinese affluence “on the tip of tongue”. Thus, the boom of the chibo scene around 2015 is attributed to both the emergence of livestreaming infrastructure and the formulation of the cultural logic that substantiates performing Chinese affluence through flaunting wealth (xuanfu) on social media.
However, the rhetoric of affluence, especially its surreptitious endorsement of conspicuous overconsumption, has moral implications. In the post-COVID 19 era, the good China story is scrutinized, and the performances of binge eating on chibo are now chastised for generating and advertising “waste on the tip of tongue”. The recent crackdown on chibo amidst the nationwide campaign of fighting food waste lays bare the fluctuations and contradictions in China’s cultural governance.
About the author
Lina Qu obtained her Ph.D. in comparative and Chinese literature from Rutgers University, and she is now an assistant professor of Chinese at Michigan State University. As a feminist culture scholar, Qu researches and publishes in two major fields of study, one being women’s literary and cultural production in modern China, the other being the relationship between China’s cultural governance and its integration into the global scene of popular media culture. She is currently working on her first book, tentatively titled ‘The Genealogy of Hungry Women Writers and Artists: Rethinking Chinese Modernity through the Art of Female Hunger’.