Communication placation: State appropriation of satire in China

All Abstracts > Communication placation: State appropriation of satire in China

Communication placation: State appropriation of satire in China

Authors | Affiliation:
Yipeng Xi | National University of Singapore; Aaron Yi Kai Ng | National University of Singapore

Presenting at:
Panel 2C | China’s techno-social realities and futures


This paper examines how authorities shape the contours of satirical expressions and online political culture in China. With Chinese netizens increasingly using creative tactics such as satire on contentious topics to influence public opinion, instead of clamping down, the Chinese government appropriates citizen generated satire as a form of strategic governance. Building upon social movement theories and effect-based studies on satire, we propose six content, resource and environment-related predictors that affect the extent of responsiveness from the government. Using 39 popular satirical political buzzwords1 from 2010 to 2019 and their relevant Weibo posts and media reports, we conducted fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis (FSQCA) to understand when and how the government responds to those satirical voices.

FSQCA reveals that pre-emption and co-option are two of the most frequent employed strategies in reaction to citizen-generated satirical voices. Specifically, when citizen-generated satire conveys indignation at specific authorities and employ irony, the Chinese government gives recognition to citizens’ appeals underlying the satire but does not encourage its further transmission (pre-emption). However, when citizen-generated satire conveys indignation unspecific to any authority and employs playful rhetoric, the Chinese government adapts and appropriates the satire more actively into its discourse for further transmission (co-option).

Instead of giving in to the demands of the populace expressed through citizen-generated satire, the Chinese government appears to focus on placating the populace’s mood and diverting away citizens’ attention to their unhappiness instead. We call this emerging tactic of a non-heavy-handed, light-touch approach to managing public opinion in China “communication placation”. Communication placation operates either in charm defensiveness or charm offensiveness. Through this study, we contribute to illustrating the complexity in governance strategy through the use of soft governance to convert public criticism into opportunities for shaping a more positive image of the government.

About the authors

Yipeng Xi


Yipeng Xi is a PhD candidate in the Department of Communications and New Media, National University of Singapore. His research focuses on political communication in authoritarian contexts. Currently, his works on civic engagement, public opinion and collective action have appeared in several journals, such as New Media and Society, Global Media and China and Humanities and Social Sciences.

Aaron Yi Kai Ng

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Aaron Yi Kai Ng is a final-year PhD candidate at the Department of Communications and New Media, National University of Singapore. He has broad research interests such as online misinformation, artificial intelligence, public opinion, scientific communication and health communication. He is especially interested in researching Asian contexts, strongly believing that findings and insights from Asian contexts can greatly augment and advance humanity’s collective knowledge and wisdom.

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