Disciplining the Underclass Users on Kuaishou: Hanmai Rap Videos and Social Class

All Abstracts > Disciplining the Underclass Users on Kuaishou: Hanmai Rap Videos and Social Class

Disciplining the Underclass Users on Kuaishou: Hanmai Rap Videos and Social Class

Authors | Affiliation:
Jiaxi Hou | The University of Tokyo; Yanhui Zhang | Tsinghua University

Presenting at:
Panel 2A | Invisible Chinese Internet Users and Infrastructures


The involvement of various disadvantaged social groups into the Chinese online space was simultaneous with the rapid developments of new social media platforms in particular Kuaishou and Douyin centering on mobile video-clip sharing. Members from the subordinate social groups (either rural residents, migrant workers, families from the rust belt regions or people with disabilities) were once perceived as the unimagined (Burrell 2011, Oreglia 2018) or even “vulgar” users in the presumed middle-class Internet culture. However, both the development of the grassroot Internet market and government’s intensified attention in poverty reduction together contributed to increasing visibility of the underclass, but also mediated, transformed, and structured how underclass should and could be properly represented in the online field. Based on an ethnographic exploration of the rises and falls of Kuaishou from 2017 to 2020, and its once most representative user-generated hanmai rap videos, the study first attempts to understand the latest changes among Chinese underclass youths, who used to be considered as segmented without a collective class consciousness (Solinger 2012). It investigates the emerging visibility of an underclass habitus in relation to the underclass’s engagement on social media platforms as the virtual field where levels of social power interact. On the other hand, when Kuaishou refashioned itself from a social media platform to a live-streaming and e commerce platform to adequately accommodate the state and pursue commercial success, the underclass users’ participations were also transformed, reshaped and disciplined. The original underclass users of Kuaishou who had few alternatives, could only remake themselves into marketable objects in order to survive in the new reality when online and offline inequalities further intertwined. When underclass users were busy depending Kuaishou’s new live streaming and e-commerce functions to make money and overcome their economic troubles, the cultural practices (such as hanmai rap videos) that once demonstrated a collective underclass habitus lost their significance in public discussions. In doing so, this study hopes to detail the ways in which social media platforms produce contemporary relationships of power by simultaneously incorporating algorithm design, profit-seeking strategies, underclass users’ expressions, and state surveillance.

About the authors

Jiaxi Hou

Email: hou-jiaxi@g.ecc.u-tokyo.ac.jp

Yanhui Zhang

Email: yhzhang09@tsinghua.edu.cn

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