WeChat: From mimicry to techno-orientalism

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WeChat: From mimicry to techno-orientalism

Author | Affiliation:
Fan Yang | Deakin University

Presenting at:
Panel 3D | Algorithmic imagination of social media


WeChat/WeiXin is one of the primary social media platforms in mainland China, which is widely used and popularised among Mandarin-speakers globally. While WeiXin and WeChat is essentially “one app with two memberships”, this paper seeks to address the question: “What is WeChat”?

This paper introduces WeChat’s prehistory and its development, and further it contextualises the operation and governance of WeChat based on the analysis. The analysis is informed by the “walkthrough” method proposed by Light et al. (2018) and Dieter et al. (2019) and is supplemented by the secondary data provided by the developer and third parties including media releases, tech blogs and academic literatures.

This paper has two claims. Firstly, WeChat has extended itself from a platform of sociality to a platform of user-generated content to an exchange platform and further oriented towards a meta-platform containing sub-platforms. Secondly and relatedly, this paper engages critically with Homi Bhabha’s concept of mimicry (1984) to conceptualise this developmental trajectory. It refers to a process by which objects draw on other objects to produce themselves (Deleuze and Guatarri 1987, Hardt and Negri 2000). The trajectory of WeChat is a mimesis practice involving an extensive incorporation of hybridised patterns extracted from Western social media. Such imitation at the early state failed to reach its full dignity because it was inevitably viewed by the West as “almost the same” as the Western social media, “but not quite”. Further development of WeChat, most of which is not shown to be widely popularised among major Western social media platforms exceeds the technological status of the Western social media platforms and engages with the mimetic excess which is “similar to the west, only more so” and evoked a strong sense of techno-orientalism (Roh 2015) from the West.


Bhabha, H 1984, Of Mimicry and Man: The ambivalence of colonial discourse, Discipleship: A Special Issue on Psychoanalysis (spring, 1984), vol. 28, pp. 125-133.

Deleuze, G & Guatarri, F1987, A Thousand Plateaus, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Dieter, M, Gerlitz, C, Helmond, A, Tkacz, N, van der Vlist, F.N & Weltevrede, E 2019, Multi-Situated App Studies: Methods and propositions, Social Media + Society, April-June, pp. 1-15. DOI: 10.1177/2056305119846486.

Hardt, M & Negri, A 2000, Empire, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Light, B, Burgess, J & Duguay, S 2018, The Walkthrough Method: An approach to the study of apps, New Media & Society, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 881-900.

Roh, D. S, Niu, G. A & Huang, B 2015, Techno-Orientalism: Imagining Asia in speculative fiction, history and media, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

About the author

Fan Yang

Email: fanyang444@gmail.com

Fan Yang is a PhD candidate at School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University. She researches the effects of large scale international social media platforms in terms of cross-jurisdictional tensions and expectations, and their cross-border effects on political activity and identity. She studies this through interviews and ethnographic observation with production teams that generate native content for those platforms, particularly observing decision-making and self-management in this context.

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