All Internet is Local: Digital Folklore in China

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Gabriele de Seta is a PhD student at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, currently researching digital folklore and media practices in mainland China. I met de Seta a few times in Hong Kong to discuss his research after following his research archives and reports on Tumblr and NewHive. While much has been written about the Chinese internet in terms of governance, censorship and contention, de Seta focuses instead on the complexity and nuance of the forms of vernacular creativity which characterize Chinese internet culture. This interview was conducted over email.

Ben Valentine: In your most recent NewHive post, you explore Chinese Internet culture (网络文化 or wangluo wenhua) through the visual vocabulary produced by image search results from Baidu, China's largest search engine. Could you share some indicative images and briefly describe their value for Chinese net culture?

Gabriele de Seta: I put together that short essay precisely to question certain assumptions that are almost automatic when talking about China and the internet. My hypothesis was that "internet culture" as a concept is itself part of a very specific Euro-American discourse around digital media—when I talk about internet culture, you know perfectly well that I am referring to multiple platform-specific repertoires of genres of interaction and user-generated content: you know I am talking about internet memes and YouTube celebrities, rickrolling and LOLcats, animated .GIFs and greentext stories. The idea of an internet culture, so to say, is itself part of our own internet culture—an idea rooted in the early communities of garage geeks and programmers, the aesthetics of the home computing era and the hacker ethics of the '90s. But is this the case everywhere?

Opening ceremony of "The first exhibition of Hubei network culture," photo retrieved via Baidu Image search from the Yantai Internet Culture Festival website

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My brain hole just dilated another 2 inches

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Ying Miao, iPhone GarbageGIF screenshot of work from "Meanwhile in China--so in love, will never feel tired again" on netize.net and Newhive.

Randy Marsh (Lorde): "You can't just replace artists with holograms. Who will create the content?'"

Entertainment Business CEO guy: "Today commentary is the content."

South Park season 18 episode 9 #Rehash

Like all the other Chinese social networking websites that became successful in China, Bilbili/哔哩哔哩弹幕视频网 is modeled on an original idea; yet this time it wasn't from the USA, but from Japan—Niconico, which was launched in 2006, four years before Bilibili. "Unlike other video sharing sites, however, comments are overlaid directly onto the video and synced to a specific playback time. This allows comments to respond directly to events occurring in the video, in sync with the viewer, creating the sense of a shared watching experience."(Wikipedia).

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