Disappearing Communications in China

I have joined the Chinese University of Hong Kong as an Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies. I will be moving this site elsewhere shortly. Stay tuned.

Bio. Her research on media studies, digital STS, youth cultures, and Chinese literature has been published in Montreal AI Ethics (2022), Theory, Culture & Society (2021), Extrapolation (2019), Journal of Language, Literature, and Culture (2016), amongst others. Before coming to CUHK, she also taught at New York University (Shanghai) and Yale University.  

Book ProjectMezzanine Networks: Information, Media, and Loss in Contemporary China

In media economics, information exchange is inevitably skewed towards what can be stored, seen, and verified. Such exchanges can be misleading, especially if they aim for simple political categorization. For example, in 1986, Chinese artists burned their masterpieces outside the Xiamen Museum of Art, near the Taiwan Strait. During the last phase of the cold war, the immolation recalled stories about state control. The risk of censorship has been discussed ad nauseam since, but this burning was nothing like the Bradburian dystopia in Fahrenheit 451. The artists liberated themselves from the market logic – selling and collecting their works were out of the question. In the aftermath, however, images of burning corroborate stereotypical stories about censorship, rather than the anti-capitalistic stratagem that leaves few traces. The privileging of records has obscured off-record aesthetics.

Mezzanine Networks tells the stories of murmurs, throwaways, and gadgets in China’s communication industries. The conventional wisdom of western media continues to characterize communications in China as censored and sanitized, and with the hyper-technologized facial recognition surveillance, “techno-authoritarian.” These dystopian stories are neat – they feel intuitively correct – verified by official historiographies, on-the-record statistics, and the crafts of elite intellectuals. What about the largely undocumented, ubiquitous experience of the working people? Chinese Whispers shows that brittle paper (Part I), airborne data (Part II), and high-tech gadgets (Part III) are the heroes of everyday media aesthetics.