In this article we present an analysis of the concepts of fenxiang and gongxiang–the Mandarin words for ‘sharing’– in the context of Chinese social media. We do so through an interrogation of the words fenxiang and gongxiang as used by Chinese social media companies. Using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, we created screenshots of 32 Chinese social network sites between 2000 and 2018 and tracked changes in the usage of fenxiang and gongxiang over time. The Mandarin translations in some ways operate like the English word, ‘sharing’. Fenxiang has the meaning of participating in social media, and gongxiang refers to technological aspects of sharing, while also conveying a sense of harmony. However, the interpersonal relations implied by fenxiang, and the political order implied by gongxiang, are quite different from those conveyed by ‘sharing’. Together, fenxiang and gongxiang construct a convergence of micro-level interpersonal harmony and macro-level social harmony. Thus, the language of sharing becomes the lens through which to observe the subtlety, complexity and idiosyncrasies of the Chinese internet. This article offers a new heuristic for understanding Chinese social media, while also pointing to an important facet of the discursive construction of Chinese social media. This implies a continuing need to de-westernize research into the internet and to identify cultural-specific meanings of social media.
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- Chinese social media
- web archives