The Power of Cuteness and the Cuteness of Power: Internet Memes and the State’s Management of Emotion in Contemporary China

We are delighted to welcome guest speaker Jamie Wong (Harvard University) to deliver this School Research Seminar on the topic of the Chinese state's use of social media in governance.

Abstract

Qualities of cuteness that circulate widely in East Asian popular cultures create affective intensities that connect people in a variety of ways.

Drawing on a collaborative research effort, this talk explores how Chinese state social media strategically channeled internet users’ cute memes in politically productive directions when the country was convulsed with anxiety in the early days of Covid-19.

The molding of citizens as fans, which we term ‘fandom governance’, signifies a new development in the Chinese state’s long history of governing citizens through the management of emotion.

Speaker bio

Photograph of Jamie Wong, taken at night/in the dark, pictured in front of a shuttered corner shop with bright signage above and on the shutters. Jamie Wong is smiling and wearing a beige-brown blazer, black top, a stud earring, shortish hair.

Jamie Wong is a postdoctoral Academy Scholar at The Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. She received her PhD in the History, Anthropology, Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS) program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

As a political and economic anthropologist and an STS scholar, she focuses broadly on the relationship between computational technologies and governance in China, particularly as impacted by emerging global systems of technology and finance.

Her first book project, The Weight of Scale, explores the confluence of venture capitalism, digital economy, and Chinese statecraft.

Through fieldwork with venture capital investors, startup founders, and their corporate and government partners, she investigates how their understanding and exploitation of nested logics of ‘scale’ herald new configurations of Chinese state and society.

In a parallel research endeavor, she also studies the implications of China's internet culture and digital economy for governance and civil discourse.