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Social media in industrial China and social media in rural China

University College London


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Social Media in Industrial China
By Xinyuan Wang

Social Media in Rural China
By Tom McDonald

Published by UCL Press
UK publication date: 13th September 2016

Free open access download / £15 paperback / £35 hardback

  • How has the biggest mass migration in human history affected Chinese communication habits?
  • How do migrants in Chinese factories use social media, and what impact does it have on their lives?
  • Have the inhabitants of rural China been 'left behind' in the social media revolution?
  • Does social media empower and encourage political participation amongst Chinese citizens?

These are just some of the questions explored by Social Media in Industrial China and Social Media in Rural China -- the latest books in an eleven book series revealing the discoveries made by the UCL Department of Anthropology's global 'Why We Post' social media research project.

From the ways in which social media is a form of education for factory workers, to the increase of privacy, Social Media in Industrial China and Social Media in Rural China together offer detailed and thoroughly researched insights into how social media is being used in China, and the impact it's having on peoples' lives.

Described as the biggest migration in human history, more than 250 million Chinese people have left their homes in rural China to live and work in urban areas. Social Media in Industrial China details the 15 months that anthropologist Xinyuan Wang spent living amongst a community of these migrants in a small factory town in southeast China to examine their use of social media. It was here that she witnessed a second, simultaneous migration taking place: a movement from offline to online, where the online world now provides a home for the migrants workers who feel otherwise 'homeless'.

The product of 15 months of research in a small rural Chinese community, Social Media in Rural China by Tom McDonald argues that, despite popular misconceptions to the contrary, social media is deeply integrated into the everyday experiences of many rural Chinese people. McDonald argues that social media empowers the rural population to extend and transform existing relationships, whilst also experimenting with completely new forms of interactions through online interactions with strangers. By juxtaposing these seemingly opposed relations, rural social media users are able to use this technology to understand, capitalise and challenge the notions of morality that are the foundations of rural life.

These two fascinating studies explore the full range of preconceptions commonly held about Chinese people- their relationships with education, with family, with politics, with 'home'- and argue why, for this vast population, it's time to reassess exactly what we think we know about China and the evolving role of social media.


To request copies of the books or to discuss interviews, articles, features and reviews, please contact:

Alison Major

Laura Haapio-Kirk

Notes to Editors

About Why We Post

Why We Post is a project by nine anthropologists who conducted nine simultaneous 15-month studies on the uses and consequences of social media around the world. Sites included a factory town and a rural town in China, a town on the Syrian-Turkish border, low income settlements in Brazil and Chile, an IT complex set between villages in South India, an English village, and small towns in Italy and Trinidad. The first four titles in the Why We Post series (How the World Changed Social Media, Social Media in an English Village, Social Media in Southeast Turkey and Social Media in Northern Chile) are available to download free, or purchase in print. The remaining titles, which will be published during 2016 and 2017, include books exploring the use and impact of social media in Brazil, India, southeast Italy and Trinidad. To find out more, visit To view the video introduction to the Why We Post project, please click on

About UCL Press

UCL Press was re-established at UCL as the first fully Open Access university press in the UK. Its publishing focuses on scholarly monographs, textbooks and journals. UCL believes that Open Access is the best way to make research widely available to all, and that Open Access represents a powerful opportunity for universities to reassert their role in the research workflow by taking on publishing and dissemination. Visit or follow @UCLpress on Twitter to find out more.

About The Authors

Tom McDonald is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, The University of Hong Kong. He received his PhD in Anthropology from UCL in 2013 and has published numerous academic articles on Internet use and consumption practices in China. Xinyuan Wang, is a PhD candidate at the Dept. of Anthropology at UCL, She obtained her MSc from the UCL's Digital Anthropology Programme. She is an artist in Chinese traditional painting and calligraphy. She translated (Horst and Miller Eds.) Digital Anthropology into Chinese and contributed a piece on Digital Anthropology in China.

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