A Revolt of Memory - Debating China’s Great Famine in the age of social media

Hui Zhao, Jun Liu

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper, not in proceedingpeer-review


Discussion on social media and their contribution to democratisation is dominated by scholarship on the use of social media in mobilizing and coordinating grassroots opposition in contentious movements (e.g., the Arab Spring). Such approach, however, fails to recognize the power dynamics underlying everyday uses of social media. To fill this gap, this article provides one of the first studies on the role of social media in articulating people’s experiences and (re-)shaping social memory in contemporary China. Specifically, it explores how social media enable the ordinary to participate in distributing, interacting, and accumulating alternative experiences and narratives of the past against the authoritarian one by taking the debate on China’s great famine—a topic long considered as a political taboo—on Sina Weibo, the country’s most popular social media site, as the case. Drawing on Negt and Kluge’s (1993) framework of public sphere as an organizational form of collective experience, this study demonstrates that social media provide Chinese people with an alternative communicative sphere for sharing and accumulating previously excluded or marginalized, “unofficial” social experience and memory as a kind of civil disobedience, making it relevant to the changing socio-political context of China and contributing to a broader sense of the public sphere as an organizational form articulating a societal, collective horizon of experience in China. It concludes that social media’s democratising potential is not just enabling and facilitating specific uses in contentious moments, but also embedded in their mundane, routine use that articulates users’ experiences and memory and further cultivates their political subjectivity. The study contributes to a comprehensive understanding of the democratising potential of social media in everyday life beyond a simple realization of contentious possibility, in particular how social media have been incorporated into the fabric of experience, nurturing everyday resistance and facilitating an alternative public sphere.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2014
EventComplex Evolutions: Media and Democratization in Contemporary Asia - Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 2014 Sep 52014 Sep 6


ConferenceComplex Evolutions: Media and Democratization in Contemporary Asia
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Communication Studies


  • Collective memory
  • social media
  • public sphere
  • weibo
  • the Great Famine


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