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Sina Weibo and the Differentiated Construction of Local Chinese Identity

The next speaker in our ASMC14 session is Wilfred Wang, who shifts our interest to Sina Weibo – launched in 2009, and modelling itself to some extent on Twitter, the platform now has some 280 million users. It now plays an important role in Chinese public debate. Wilfred's study is especially on Weibo use in Guangzhou, particularly for constructing a local identity, separate from China itself, during the nationalist protests against Japan over the Diaoyu / Senkaku Islands dispute.

During this time, there were significant public protests, with some rioting and damage to Japanese restaurants and Japanese-made cars. People in Guangzhou in turn reacted against such riots, which damaged key local landmarks as well – and what emerged here was a sense of local ownership, separate from generic Chinese identity. This became a kind of counter-movement against nationalism, and there were even calls to boycott anti-Japanese protests. Wilfred collected the posts of a local opinion leader in this movement.

People involved in this movement were not denying their Chinese identity, but offered an alternative narration of national identity; they highlighted individual and regional differences within general Chinese identity. This defines a new kind of "Chinese (Guangzhou)" identity which is more differentiated than standard constructions – and the sharing of mobile images and other content played an important role in this. Crucial to this is an alternative construction of place.