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Local Specificities in Chinese Internet Activities

The final speaker in this AoIR 2015 session is my QUT colleague Wilfred Wang, whose focus is on the Chinese platform Weibo. His interest is in geography online – how do we understand local geography through our online activities?

Weibo is a Chinese microblogging platform, launched by Sina in 2009 and now featuring some 280 million accounts. Like Twitter, it works with 140-character messages, but given that these use Chinese characters they enable substantially longer texts. Weibo also incorporates more extended functionality than Twitter.

Geography continues to matter even online, of course, as the Chinese focus of Weibo itself demonstrates. But sub-national regions in China also matter immensely for personal identity, and Weibo is located within China's asymmetric social structure between strong local places and the central state apparatus.

This is also the key central paradox for contemporary China: on the one hand, the state promotes a unified Chinese identity, culture, history, and (Mandarin) language, while many regional specificities remain in economic and development processes, citizen registration and movement rules, administrative systems, as well as identity.

Since the emergence of the Internet as a mass medium in China, such regional differences have also manifested there, and many Chinese Websites offer regional editions and fora. Wilfred's work focusses on the Guangzhou region, in particular, which has a distinct regional identity and predominantly uses Cantonese.

The use of Cantonese rather than Mandarin especially in slang is part of a kind of linguistic war, and local history (ignored in official histories) is also used to maintain local identity, for example. How this plays out online is worth further study.