ChinaTalk: Kuaishou and the Limits of Social Mobility in Digital China


ThinkChina together with China studies at the Department of Cross-Cultural & Regional Studies, UCPH, are happy to announce professor Margaret Hillenbrand from University of Oxford on social mobility and digital creativity among some of China’s most precarious people.


This ThinkChina ChinaTalk will cover social mobility and digital creativity among some of China’s most precarious people. Its focus is the short video and livestreaming app Kuaishou, which by 2017 had already acquired over 350 million daily active users, mostly concentrated in lower-tier cities and rural areas. Many are also producers, whose creative content celebrates so-called vulgar manners, crass customs, and uncool ways via a cultural mode known as tuwei.

The ChinaTalk lecture will explore tuwei via analysis of some of its boldest exponents. These performers behave outrageously as part of a deliberate campaign to monetize bodily abjection, cashing in on precisely those attributes which often make them targets of classist scorn and exclude them from normative routes to social mobility in neoliberal China. Unsurprisingly, Kuaishou has proved socially radioactive. At the same time as building community and creating opportunity amongst those left behind, the app’s lower-body revelry provoked a puritannical state crackdown in 2018, and has also driven many further up the social ladder into hot-headed acts of digital shaming, even vigilantism. Examining both the riotous abjection of Kuaishou and the intemperate reactions to it, this talk explores the limits of subaltern challenges to the shibboleths of taste and status in China today. 

Speaker bio

Margaret Hillenbrand

Margaret Hillenbrand is Professor of Modern Chinese Literature and Culture at the University of Oxford. Her research focusses on literary and visual studies in twentieth-century China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan, especially cultures of protest. Her book, Negative Exposures: Knowing What Not to Know in Contemporary China, appeared with Duke University Press in 2020. She has recently completed a new book entitled On the Edge: Feeling Precarious in China, from which this talk is drawn. 

Practical information

Date & Time: Tuesday October 25th, 16:00-17:30

Place: University of Copenhagen, South Campus, room 5B.1.08, Karen Blixens Vej 4 DK-2300, Copenhagen S

Registration: The event is free, but please sign up here.