ThinkChina Analysis: Contested Past; Social Media and the Production of Historical Knowledge of the Mao Era
Chinese internet users are using the social media Weibo both to question and satirize the official discourse and knowledge, and to articulate and disseminate alternative historical stories and counter-narratives of the past that the public had previously never been able to know about. This ThinkChina analysis investigates the role Weibo has in (re)shaping the social memory and producing historical knowledge of the Mao era in contemporary China. More specifically, professor Jun Liu looks at how people use Weibo to interrogate the official knowledge of the past, articulate their individual memories, and reconstruct social memory, all of which shape the production of historical knowledge of the Mao era in a society.
Social media enables and encourages individuals’ alternative and counter-historical narratives, memories, and descriptions of the past to emerge and proliferate, giving rise to unofficial versions of history.
Individuals’ narratives on Weibo differ from the official narratives, and are often characterized by criticism and cynicism towards the official, orthodox, and previously hegemonic framework.
Weibo cultivates the dynamics of social remembering as a crowdsourcing, continuous, accumulating, and latent process, which shapes the commemoration of historical issues in Chinese society in the long run.
This analysis was originally published as a chapter in “Popular Memories of the Mao Era” in 2019.
About: Jun Liu
Jun Liu is an associate professor at the Department of Communication at the University of Copenhagen.
Jun’s main area of research is the social, cultural, and political implications of digital communication, and specifically how digital technology interacts with socio-cultural forms and settings, and generates new power dynamics in politics.
His current research focuses on the social credit system and censorship on social media in China.