Rethinking the Chinese Internet: Social History, Cultural Forms, and Industrial Formation

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Current accounts of the development of the Chinese Internet have provided important analyses of the political economy of telecommunications and the Internet. This study builds on these research to examine how vernacular online practices played a role in enabling political economic dimensions of the Chinese Internet to act as significant shaping forces. With this objective in mind, this article considers vernacular online practices that preceded the rise of commercial online video portals. My specific examples are ‘video spoofing’ and ‘fansubbing’, practices popular in the early to mid-2000s. Led by amateur enthusiasts, these practices were intimately associated with the legacy of cultural piracy in China in the pre-Internet era. My primary concern here is with identifiying and explicating the social energies that encouraged the formation of these online practices, their development trajectory, and finally, how these practices eventually became assimilated within a nascent video industry. In that respect, my argument is that the vernacular cultural forms and practices associated with these phenomena were central, and indeed essential, to the formation of an online video industry in China.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-409
Number of pages17
JournalTelevision & New Media
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Chinese Internet
  • fansubbing
  • history
  • online video
  • piracy
  • spoofing

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