Wang Kai, born in the 1970s in Anhui Province, China. He graduated from the School of Journalism of Fudan University in 2004 with a doctorate in communication. Since 2004, he has taught at the School of Media and International Culture of Zhejiang University and is now an associate professor. He teaches “News Editing” and “News Ethics and Regulations” for undergraduates, and courses such as “Journalism Professionalism and Communication Law” for graduate students. His recent research direction is media sociology, new media and culture.
The Parody Culture of Chinese Internet: A Brief History
In the late 1990s, the Internet entered the stage of civil use in China. From the very beginning, the network culture showed different characteristics from the official dominant culture and the commercial media at that time. They were freer, more participatory and involving more conversation. In the early days of the BBS, the netizens interestingly and hilariously created a lot of fresh new language and visual expression in dialogue. Parody culture is one of them. In 2005, as a landmark event, Bloody Case Caused by a Steamed Bun opened a video spoof (KuSo) craze. Subsequently, the rise of Weibo (2009) made social dialogue happen in a wider range, and the parody culture expand further.
The prosperity of parody is related to the nature and characteristics of the political space of a particular era. In fact, banter or sharp humor is often prevalent in a society that has just passed through a deep historical disaster, getting a chance to breathe and express. In such a society, some old things still exist firmly in the present, but its inherent legitimacy has been strongly questioned. In the cyberspace of contemporary China, parody is often used as a method to mobilize emotion in specific events, and is often an expression of the netizens’ release of social oppression. It embodies “the structure of feelings”, defined by Raymond Williams, that confront with the hegemony. At the same time, the prosperity of parody also faintly points to the existence of a community of emotion and cognition (an ironic community).
In Chinese network, parody culture flourished around 2005-2012. With the changes in the network ecology in recent years, various structural factors that support parody have changed. They include: the resurgence of nationalist ideology and the more rigorous public opinion control it brings, and the more oppressive propaganda. This new nationalist ideology has also been echoed by a considerable number of young netizens, and cyber nationalism is one of its important characterizations. At the same time, driven by large Internet companies, the “user infiltrating strategy”* has involved larger range of people living in small town and local society and turned them into netizens. The “earthy” culture has become one of the most dynamic factors in the Chinese Internet in recent years. Compared to the sharp and rebellious parody, this direct and simple expression of the life from a wider grassroots is obviously more likely to be favored and incorporated by the dominant culture.
* translator’s note: it is a marketing term in Chinese, meaning selling a product which originally targeting at customers who have higher incomes and live in the cities to those who are in the rural villages. This term is usually used in E-commercial field.