Title: Who are the “grassroots”? On the ambivalent class orientation of online wordplay in China

Yanning Huang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Chinese cyberspace is vibrant with new expressions created and disseminated by Internet users. Generally light in tone, they have been viewed by numerous media scholars as constituting a playful and satirical form of speech which exemplifies “grassroots” netizens’ carnivalesque resistance against the authoritarian party-state. Adopting a critical sociolinguistic perspective, the article focuses on the textual constructions of two online buzzwords diaosi and shamate to illustrate the ambivalent class orientation of Chinese Internet discourse. It argues that while the diaosi wordplay appears to signify an underprivileged or grassroots identity, its discursive construction is in effect characterized by an intermediate position which oscillates between identifying with the economically dominant and recognizing the truly subordinate social groups in contemporary China–such as rural migrant workers. The social stratification and hierarchy of Internet users, as well as the simultaneous cooption of digital culture by institutional forces must be taken into account so as to fully evaluate the political implications of playful online practices in China and beyond.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)266-280
Number of pages15
JournalPopular Communication
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Digital participation
  • class analysis
  • contemporary China
  • diaosi
  • discourse analysis
  • grassroots
  • memes

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