WeChat Ethnography: New Practices and Limits of an Emerging Research Method

Pascale Bugnon

Yali Chen

Collecting online data through social media has become a widely used methodology in ethnographic research in the past decade. Scholars have addressed both the prospects and drawbacks, limitations and moral concerns in conducting online research (Côté, 2013; Fiesler & Proferes, 2018, among others). Compared to “traditional” ethnography, online ethnography offers greater flexibility in terms of time and the variety of information that can be obtained. Additionally, it ensures that researchers are constantly engaged and interactive during their fieldwork. In fact, social media has become an ethnographic field in its own right, where scholars spend significant time gathering, observing, engaging and interacting with diverse actors (Svensson, 2017). As a result, the notion of “being in the field” has completely been transformed. However, researchers in online ethnography face increased complexity and uncertainty with regards to confidentiality, anonymity, informed consent, privacy, and the risk of harm. In particular, research ethics remain a significant challenge, as no official guidelines have been established for conducting online ethnography. Since we cannot just focus on Western social media platforms, we have to pay attention to other cultural contexts and social media platforms. It is obvious that the social, cultural and political contexts affect the ethical issues.

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Utilizing WeChat as a Research Instrument: The Interplay Amongst Censorship Policies, Self-Censorship Behaviors, and Anti-Censorship Tactics on the WeChat Platform

Ningjie Zhu, Center for Advanced Security, Strategic and Integration Studies, University of Bonn

During the past three years of the pandemic, there has been a decline in physical mobility, accompanied by a rise in political apprehension. The circumstances that unfolded in China during the pandemic have increasingly been characterized as an enigmatic entity, as observed by scholars and within popular discourse (Chen et al., 2023), thus spurring a growing need for alternative approaches to the study of China. On the other hand, ICT technologies have also ushered in new opportunities for exploring novel approaches and means to understand the Chinese reality, with social media representing one facet of this endeavor (McDonald, 2016; Wang and Liu, 2021). China offers a promising environment for engaging in online ethnographic research owing to its substantial population of “netizens”. Yet, in this context, several challenges and risks emerge, notably the pervasive internet censorship that complicates the qualitative data collection and analysis on social media, transforming it into a delicate hide-and-seek endeavor between the censors and the general public.

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Discovering common perception of Beijing 2022 Big Air Venue through photos from WeChat Channel & Weibo: A computer-assisted approach

Huishu Deng, Heritage, Culture and City Group, College of Humanities, EPFL

The photos taken by visitors to the site, defined as user-generated photos, have been used as a direct medium to study how the general public perceives and attaches to a particular place, as the action of taking a photo is triggered not only by the immediate environment, but also by many aspects of place attachment: attention, perceptions, preferences, memories, opinions, etc. (Tieskens, 2018). The anthropologist John Collier (1967) was the first to use photography as a tool to study human perception. Since then, handing out cameras to participants or self-directed photography (Dakin 2003; Markwell 2000) have become widely accepted techniques for assessing perceived/preferred public space. In recent years, the proliferation of photo-sharing on social media such as WeChat and Weibo has opened up the possibility of collecting large numbers of user-generated photos. It is also a way to engage a wider range of visitors over a longer period. Moreover, with the application of advanced computer vision technologies, such as automatic image classification and visual content recognition, it is possible to extract and analyze information from thousands of photos (Vu et al. 2018; Zhang et al. 2020).

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WeChat and the Chinese Queer Diaspora

Cai CHEN, Laboratory of Anthropology of Contemporary Worlds (LAMC), Université libre de Bruxelles

WeChat, functioning both as a digital media platform and an infrastructure (Plantin & de Seta, 2019), transcends national borders and has gained widespread usage among Chinese diasporas (Sun & Yu, 2022), including the queer[1] community. Chinese queer individuals, whether sojourners (e.g., international students) or settled residents in Western countries (e.g., immigrants or long-term residents), may have different migration motives and pathways, but they share a common intrinsic migration aspiration. That is, the yearning for sexual freedom (as discussed in Kam, 2020; Ponce & Chen, 2023 among others). Despite the relatively liberal and tolerant societal environment in Western countries, the Chinese queer diaspora in countries like France has been confronted not only with the marginalisation as a racial minority within predominantly white societies—like their heterosexual counterparts (see Chuang, 2021; Wang et al., 2023)—but also with the multi-layered discrimination as queer migrants of colour (see C. Chen, 2023b). As social norms and cultural values migrate with individuals, Chinese queer migrants find themselves in a dual predicament. On the one hand, they embrace the freedom to be “truly themselves” within the liberal French society, and on the other hand, many continue to conceal their homosexuality from their families in China or their immediate social networks within the Chinese diaspora community (C. Chen, 2023a). This dual minority status places Chinese queer migrants in a unique position, and WeChat plays a pivotal role in their “in-between” social lives.

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The emergence of “Muslim heritage” in China. Reflections on the Dynamics of an Unformulated Category. Appendix: “Lists of Muslim Heritage in China at the National Level” (1961-2019)

Pascale Bugnon

1. Introduction

The People’s Republic of China has been involved in the institutional and legal production of cultural heritage since 1961, when it enacted the first legislative text on the protection of historical monuments, accompanied by a list of sites of cultural heritage value. If this first inventory was mainly concerned with sites related to the Communist revolution and archaeology, this model has gradually been expanded to include historical and cultural sites that have a local and “ethnic” [民族] component. This new paradigm has led to a sharp increase in cultural investment, revaluing not only the elements of the various imperial pasts, but also what are officially called “ethnic minorities” [少 数民族]. In this unprecedented context, a number of monuments attract attention: those belonging to the “Muslim heritage” [伊斯兰文化遗产]. Without being institutionally recognised under this name[1], this heritage raises many questions, especially about the underlying political, economic and social issues. In this article, I propose some lines of thought on the establishment of these cultural policies, which have led to the emergence of an unformulated category.

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La Chine dans un grain de riz : micronouvelles chinoises

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Grâce Poizat-Xie

Dans la continuité des activités de l’atelier de traduction littéraire de l’Institut Confucius, nous proposons ici une synthèse de deux textes consacrés aux micronouvelles en Chine : Micronouvelles en langue chinoise, paru dans la revue littéraire française Brèves en 2020, et Micronouvelles : miroir de la société chinoise contemporaine, de la série bilingue Pourquoi je suis rentré tard ce soir et d’autres micronouvelles chinoises publiée en 2021[1]. La définition et les caractéristiques de ce genre littéraire sont d’abord présentées, suivies d’un survol historique. Ensuite, nous décrivons plus en détail le phénomène des micronouvelles en République Populaire de Chine, qui, par son ampleur, apparaît comme unique dans le monde littéraire aujourd’hui.  Continue reading

The locally rooted transmission of Wu Family taijiquan: Seminar on “Internal skills and Mind Process”

Pierrick Porchet

This paper was first published in Chinese on the web platform shukanbao[i] as a transcript of a meeting held on September 6, 2020 in Wu Yuxiang Historical Residence Study Room located in Guangfu Township, Handan City, Hebei Province (河北省邯郸市永年县广府镇武禹襄故居书堂). During the meeting, Master Sun Jianguo (孙建国) – fifth-generation master of Wu Family taijiquan – and six of his disciples discussed their personal experience as taijiquan practitioners and more specifically as inheritors of the Wu Family taijiquan. Continue reading

To Choose is To Renounce. How is cultural diversity taken into account in ICT design and implementation?

Basile Zimmermann, Amalia Sabiescu, Yan Zhang

On July 30th, 2020, the Confucius Institute at the University of Geneva co-organised a thematic workshop at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum, titled “To Choose is To Renounce. How is cultural diversity taken into account in ICT design and implementation?”. The Institute has had a research agenda centered on the study of mundane technological tools in China for several years. This meeting aimed to explore possibilities to further develop existing activities with new collaborations and new directions. Continue reading

Green public spaces: unique satisfiers for multiple human needs in the cities of South and Southeast Asia

Marlyne Sahakian

The significance of green public spaces towards sustainability is well-documented in relation to social inclusiveness, human health and biodiversity[1], yet the relation to human wellbeing is less understood. The project Green Public Spaces in the Cities of South and Southeast Asia (GRESPA) sought to uncover 1) how green public spaces satisfy multiple human needs in different contexts and cultures, 2) how people use and practice green public spaces in everyday life in relation to wellbeing, and 3) the role of different stakeholders in promoting more inclusive and environmentally-sound public spaces today and in the future.

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Reflecting on Muslim Diversity in China

Pascale Bugnon

The diversity of Islam that we observe today in China has its origins in a centuries-old relationship with Chinese society, which has taken many forms and touched upon various political, institutional, cultural or economic issues. While we tend to posit a global Islam that exists as an abstract ideal, we attempt at the same time to remain mindful of the regional variations that make it impossible to reduce the tradition to a monolith. The emergence of new approaches to the study of religion and / or ethnic minorities has challenged previous research methodologies. In the PRC especially, and for more than thirty years already, the presence of foreign Muslims, new conversions to Islam, ethnic blending, or the emergence of new policies to project Islamic cultural heritage, encompass a complex mosaic of accommodation, adjustment, preservation, and, at times, resistance, which reveal new meanings created by communities who attempt to reconcile perceived disparities between Islamic ideals and changing social realities. This Islamic revival is a new phenomenon that complexifies even further the study of Islam in China. In order to report on this, the Confucius Institute, with financial support from the Academic Society of the University of Geneva and the Swiss National Science Fondation, organised the colloquium Islam(s) in China. Reflecting on Muslim Diversity on Wednesday June 26 and Thursday June 27, 2019. Continue reading