Yanning Huang

Yanning Huang

PhD Researcher

Department of Media and Communications

About me

Research topic

The politics of online wordplay: on the ambivalences of Chinese internet discourse

Chinese cyberspace is vibrant with the ebb and flow of new expressions created and disseminated by Internet users. Generally light in tone, terms such as ‘Grass Mud Horse’ and Diaosi (literally meaning ‘dick strings’) have been argued to constitute a playful and satirical form of speech, known as ‘web buzzwords’ (网络热词). Both liberal media and academia have largely viewed online satirical culture in China as exemplifying grassroots netizens’ carnivalesque resistance against the authoritarian party-state. Grounded in and informed by a historical review of the transformations of class and gender relations in China, Yanning’s doctoral research goes beyond such a simplistic and dichotomizing framework by adopting a critical socio-linguistic perspective. Through extensive original discourse analysis, focus groups and in-depth interviews with a cross-section of the Chinese urban and rural youth population, Yanning sketches out two major ambivalences of online wordplay in Chinese cyberspace, finding that, on the one hand, it simultaneously recognizes and disavows the living conditions of the truly underprivileged—migrant manual workers; and, on the other hand, that it both derides the lifestyles of the economically dominant and also displays a desire for middle-class lifestyles. Interviews further reveal that Chinese Internet discourse articulates tensions between the stance of urban young men in the lower-middle class and that of urban young women in the middle class. The former reveals men’s anxieties and self-victimization at what could be called the changing gender order, and they tend to denigrate the integrity of women and to exaggerate the efficacy of money as sexual leverage. The latter emphasises women’s autonomy and aspirations with regard to ideal masculinities. Yanning concludes that this latter stance is underpinned by an emerging ideology of ‘consumerist feminism’ in contemporary China, which celebrates women’s empowerment but limits this to the private realm and to personal consumption. Finally, the thesis also takes into account the co-option of Chinese Internet discourse by corporations and party-organ media and the ways in which this modifies citizens’ agency. Thus, this thesis offers the first rigorous and panoramic analysis of the politics of Chinese online wordplay in terms of its bearing on the wider social order and power struggles in contemporary China. Besides Chinese internet discourse, Yanning is also interested in the political economy of social media, and its influence on journalism. Research interests: Besides Chinese internet discourse, Yanning is also interested in the political economy of social media, and its influence on journalism.

Supervisors: Dr Shakuntala Banaji and Dr Bingchun Meng


Yanning received a double master's degree in Globla Media Communications and Journalism from LSE and Fudan University in China. Before joining LSE as a PhD researcher, he worked as a news assistant for Radio Télévision Swisse (RTS) in Shanghai.

Expertise Details

online discourse; digital media; in-depth interviewing; qualitative research; journalism