Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Barbie Zelizer


How does journalism empower citizens through reporting and remembering news events, as they take shape in the era of social media in a society where the state power penetrates every aspect of social life and freedom of expression is not legally guaranteed? This inquiry is implemented through looking at the contemporary Chinese context, examining three sets of tensions that capture the characteristics of social media platforms: control/resistance, past/present, and global/local. It analyzes journalism and its reliance on collective memory in social media, by considering social media as an important venue where journalism interacts with other sets of discourses in a tradition of absolute state power. My study shows that in China, a society that enjoys a limited free flow of information, journalism uses social media platforms to mobilize symbolic resources for online activism targeting the Party-state system. These symbolic resources mainly derive from the past, both inside and beyond the Chinese context, leading to a debate of different versions of modernity in China.

This is a study that spans three years along with the development of Sina Weibo (now Weibo), a micro-blogging service provided by, one of the major Chinese portal websites. I argue that social media complicate the landscape of journalism, by taking a balancing position between market interests and political safety. In particular, micro-blogging has blurred the conventional distinction between professional and citizen journalism. Instead, the institutional and personal journalistic practices are working together contest censorship via social media platforms. Social media opens up spaces for journalists and ordinary citizens to rewrite history, and to use various resources provided by the past to criticize the present Party-state system and struggle for journalistic freedom. The global-local exchange of news and memory via social media platforms brings about a new version of Chinese identity, competing with the version promoted by the Party-state in contemporary social transition, and urging a thorough political reform to reach the goal of a "civilized nation."

Social media, as shown in the case of Weibo, reflect the conflicting views of China's route to modernity--the debate between "Chinese characteristics" and "universal values," which produces the meanings of a modern Chinese nation and raises the relevance of citizenship. This conflict is situated in the complexities of historical and contemporary social transitions and China's dilemma in the embracing of a global world.

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