Occupy the online public sphere : ‘Cleanse the square’ activities and fan behaviours on Chinese social media


6:00 PM - 7:30 PM



  • Time: 18:00-19:30
  • Date: Monday, 23 May
  • Venue: Zhumu, please contact COM@xjtlu.edu.cn for Zhumu details


Using the public sphere theory as the theoretical framework, this study analyses a type of fan activity called ‘cleanse the square’ on the Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo. By observing the patterns of fans’ behaviours on the platform, this talk attempts to define the nature of the phenomenon and discuss the motivations behind the fans’ actions. I will argue that although scholars like Mou, Atkin, and Fu (2011) and Wang (2021) have conceptualised the online public sphere in China, the existence of the ‘cleanse the square’ phenomenon shows that the public sphere here under scrutiny has been ‘jeopardised by the market’, a prediction made by Guobing Yang in 2003. In this case, Sina Weibo, the largest social media platform in China, has been encouraging fans to create repetitive contents to occupy the online public space, claiming that such occupations will bring benefits to their beloved celebrities. In this process, the cooperation has been producing economic gain, but the labour of the fans is exploited, and the inclusiveness, criticality, and diversity of certain types of public communication were and are being largely compromised. To a certain degree, the ‘cleanse the square’ phenomenon means that some online public discussions in China were and are being turned into formalised business, and the qualities of these discussions were and are negatively impacted. This adds new evidence to support Jürgen Habermas’s (1989) criticism towards the current media industry.


Qingning Wang (PhD) is an assistant professor in the Department of Media and Communication at XJTLU. She is the author of The Chinese Internet: The Online Public Sphere, Power Relations and Political Communication (2021). Her research focusses on digital media, online political communication, and media agenda in the UK-China relationships.

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