The Ambivalent Governance of Platformed Chinese Feminism Under Censorship: Weibo, Xianzi, and Her Friends

Yijia Gu, Luke Heemsbergen


This article analyzes comments responding to @XianziAndHerFriends (@弦子与她的朋友们) in the censorship-rich environment of Weibo via BERTopic and examines how emojis may evade surveillance from censors—and algorithmic analysis. A total of 89,597 comments were computed to 38 overlapping topics of conversation that were further interpreted through thematic coding to 6 clusters of discourse and 3 themes. Data reveal how this Weibo account, microblogging a sexual assault case, grew to be a popular civic space for feminist discussion in China on varied topics despite censorship. Emoji analysis offers nuances to how this was enacted. The article expands on the methods available to understand dissent in the shadow of censorship and discusses how the patchwork censorship of Weibo has refracted nationalist and patriarchal tendencies of autocracy in China rubbing against platform prerogatives and feminist expression. It argues the “ambivalent governance” of the space is not defined through vernacular or institution, free speech, or autocracy, but instead all of the above in complex relationships in the platformization of censorship and (anti)nationalist patriarchy.



feminism, Weibo, BERTopic, censorship, China, emoji, #MeToo

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