Zexu Guan | Cashing in online fame in China: beauty blogger and Internet celebrity economy

PhD Project

Zexu Guan | Cashing in online fame in China: beauty blogger and Internet celebrity economy | Leiden University, Centre for the Arts in Society | Supervisor: Prof. Ernst van Alphen & Dr Eliza Steinbock | October 17, 2016 – October 17, 2020 | z.guan[at]hum.leidenuniv.nl

Chinese beauty bloggers are social media users, mainly women, who produce makeup tutorials regularly and attract plenty of followers successfully. In China, they are called wanghong (网红, Internet celebrity). With the online fame, this group creates pop-cultural trends on social media platforms and boost the e-commerce business. By cashing in their online fame, they transfer their usage of social media into business, shaping the new type of employment and economy in the age of social media in China. Despite their growing influence on Chinese society, the group has seldom received scholarly attention–in part, due to the fact that their labor looks like an amusement activity on social media, rather than serious work. My research is the first to focus exclusively on this group, by asking: how have the beauty bloggers on Weibo, a grass-roots group mainly consisting of women, grown in size and influence, to take the key role in the digital Chinese wanghong economy?

From the perspective of gender studies, my research will map the manifold reasons why female audience are fond of the beauty blogs. From the perspective of political economy of communication, my research will elaborate the dynamics between beauty bloggers, Internet industry, and cosmetic industry and reveal the hidden drives behind the rise of beauty bloggers. From the perspective of China studies, my research will explore the relationship between wanghong economy and the agenda of China’s government, aiming at bringing the online cultural phenomenon back to the social, political, and economic context of contemporary China.