#China

Once Bit(coined), No longer cryptocurrency shy

Hi everyone,

My final project about Bitcoin was created on Shorthand Social and can be accessed via the link below:

https://social.shorthand.com/GivernyW/32S3Mp7iK6/once-bitcoined-no-longer-cryptocurrency-shyhttps://social.shorthand.com/GivernyW/32S3Mp7iK6/once-bitcoined-no-longer-cryptocurrency-shy

I hope you find it interesting and insightful!

Unpacking Bitcoin: An autoethnographic analysis of the emergence of Bitcoin in China

In my previous blog post, I proposed investigating the current state of Bitcoin in China for my individual research project and recorded my initial thoughts, perceptions and reactions to Motherboard’s documentary Life Inside a Secret Chinese Bitcoin Mine (2015). The purpose of this post is to reflect upon, analyse and interpret this experience within its broader sociocultural context using an autoethnographic research approach.

Chang (2008, p.43) observes that autoethnography can be distinguished from other genres of self-narrative such as memoir and autobiography by the way it “transcends mere narration of self to engage in cultural analysis and interpretation”. In other words, autoethnography is not about focusing on self alone, but about searching for understanding of others (culture/society) through self (Chang 2008, p.43).

293305-junot-d-az-quote-if-you-want-to-make-a-human-being-into-a-monster

Hall (1973, p.30, cited in Chang 2008, p.34) argues that “the real job” of studying another culture is “not to understand foreign culture but to understand our own…to…

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The Getting of Culture: A proposal for a non-linear exploration of the emergence of Bitcoin in China

My individual research project will explore the Bitcoin phenomenon in China. Introduced in 2009, Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer electronic payment system that bitcoin-mining-imageharnesses decentralised networking technologies to enable payments without the need for a central authorising agency (Bitcoin Group 2015, p.26). Bitcoin is often referred to as a form of cryptocurrency or virtual currency because it exists purely in an electronic form (Bitcoin Group 2015, p.26). Bitcoin is “mined” by supercomputers which solve difficult mathematical formulas to generate the currency (Murray 2016). As of 30 November 2015, 14.9 million Bitcoins had been mined (Bitcoin Group 2015, p.26).

In recent years, China has become a market for Bitcoin unlike anything in the West, fueling huge investments in mining farms as well as enormous speculative trading on Chinese Bitcoin exchanges (Popper 2016). Mines run by Chinese companies account for approximately 70 per cent of the world’s bitcoin processing power and Chinese exchanges…

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Social Media Research Proposal Review

In my initial research project proposal it’s possible I made some assumptions about both the methodology of autoethnography, and the core concepts behind the research itself. Below is a list of the possible assumptions involved in initial account:

  • In my initial post I assumed that Chinese social media was/is used exclusively, or at least “primarily” used by the Chinese population.
  • Those who have grown up in another culture can formulate an objective opinion/comparison through personal collection of data/first hand use only.
  • By analysing platforms created for another language in English, it is still possible to develop an accurate understanding of the culture without losing its nuances to the language barrier.
  • Assuming there is a comparison to be made at all between western social media and Chinese social media, it could be that they are almost identical, or used in very similar ways. This would render the comparison between the two a lot less interesting, and in a way void the meaning behind the research itself.

Further reading and research:

  • relational ethics – implicates itself heavily in this particular research project as it focuses primarily on social media; a means of connecting with others and building relationships. A common critique of the autoethnographic approach to writing is the ethical concerns and responsibilities surrounding the building of relationships for such projects. Researchers often create friendship and other relational ties with people which not only aid their inquiry but are also a simply by product of cultural immersion. This can lead to questions of how deeply can a researcher implicate their ‘friends’ in their writing and whether their relationship must be treated with a kind of sanctity or whether it can be mined for crucial information. In order to potentially avoid questions of relational ethics, I have chosen not to interview or personally engage with other users of these platforms, not to mention communicating with the vast majority of users on Chinese social media would require some knowledge of the Chinese language. Although this raises other concerns about the quality of my observations and whether they accurately represent the culture, I have instead chosen to use the literature to inform me. However, due to the nature of the research project this is not disadvantageous to an approach of this kind, as it is primarily a comparison between one’s known cultural experiences and one’s unfamiliar cultural experiences and how these differences in culture manifest across a range of social media platforms.

Despite these overwhelming assumptions, the autoethnographic approach still utilises a crucial methodology to develop and understanding of the culture through an immersion in it. It is through this approach that I believe I will gain the most data and knowledge to back up my research.

Reflecting On The Usability of Sina Weibo

So as I wrap up my investigation of Chinese social media and my autoethnographic experience of having a Sina Weibo account, I think it’s important to discuss the usability of the site and my response to this in light of my research. To reflect on the experience, I felt it would be beneficial to explore how I went about responding to the features of the platform and how it was used by those in China, and compare this to my Australian experience of social media platforms, namely Twitter and Facebook.

Initially I found the entire experience of using Sina Weibo disorientating and frustrating due to my severe lack of understanding of Mandarin, however once I looked past the language barrier I began to find aspects of the site familiar to Facebook and Twitter. As noted by Chao, the creator, he aimed to make Weibo’s interface more closely related to Facebook’s to increase its “stickiness”, meaning users would be more likely to stay on the site longer than if he decided to replicate Twitter’s interface (Epstien 2011). In my own experience, I find that I definitely spend longer on Facebook than Twitter and choose to access Twitter through the Tweetdeck app rather than the site because I feel that’s how I can get full functionality out of the platform. I felt that the functionality of Sina Weibo was much more similar to Facebook due to its sidebar, top bar, private chat feature and comment system, however I found the way people chose to use it was more closely related to my use of Twitter.

Gao et al (2012) conducted a comparative study of the users’ of Sina Weibo and Twitter providing some insight into these differences between usage, however I could not find any comparison between Sina Weibo and Facebook usage despite the common description of Sina Weibo as being a hybrid version of Facebook and Twitter. One significant point of difference in usage was the time in which users of the site were most active. Gao et al found that Sina Weibo users posted 19% more messages per day on the weekend, whilst Twitter users posted 11% less messages during the weekend, which I believe aligns with my own use of Twitter and is reflective of each country’s differing lifestyles (p. 98, 2012).

In terms of actual usability of the platform and its technical features, it is once again more closely related to Twitter (see Breaking The Barrier). The use of hashtags, I found on Sina Weibo to be quite annoying, however later I found out that the platform had the ability to perform ‘double hashtags’, which enables hashtags to integrate better with the text and in hindsight I now see that (Ghedin 2013).

Overall, I feel like I have achieved my aim, which was to investigate Chinese social media using the methodology of creating a Sina Weibo account. Through investigating the sign up process, governance, technology and usability of Sina Weibo through an autoethnographic perspective, I feel I have learnt quite a lot about the social media use in China and am able to inform an Australian audience about this topic through a research report.

Sources:

Epstien, G, 2011, ‘Sina Weibo’, Forbes, 3 March, viewed 12/10/14, < http://www.forbes.com/global/2011/0314/features-charles-chao-twitter-fanfou-china-sina-weibo.html>

Ghedin, G, 2013, Understanding Sina Weibo: Hashtags, VIP Hastags and More, Digital In The Round, article, 4 July, viewed 6/10/14, http://www.digitalintheround.com/sina-weibo-hashtags-vips/

Gao, Q, Abel, F, Houben, G.J & Yu, Y 2012, ‘A Comparative Study of Users’ Microblogging Behavior on SIna Weibo And Twitter’, Unknown, pp.88-101.

The Birth of Sina Weibo

Differing from the creation of Facebook and Twitter, these being the most used social networking sites in the Western world, Sina Weibo was established as a spin-off from another already successful company, rather than a start-up. Sina Weibo was created and owned by Sina Corp, China’s tenth most grossing Internet Company, earning 620m yaun in renvenue in 2012 (China.org.cn 2013). Sina Corp is a multimedia online company that owns sites sina.com and sina.cn and now social network site weibo.com., giving users access to both professional and user generated content (Sina.com 2009).

Sina Weibo’s main competitor is Tencent Weibo, which is owned by China’s top ranked Internet company Tencent Holdings, with Tencent Weibo having 580m registered users and Sina Weibo having 556m (China.org.cn 2013; wearesocial 2014). Tencent Holdings isn’t the direct competitor for Sina Corp, however after the buzz created by Sina Weibo at its launch in August 2009, directly after the blocking of Twitter, Tencent Holdings chose to leverage its user base to create its statistically more popular social network Tencent Weibo (Epstien 2014).

“Chao hopes his Weibo’s market-topping success will one day remake Sina…into a dominant social networking platform like Tencent” (Epstien 2014).

The premise behind the creation of Sina Weibo was to create something that replaced Twitter and the Chinese Twitter clone Fanfou, but wasn’t Facebook as China already had RenRen. Charles Chao, Sina Corp’s CEO, came up with Sina Weibo just at the time when the government most feared microblogs, however it was approved and this fact arguably contributed to its success (Epstien 2014). Also much like its Western counterparts, Sina Weibo is free to use, given that I was able to sign up for an account without any prompt for money, however you could argue your cost is your privacy, as it is with most social network sites, the data you place on the site can be mined by marketers and developers through the sites API (Bamman et al 2012). However it is important to note that Chinese citizens don’t have the same concept of privacy or freedom that us in the Western world do, so whilst we as users of Western social networks have an issue with Facebook owning our content (even though we signed it away upon registering), Chinese users don’t seem to have the same qualms, rather they have found ways to avoid being censored through memes and jokes (Anti 2012). Interestingly, the opposite has happened, and the rise of weibo has changed the Chinese mindset and enabled them to have a public sphere and realise the importance of freedom of speech, whilst Western users of social networks have come to realise what it’s like to have that birth right taken away from them (Anti 2012).

Sources:

Anti, 2012, Behind The Great Firewall of China, online video, June, TED Talks, viewed 5/10/14, <https://www.ted.com/talks/michael_anti_behind_the_great_firewall_of_china>

Bamman et al, 2012, ‘Censorship and deletion practices in Chinese Social Media’, First Monday, vol. 17. No. 3-5, viewed 12/10/14, http://public01.library.uow.edu.au/refcite/style-guides/html/

China.org.cn, 2013, Top 10 mobile internet companies in China for 2013, China.org.cn, viewed 12/10/14, < http://www.china.org.cn/top10/2013-09/17/content_29998503.htm>

Epstien, G, 2011, ‘Sina Weibo’, Forbes, 3 March, viewed 12/10/14, < http://www.forbes.com/global/2011/0314/features-charles-chao-twitter-fanfou-china-sina-weibo.html>

Sina, 2009, SINA, Sina.com, viewed 12/10/14, < http://corp.sina.com.cn/eng/sina_intr_eng.htm>

wearesocial, 2014, Social, Digital & Mobile in China 2014′, wearesocial, viewed 4/9/14 <http://www.slideshare.net/wearesocialsg/social-digital-mobile-in-china-2014&gt;

Sina Weibo + Censorship

As most people are aware the Communist Party of China governs China, and as part of this regime “The Great Firewall of China” heavily censors the Internet in China. In terms of social media, this firewall has entirely blocked any web 2.0 site that originates outside of China and simultaneously the Chinese government has managed to clone each site for its country’s use. As Michael Anti states in his TEDGlobal talk, “On the one hand, he wants to satisfy people’s need of a social network, which is very important; people really love social networking. But on the other hand, they want to keep the server in Beijing so they can access the data any time they want”.

Sina Weibo is the clone of Twitter and was founded just one month after Twitter was blocked in China, and just like Twitter it has become the newest media platform enabling people to interact with eachother in a public sphere (Anti 2012). If it hasn’t been on Weibo than it hasn’t happened. However there are some limitations to this given that the government monitors and censors content on Weibo, which is achieved in many ways. The first was the attempt to fully implement of the ‘real name’ policy in March 2012, which requires users to put in their full name, phone number and identification number and enables the government better control over what people say due to being able to track them down easier (Robertson 2012, Ghedin 2013). When I signed up to Sina Weibo I was also required to put in my phone number, however due to my name being English I was suggested names that contained Chinese characters, of which I chose Melissa精彩, which means ‘Melissa Wonderful’ in English, implying that I somewhat bypassed the ‘real name’ policy because of my English name. I was still able to sign up without an I.D number, implying that the strength of the ‘real name’ policy is still rather weak. Interestingly, Facebook has also now implemented a ‘real name’ policy, however it only succeeded to discriminate against those in the LGBT community (Montgomery 2014).

The second way that the Chinese government and Sina Weibo have restricted the free speech of its users is through introducing a ‘user contract’ in May 2012 that runs on a points system (Russell 2012). As a user I was given 80 points when I signed up, and have a maximum of 100 points according to Russell, which will be retracted for bad behaviour, and once you have reached 0 points your account will be deleted. Upon finding out about what the points system was for, I tried to search for the user contract, but I was unable to find it. Instead I have found a translated version to read here. My inability to find it may have been due to my language barrier, either I was given the option to read it and didn’t realise or it does not appear on the translated page. The user contract contains several clauses, many of which restrict what can be posted on Sina Weibo, although Michael Anti points out that Chinese users have found ways around this by using memes, puns and humour, which would explain why in my experience of my home page that most things trending seem to appear to be jokes or humour. http://blockedonweibo.tumblr.com is a Tumblr page that has been developed to track what is blocked on the site for a Western audience.

Sources:

Anti, 2012, Behind The Great Firewall of China, online video, June, TED Talks, viewed 5/10/14, <https://www.ted.com/talks/michael_anti_behind_the_great_firewall_of_china>

Ghedin, G, 2013, Understanding Sina Weibo: Hashtags, VIP Hastags and More, Digital In The Round, article, 4 July, viewed 6/10/14, http://www.digitalintheround.com/sina-weibo-hashtags-vips/

Montgomery, K, 2014, ‘Facebook Apologizes For Discriminatory “Real Name” Policy’, Valleywag, 10 January, viewed 6/10/14, http://valleywag.gawker.com/sources-facebook-to-apologize-for-discriminatory-real-1641078942

Robertson, A, 2012, ‘Sina Weibo users near March 16th deadline to verify identity’The Verge, 12 March, viewed 6/10/14, http://www.theverge.com/2012/3/12/2865317/sina-weibo-beijing-government-verify-account-identity-deadline

Russell, J, 2012, ‘Sina Weibo to introduce ‘user contract’ on May 28 as China’s microblog crackdown continues [Updated]’, TNW, 9 May, viewed 6/10/14, http://thenextweb.com/asia/2012/05/09/sina-weibo-to-introduce-user-contract-on-may-28-as-chinas-microblog-crackdown-continues/

 

WEEK NINE: Introducing Kiki – Expert Shopper, Shanghai

This week I interviewed a friend, Kiki who likes to refer to herself as an expert in the field of shopping. To understand the extent of this expertise, you must know that Kiki travels the globe on her shopping endeavours. This is due to the extensive research she does prior to embarking on a ‘mission of materialism.’

amy and kiki

It is well-known that Australia enforces drastic tax fees on all goods, even those produced in our own country! These prices can not compare to those in Asia or the USA. Some thing which we spoke about was the fact that both of us had noted that Oroton, an Australian brand though available globally, was more expensive to buy in Australia than many parts of Asia. This made me question whether perhaps this is why Australian culture does not have large focus on luxury items.

For example, Kiki wanted to purchase this Prada Saffiano leather bag. In Australia it was retailing online for $3525.50. This is not the store price, which she informed me was even more than this, as opposed to buying the exact same bag in the US, (instore/online price at Saks Fifth Avenue) for $2950. Now when we consider the exchange rate, this may not seem like much of a saving, though for someone who buys in bulk and this purchase is merely an accessory, these savings can total $100’s, even $1000’s of dollars.

prada bag shopstyle VS. saks ad prada

Australia certainly has a substantial fashion presence, with designers which are recognized globally, such as Ellery, Manning Cartell, Aurelio Costarella, Zimmermann and Josh Goot, though these brands are considered ‘luxury,’ they do not compete with European or American designers such as Chanel and Prada. There are on a different global scale for many reasons. The companies are no where near as extensive as these mentioned European brands, they are not as established and do not receive the same global attention. Where the products may prove to be a high quality standard, they are not using such premium materials, thus they can not charge such disproportionate prices.

There is not a large market for luxury designer labels in Australia. Just to search the availability of the items both online and in-store gives us a rough idea of the buying power in each country. I had a look at Australia, USA and China, to note how many Prada stores are available for consumers. I found that in this vast, enormous country, Australia we have merely four stores; Sydney, Melbourne, Gold Coast and Perth. Where USA has 18 stores across the country and China has 16 alone, this does NOT include the mass of stores throughout Japan and South East Asia.

When speaking to Kiki about this, she was not surprised and said she’d noticed that those Australians who did own luxury fashion items, were generally 40years or older. Whereas, where she is from, it is more common to see younger people sporting Chanel and Dior. When asked why she believes they spend so much on these items, Kiki found the question hard to answer. I asked her why she spends so much on these products and she stated that ‘she felt proud to wear her Prada bags.’ These items symbolize status in China and can present opportunities for you which you may not find with a cheap imitation.

I found this very interesting, as I pondered what kind of opportunities she meant. This leads me to my next weeks post!! I will include further information about our interview and I am going to have a look into a bit of Chinese history!

WEEK EIGHT: Global Consumer Economies

image1

This week I have done some external research, through both primary and secondary methods. As I have been opened to this new concept of the auto-ethnographic study, I am realising that it is imploring me to get amongst my research and become the results. I have found some interesting articles which I will briefly explore throughout this post and I also have documented some observations I made when I went for a brief trip to Pitt St Mall in Sydney.

To begin with, some cold, hard facts.

According to an article entitled, “China overtakes US to be biggest economy by 2024,” in the Telegraph, the world’s largest consumer, the US will soon be defeated by China in 2024. As major global consumer economies, this will have drastic impact on many different countries, businesses, brands and consumers. The US had remained as the largest consumer economy for the past decade, though it has been predicted that by 2014, China will spend a staggering $10.5US trillion dollars on consumer spending. (Mianyang, 2014)

image 2

In an article entitled ‘Chinese Consumers; Doing it their way’ on the Economist website, Chinese consumer patterns are set to increase over the next decade. They are also at a high throughout the globe, where two thirds of Chinese luxury shopping is done outside of China. This is due to the fact that Chinese shoppers are savvy. They research and observe price differentiations throughout the globe. They do this through sites such as Alibaba, an online shopping giant in China. China has become the world’s biggest e-commerce market, spending $540US billion dollars in 2012. (Mianyang, 2014)

When considering consumption patterns of luxury items, I found some interesting information which coincided with that which I have observed myself. This week, I took a trip to Pitt St Mall in Sydney, where I visited several stores in order to make some observations. I entered ten stores, these are as following; Gucci, Hermès, Prada, Myer, Witchery, Saba, Country Road, Sportsgirl, Topshop and General Pants. I targeted three luxury fashion stores, three middle range stores, three ‘high street’ stores and one department store, in order to observe the difference in clientèle. I noted the amount of clients and their ethnicity over the course of 20 minutes in each store.

NB: Due to the fact that I was merely observing, the results can not be deemed 100% accurate.

OBSERVATIONS:

Gucci- 6 clients, 4 ASIAN, 2 CAUCASIAN

Hermès- 4 clients, 4 ASIAN

Prada- 6 clients, 5 ASIAN, 1 CAUCASIAN

Myer- 50+ clients, 18 ASIAN, 39 CAUCASIAN, 3 AFRICAN

Witchery- 11 clients, 2 ASIAN, 9 CAUCASIAN

Saba- 6 clients, 6 CAUCASIAN

Country Road- 19 clients, 3 ASIAN, 16 CAUCASIAN

Sportsgirl- 23 clients, 4 ASIAN, 19 CAUCASIAN

Topshop- 26 clients, 8 ASIAN, 18 CAUCASIAN

General Pants- 19 clients, 9 ASIAN, 10 CAUCASIAN

As stated, these results are merely observations, made for the purpose of comparing my own results with quantitative research. I chose to make these observations as I am performing an auto-ethnographic study where I am embodying the research.

From these observations it is clear that more people frequent the high street stores rather than the luxury stores. From these results, it is evident that the cheaper stores bring more people. It was also interesting to note that more Asian people seem to frequent the luxury stores, where there were a lot more Caucasians in the high street stores. I will be making the same observations next week, in order to compare and contrast the results and consider other variables.

REFERENCES

Mianyang, 2014, “Chinese Consumers; Doing it their way” in The Economist at http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21595019-market-growing-furiously-getting-tougher-foreign-firms-doing-it-their-way, visited on 15th September 2014

Pin Chan S, 2014, “China takes over US to be biggest economy by 2024” in The Telegraph at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11078885/China-overtakes-US-to-be-biggest-economy-by-2024.html, visited on 15th September 2014

Image One: Guo Gingming, The Economist

Image Two: Bain, The Economist

MACAU AND HONG KONG’S CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY EXILED

This week’s Asian crime movie I will examine is Exiled (2006) – a not so ‘typical’ gangster movie with some serious ‘Asian’ flare and a seriously awesome shoot out scene.

From the first 40 or so minutes, I quickly learned that Exiled isn’t about cops v baddies. Instead, it deals with some complicated themes around how life isn’t black and white, neither is the criminal underworld for that matter. In fact, there are people who work for the underworld that have shades of ‘morality’, but for whatever reason get caught up in gangs and criminal activity. The story centres on Tai, a reformed hit man who is banished from his gang and goes to Macau to start a new life, crime free. His fellow hit men friends show up in Macau on the orders from their Hong Kong boss to ‘take him out’. The men had a crisis of conscience when they realise that Tai has a wife and baby. The first ten minutes felt like thirty minutes, as the pace and overall feel of the movie was lethargic. Even the background sounds, music sequences and dialogue were….slow.

 

Aside from the disappointing feel of the first ten minutes, I quickly identified the setting – Macau. As the camera was panning around the small village in Macau where Tai and his family were living, I thought that this was the ideal place for an exiled criminal – its discreet, it’s like any other neighbourhood on the fringe of a major city. The housing commission-style villas of Macau got me thinking about my own cultural heritage – my grandfather was born in Hong Kong during the 1930s to a Portuguese mother. So as I was looking at the scenery, I was thinking about how my own grandfather and his family were crammed in an apartment not too dissimilar to Tai and his family. Making my own personal connections to the setting by extension allowed me to better relate to Tai and his struggles.

 

 

Exiled is another example of what I have dubbed ‘cultural sovereignty’ – the cultural tensions that exist between East Asian countries. For instance, in the brilliant shoot out scene as previously mentioned, an ‘old school’ gangster named Uncle Fortune is having a heated discussion with his young associate. Uncle Fortune explains; “we’ll all be the same people under the new regime. We are Chinese”. In order to understand what Uncle Fortune was alluding to, one must have some knowledge of the geo-political situation in East Asia. I don’t want to bore you with a history lesson, so all you have to know is that in 1999 (a year after the film is set in) ‘ownership’ of Macau was signed over to China after Portugal withdrew its administrator status (Martins, D 2013, p4). Therefore, China controls not only Macau but also Hong Kong. The younger criminal counters Uncle Fortune by saying; “we’re from Macau. But Boss Fay is from Hong Kong”, which suggests that the younger generations in Macau are resisting the cultural and political influence of China. Perhaps the older generations in Macau do not value their sovereignty as much as the younger generations? Given that Exiled is set in 1998 and the movie was released 2006, this is not a mere coincidence.      The producers intended to comment on these cultural issues through the crime genre. As Bridgens (cited in Coffey 2007, p4) states, autoethnography is sometimes the only way to give voice to marginalised groups on the periphery and to some extent, I was able to shed light on a largely ignored issue.

While, Macau and Hong Kong are not sovereign nations, can they still be considered as having separate cultural identities that differ from mainland China?

 

Coffey 2007, ‘The place of the personal in qualitative research’, Qualitative Researcher, issue 4, p1-12.

Martins, D 2013 ‘the Asian screen: the state of Asia’s film industry and the emergence of transmedia focus Macau’, Hexagon Concepts: media think tank, September, viewed 15  September 2014, http://www.scribd.com/doc/172962172/The-Asian-Screen-3-Macau-film-industry-casinos-gambling-with-transmedia#download