Prof. Shi Anbin Discusses Internet Celebrity on CCTV

Internet celebrities like Papi Jiang can become a role model for creative innovation, but are not playing a constructive role in leading public politics at the moment, Prof. Shi Anbin, Associate Dean of Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication said on CCTV News on April 21.

Appearing on CCTV’s Dialogue program, Prof. Shi says the Internet hit of Papi Jiang is a post-modern phenomenon characterized by parody—it’s a kind of norm for the young generation that parity is something anti-orthodox.

Papi Jiang would change the orthodox of Chinese culture of “Silence is gold.” “I think this is the initial step to democracy because democracy would build on communication and expression,” Prof. Shi said, “She is representing what I call ‘transcultural communication’, as she is able to use to English and Shanghai dialect mingled as cultural hybridity.”

The authority’s order to rectify Papi Jiang’s video content has little impact on her highly sought-after video ad auction. Shi points out that what lies behind this phenomenon is a “generation gap”: the authority is what we call “digital immigrants”, while the mainstream audience for the Internet is what we call “digital natives”.

“As a result, they have a perception gap,” said the Tsinghua Professor. “The media has to shoulder their responsibility: Papi Jiang must be a role model for the young generation. But as for the young audience, Papi Jiang is just a way of entertaining themselves, it’s totally a different understanding of the function of the media.”

Talking about whether Papi Jiang’s role is transformative in terms of criticizing bad things in society, Shi said that unlike Luxun, one of the most famous 20th century writer in China who usually touched upon national character of Chinese people, Papi Jiang is actually a kind of entertainer, she usually touches upon trivial issues, not really public policy issues. This is probably a demarcation between the information and infotainment.

“And I wouldn’t say Papi Jiang is like Jon Stewart [an American TV host who gained popularity through young-friendly political criticism] because she is still an entertainer. We will anticipate a new generation, someone who act as Jon Stewart, who can lead the young generation to read politics. But so far, we don’t have such a person”.

We are in “great times” because we have diversity, a greater room for democracy, and freedom of speech; but we are still in “tiny times” because people don’t actually use that right to discuss public issues. So this is an era of “amusing ourselves to death”, said Shi.

However, as Prof. Shi anticipates, with the participation of capital, the content, the way of communication, and everything will be changed. The capital may transform Papi Jiang to the Chinese version of Jon Stewart.

“Entrepreneurial spirit for young generations still concentrates on commercial business aspects. What we really need, however, is a thinker, a philosopher or a creator. So this is probably the significance of what we call ‘self-publishing media’. And Papi Jiang became a role model for creative innovation. This is probably the positive aspect,” Shi added.