Journal of
Media and Communication Studies

  • Abbreviation: J. Media Commun. Stud.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 2141-2545
  • DOI: 10.5897/JMCS
  • Start Year: 2009
  • Published Articles: 229

Full Length Research Paper

The semiotic guerrilla: Internet subcultures as political resistance in China

Jiang Chang
  • Jiang Chang
  • School of Media and Communication, Shenzhen University, China.
  • Google Scholar
Renyi He
  • Renyi He
  • School of Journalism and Communication, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China.
  • Google Scholar
Hailong Ren
  • Hailong Ren
  • School of Translation and Interpreting, Beijing Language and Culture University, China.
  • Google Scholar

  •  Received: 29 September 2021
  •  Accepted: 07 December 2021
  •  Published: 31 December 2021


This paper adopts a critical discourse analysis in combination with in-depth interviews of 55 people to examine three representative cases of Internet subcultures created and practiced by Chinese netizens from 2009, in order to define the formats, strategies and tactics of these subcultures in relation to the broader mainstream political culture. The paper finds that the Chinese subculturists employ tactics of homophony and neologism made possible by the highly contextual Chinese language; the participants are aware of the appropriation of traditional Confucian ethics by the Party-state to legitimize its rule and devise targeted strategies of resistance accordingly; but their cynical attitude towards the dominant political culture prevents them from affecting real political change beyond mere defiance at the semiotic level.


Key words: State censorship, cultural resistance, subcultures, post-subcultures, Chinese Internet.