Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2014

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Mass Communications

First Advisor

Berkowitz, Dan

First Committee Member

Eko, Lyombe

Second Committee Member

Ekdale, Brian

Third Committee Member

Driessnack, Martha

Fourth Committee Member

Wang, Jing


The study explores reasons for certain events trending on Sina Weibo - the most popular Chinese micro-blogging site - and cultural meanings of consumption in trending topics. Conceptually, it indicates that social media practice is more than a technical product, but it is also a cultural phenomenon that conveys cultural meanings. Multiple data were collected through a pilot study, a two-month online observation focusing on three trending topics and 34 in-depth face-to-face interviews. This e-ethnography study finds that Weibo is a Chinese cultural product in the global trend of high technology, mobile Internet and social networking. Also, it roots in the overall political and economic environment of Chinese media industry. Freedom of choices and equality in market are two doxa found in this field. The Weibo rituals present a negotiation of prosumers' political, economic and cultural identities. Neo-liberal elites become crucial agents lead in this field. The Weibo field demonstrates the social media relying on money line to push the Party line.

In general, this dissertation argues a cultural paradigm of studying social media phenomena. It demonstrates how media phenomena are culturally constructed for society members to make meanings of their social lives. It goes beyond the limitation of a normative paradigm that makes judgments about whether media are contributing to--or harming--democracy. Instead, it provides a conceptual foundation to: begin to understand media phenomena by placing them within their original social context instead of a different context; to conclude the interpretation of the phenomena by integrating them with the bigger conceptual picture; and to eventually enable theoretical conclusions which will be transferable to other contexts.


xi, 144 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 136-144).


Copyright 2014 Zhengjia Liu