Yongjian Li analyses Chinese motherhood on Douyin and social media use by elderly Houniao

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How do Chinese stay-at-home mothers use short videos to digitally portray motherhood and labour practices on Douyin (Chinese TikTok)? And what is the role of smartphones and social media for Chinese elderly during their seasonal migration? These were the foci of two recent publications by Yongjian Li. Yongjian is a PhD Candidate at the Media and Communication Department of the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC). 

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Researching Motherhood in the Age of Short Videos: Stay-at-Home Mothers in China Performing Labor on Douyin

Yongjian Li explores stay‐at‐home mothers in China as female content creators who use Douyin (Chinese TikTok) to perform their motherhood, gain visibility, and monetise their labour in the journal article "Researching Motherhood in the Age of Short Videos: StayatHome Mothers in China Performing Labor on Douyin”. The publication has been co-authored with PhD candidate Guanqin He and Dr Koen Leurs from Utrecht University (The Netherlands). It was published in the special issue “Across Mobile Online and Offline Spaces: Reflections on Methods, Practices, and Ethics” of the journal Media and Communication.

This article first gives methodological and ethical reflections on the possibilities and limitations of using user-generated short videos as research data, and how these mothers perform three different forms of labor: (a) domestic labor; (b) affective labor; (c) entrepreneurial labor to navigate between their roles as devoted mothers and their pursuit of self‐actualisation. The authors examined Douyin's in-built affordances to ensure that their ethical stance complemented the affordances of the platform and its user culture and called upon social media researchers to consider the practices and preferences of the communities they studied to guide our methodological decision-making. They look into the rising phenomenon in China of the stay‐at‐home mother, by exploring how they use the short video platform Douyin to record their routine lives as stay-at-home mothers.

The findings show that social media platforms promise to empower stay-at-home mothers to have greater autonomy over their digital self‐representations, voice, and visibility. These stay-at-home mothers perform diverse labour as they engage with digital cultural production while drawing on technological affordances to make themselves visible in public discourse.

The full article is open access in “Media and Communication”
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A tale of two cities: digital place-making and elderly Houniao migration in China

Yongjian and Dr. Amanda Alencar (ESHCC) co-authored this paper about the relationship between ageing, mobility and digital placemaking in the context of elderly Houniao migration in China.

The last four decades have seen a growing trend of Chinese ageing migrants originating from the North move to the South during winter and return during summer, resembling snowbirds. The flexibilisation of the household registration system, increasing urbanisation, and infrastructure development have led to a new spatial pattern of mobility and the search for new lifestyles among elderly populations with the support of ICT, the so-called Houniao (‘snowbirds’) migration phenomenon.

Building on the results of a qualitative study with 24 elderly Houniao participants in the city of Sanya, China, the authors applied the concept of digital place-making to explore elderly’s use of smartphones and social media in daily practices during their seasonal migration to Southern cities in China. The authors distinguished three digital place-making-related themes: (1) making social contacts and establish a sense of community in their new city, (2) rebuilding their identity and place through food by using digital media, (3) connecting to places and feeling active in older age. The findings of this study revealed the importance of improving the design and implementation of inclusive policies concerning the digital lives of elderly people.

This journal article is published in the special issue “Southern reconfigurations of the ageing-migration nexus” in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

The full article is open access
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