Digital Identities of Chinese Netizens and A Light Comparative Discussion on the Social Networks Between US and China

Hi everyone, I have been preparing since last week for our discussion on digital identities and I found some interesting websites. Feel free to leave me a message about what you want to know about social networks in China and some cultural differences. I got some links on the right side of my blog under Blogroll, you can just click and see what is going on there. You can also find some interesting blogs related to digital identities on under blogs that I follow. I’ll be adding links frequently during now and Monday morning. One of you already asked me about some issues in China, and I hope more of you will just tell me what you want to know concerning digital identities, digital environment, social identities, culture differences, and so on.

As social network systems are one of the most powerful way to shape our online identities, I chose to talk about popular online networking systems in China. I will generally be talking about how I use and interact with my family, friends, colleagues, and students in China with our social networks and how these actions define our digital identities. I also have real stories of two of my best friends who are in the queer culture. I’ll tell you how their identities came into being and how they maintain their life on the web and in reality. The “Queer” interview triggered this. Besides, I will introduce some features of identity defining functions of social networks in China as compared to Facebook and the like, though I have just used Facebook for one year or so. I had a Facebook account years ago in China, but later on it was banned in China, and I forgot my username and had to start all over again when I arrive here last August. I guess you may not want to learn the functions because most of you will never use Chinese social networks in China, but I will try my best to amuse you by introducing my social networks in a developing country. Things are totally the same, but not always the same as far as digital identities are concerned. I will try to inform you more on how things move on in China so that you may get a general idea of another way of life, and what people’s digital identities are like in another part of the global village. Honestly speaking, maybe it is subjective, most US news have negative evaluation on China. While I know more about the good and bad side of the China coin, I wish we could communicate more about the differences and similarities. I do not want to go political at this point, but we will have a chance to communicate many things now that the internet has shaped a global village and that people can be who they are or are not in a digital world. The opportunity to be here and learn from you will be my life’s treasure and hopefully we could get the kind of  mutual understanding that our digital era pushes or demands us to.

I tried to read some papers on digital identities, hopefully the bibliography below will be enlarged by our collaboration. This post is currently under construction and will be changing during the weekend. Have a nice weekend and see you all on Monday when you will be traveling with me to the Chinese web communities!


Wikipedia defines Digital identity as “a psychological identity that prevails in the domains of cyberspace,” and “a set of data that uniquely describes a person or a thing (sometimes referred to as subject or entity) and contains information about the subject’s relationships to other entities.” Online Identity refers to “the social identity that an internet user establishes through digital identities in cyberspace.

Computer and the internet has prompted globalization more than what we can via traditional mass media. You can visit any part of the globe by just click google map. I walked on my cousin’s daily routine from work to home in Quebec, Canada.

Here are some  topics that I think of on digital identities:

    • Digitization & Globalization
    • Digital Identities & Mass Media
    • Digital Identities & Social Identities
    • Digital Identities & Digital Writing
    • Global Citizenship & Intricate Identities
    • SNS & Digital Identities

Here is a case study that investigates the drastic changes that occur to a group of people’s identities after they were introduced to the Internet:

Indeed, mass media has changed our life drastically. Educators, sociologists, and professionals in other fields have been investigating the influence of digital technology on our identities and society a whole. Here is a video on the impact that mass media has on us:

Our digital identities transfer to another level when we get ourselves involved in social networks. Instead of telling stories about the divide brought by TV shows, phone calls, and so on, we began to talk about the benefits and disadvantages the internet brought to our life.

    • digitalized identities via telephone, cellphone, TV, radio, etc.
    • sms, email, TV and radio transmission
    • MSN, QQ, etc.
    • MySpace, WordPress, Sina blog, 163 blog, etc.
    • Facebook, twitter, weibo/micro blog, Renren, weixin/wechat/micro  voice messenger, etc.

Here is another video on digital identity, I found it quite interesting on showing how Facebook and twitter shapes our daily activities. More interestingly, the sudden appearance of an India woman(am I right?) seems to depict global communications while a sci-fi scence happens that alien people on alien stars are attacking our earth. Then, all of it is just a movie, just as the party scene being condensed into Facebook posts and status, and twits. At last, the guy is tied of sitting in front of computer and TV and wants fresh air. However, his destiny seems doomed into this digital world. He was attacked by the blocks in the game “Russian squares”(the game’s Chinese name). Ironically, when he runs aways from being attacked, his fate is still doomed in running across the street just as a gaming like action. Then, all of it is just film on youtube and is liked by many people via facebook by an iPhone user. Every one thing is included in another larger thing and all technologies and digital vehicles symbolize our digital age and information explosion. When the video comes to its end, I really feel like all the information explores:BANG! Then my brian goes to blankness, then black just like the video screen. Anyway, it is a great demonstration of digital identity and our digital era:

WHO AM I? The once traditional question of existential philosophy comes to torture us again when it comes to the digital age. Descarte’s remark of “Je pense que je suis” is unlikely to be true any more because even if we think we are who we are, other people may not see us as who we really are. Our social identities and our digital identities sometimes are the same, but often, in order to protect ourselves from harmful usages of our real identities, we tend not to provide our real identities.

Besides our social identities, we have national identities as displayed on our passports. Each person is seen by other people as a representative of his or her own nation no matter it is a good or a bad national feature. Amuse or hate yourself by looking at the picture below. Our national identities are now digitally portrayed in this picture. I cannot help asking a question: Is it right and civilized to look at people by the characteristics of their nations? To depict China as the world’s factory is so vivid and so true a reality, but is it really what a nation is? If not, I guess there would have been far less wars between nations and their people.

Look at the picture below, our digital identities are just the same as Mr. Philippe Boukpbza.

Similarly, we are writers, students, costumers, producers, and so on.

We are experiencing an identity fragmentation in our digital age. Have you ever had the feeling that your are so split and cannot do all the things at the same time, but have to? Everyday, I open my email boxes(I have four emails) and instant chatting network(QQ), delete the advertisements, read the news, reply and talk with family, friends, professors. While doing this, I will also open my unlearn, wordpress, and see what’s happening in the discussion board and whether there are new posts. After one day’s course work and homework, I also log on my QQzone and renren to see what my Chinese friends are doing, the newly shared posts, so on and so forth.

Currently, I am a wife, an international student, a writer to some extent in my Chinese blog, a consumer on various US, Chinese, and Japanese websites, etc. During the summer, my Mac broken due to my careless drop of water on its keyboard, then I experienced a totally different way of life during the several weeks without it. It seems life is so quite and simple, yet a torture to me because it seems I can no longer live without computer because without it, I lost contact with my friends all of a sudden. I read several Japanese novels, tried to better my cooking skills, and stay at home or walk in the park to think about my life and my future. Then, after I “disappeared” from the internet for a while, I found tons of emails and messages in my accounts of emails and other social networks. My friends were worried about me, my students even asked me whether I was pregnant!

In the digital age, people are pushed to do similar things to support our digital life. The picture below shows what Chinese and US netizens use to share video, purchase online, maintain social networks, search online, and blogging. Although there are some inappropriateness here because some features of the applications we use are not exactly the same, the picture vividly depicts how similar a way of life we are sharing with each other as long as we are netizens.

Below is some statistics on top Chinese social networks. Qzone is currently the biggest social network in China and many of my foreign friends are using the QQ international to contact their Chinese friends. However, unlike renren, pengyou, and kaixin, qq does not require real name registration, which is to a large extent why it has so many users. In my opinion, people in China, due to our culture, are not always willing to express themselves directly, or expose their information to the public. While the figure does not point out, actually renren and other social networks allow us to use fake names or fake photo ids, but when you use a fake name or id, renren will not give you an orange name privilege, which means, all names not orange are considered by others as not real person. This will damage your credibility to make friends online.

The figure below ranks China’s top social networks from daily communication social networks to dating service networks. And the identity of user groups are generally defined in the user demographics column.

The picture below is a map that show how our identities are divided and classified according to the functions of different websites. Despite the over generalization of each website systems, it gives us an overall idea of our digital life and identities.  

As Chinese population is one of the world’s largest, someone humorously did an investigation on how big is social media in China according to its user populations.  

The icons in the picture below are what Chinese netizens use frequently. However, in this global age, most of Chinese also use Western social media networks such as Facebook, twitter, youtube, and so on. Chinese banking accounts and credit cards can be used everywhere as long as they belong to “unipay” network. Think of what cannot happen in a digital age, I was amused by one of my sister’s stories. Once she was using QQ to make friends. Then she got serious with one of her friends who she thought would be her soul-mate. However, this online relationship came to an end when she found out that the guy is an old man within a marriage. Anything can happen online when we are not sure about each other’s digital identity. My dorm mate in graduate school was nearly deceived by a young man before she realized that man was only trying to get money from her.  It makes me think that information literacy in China has such a long way to go. People are easily deceived online and I have heard too many such stories. It also reminds us that a digital identity is not necessarily equal to our identities in real life because online people can easily pretend to be someone else. Once my QQ account was stolen, and my friends and students told me later when I got it back that someone was trying to borrow money from them in my name. 

How do Chinese social networks work?

Tencent: QQ(instant typing messages, video and audio chat, games, email, music, etc.), Qzone, QQ Schoolmates net, etc.

Renren: social network among students, later on expanded to other communities. 

Dynamics of Privacy and Digital Ethics


Questions for Discussion:

1. Digital identity is currently not merely about who we really are, but more and more ideologically involved when cultures and different opinions meet. How do we understand and make the best use of digital identities in our real life and specifically in the writing classrooms?  

2. As rhetoric and composition scholars, how do we do our research on digital identities as related to digital literacy, multi-modal writing, gender studies, cultural studies, and use technology to fulfill our humanistic ideals? 

3. Does digital identity help us to bridge cultural and ideological gaps on a constructive and conducive basis? Why or why not? 

4. What kind of ethical and social problems comes into your mind when you think of digital identities?

5. As global citizens in the digital age, how do we deal with the unprecedented challenges of globalization and global literacy? Do you think it is unfair for us to have to learn much more about the world than our ancestors? Yesterday I was thinking “if I were born many centuries ago, I will only have to learn a little about history and the world, may be I do not even have to go to school.” Does our digital identities as world citizens automatically require more diligence in learning? 


Anderson. “Prosumer Approach”

Andrew Root. “Identity in a Digital Age”. Word & World Volume 30, Number 3 Summer 2010.

Cindy Hohanek. Composing Research: A Contextualist Paradigm for Rhetoric and Composition. Utah State University Press, Logan, Utah. 2000.

Gian S. Pagnucci and Nicholas Mauriello. “The Masquerade: Gender, Identity, and Writing for the Web”. Computers and Composition 16,  141-151 (1999)

Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe. “Globalism and Multimodality in a Digitized World”. Computers and Composition Studies.

Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe. with Gorjana Kisa and Shafinaz Ahmed. Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers. Hampton Press, Inc. 2007.

Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe. with Gorjana Kisa and Shafinaz Ahmed. Passions, Pedagogies, and 21st Century Technologies. Utah State University Press, Logan, Utah. 1999.

Gina Maranto, Matt Barton. “Paradox and promise: MySpace, Facebok, and the Sociopolitics of Social Networking in the Writing Classroom”. Computers and Composition 27 (2010) 36-47.

Hohan Fornäs, Kajsa Klein, Martina Ladendorf, Jenny Sundén, Malin Sveningsson. Digital Borderlands: Cultural Studies of Identity and Interactivity on the Internet. Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., New York. 2002.

Jeff Rice and Marrel O’Gorman. New Media/New Methods: The Academic Turn from Literacy to Electracy. Parlor Press, West Lafayette, Indiana. 2008.

Jeff Rice. The Rhetoric of Cool: Composition Studies and New Media. Southern Illinois University Press. 2006.

Johnathan Alexander, Barclay Barrios, Samantha Blackmon, Angela Crow, Keith Dorwick, Jacqueline Rhodes, and Randai Woodland. “Queerness, sexuality, technology, and writing: How do queers write ourselves when we write in cyberspace?”

Jonathan Alexander, William P. Banks. “Sexualities, technologies, and the teaching of writing: A critical overview.” Computers and Composition 21 (2004) 273–293

L.E. Sujo de Montes, Sally M. Oran, Elizabeth M. Willis. “Power, language, and identity: Voices from an online course”. Computers and Composition 19 (2002) 251–271.

Natasha Lvovich. “Sociocultural Identity and Academic Writing: A Second-Language Learner Profile.” TETYC, December 2003.

Richard J. Selfe and Cynthia L. Selfe. “‘Convince me!’ Valuing Multimodal Literacies and Composing Public Service Announcements”.

Scott Lloyd Dewitt. “Out There on the Web: Pedagogy and Identity in Face of Opposition.” Computers and Composition 14, 229-243 (1997).

Susan Kirtley. “Rendering technology visible: The technological literacy narrative”. Computers and Composition (2012).

Susan Miller. The Norton Book of Composition Studies. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Intellectual rights of the pictures and videos belongs to their original productors. 


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ellah1
    Sep 15, 2012 @ 01:17:08

    I hope you discuss the graphs and charts in class Monday. They look interesting.


  2. Bradford Hincher
    Sep 16, 2012 @ 14:25:36

    I am looking forward to your discussion, Belle. Having compared the usage of social networking in the United Kingdom to that of the United States, I am intereted to see how different things are in China.


    • bellewangdanceswithchains
      Sep 16, 2012 @ 15:04:53

      Hi Bradford, thank you for the reply. I was looking forward to your comment because I know you are professional in the social network field. I was just beginning to do something about digital identity, and I thought maybe social network is a great way to start. I will definitely tell you about how things are going on in China and I hope I can get your insights. One of my friend told me that to learn English in China is to learn more about the world, but to learn English abroad is to learn more about China. If I am subjective and limited in my opinions, please do point out my problems and do not hesitate to give me your opinions. Thanks again and see you on Monday! (*^_^*)


  3. Mary Hocks
    Sep 17, 2012 @ 02:06:21

    Excellent examples yes- can’t wait to hear more about them!


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