As the sun sets on a riverside boulevard in the megacity of Chongqing, Southwest China, a crowd of tourists and locals assembles on the street outside the Hongyadong shopping centre. This combination mall and “folk custom area” sprawls across the cliffside of the riverbank. It was a mid-2000s regeneration project, but is constructed in an exaggerated “traditional” regional style that evokes a fantastic architecture of cascading towers edged with neon lights and lantern-lit streetside food stalls. Tourists typically “check in” (daka) to Hongyadong through a number of discrete activities: a photo from the riverside capturing the front of the building from its most impressive angle, a series of selfies in the bustling pedestrian sections trying local foods, and a short video taken from the glass elevator which leads to the upper level. More importantly, such activities are rapidly shared on a variety of digital social media platforms. In turn, the spatial practice of Hongyadong has been adapted to meet the needs of the one billion individual check-ins and short videos (which have cumulatively been watched 612 million times) recorded by the platform Douyin1While Tiktok is the international version of Douyin, Douyin has semi-geolocked content, features, moderation, and accounts. in recent years: new escalators have been built to cope with the increased footfall, the neon lights and frontage have been renovated, and security guards have become informal influencer conductors, giving visitors advice on how best to pose for selfies.2Figures quoted in https://www.sohu.com/a/530875786_121124745 [accessed 22 November 2022] At this site, urban space has been co-constructed with a distinctive digital placehood built from repeated representations on social media platforms and the subsequent creation of new urban space to meet the requirements and preferences of social media formats.
In this article, we seek to introduce a new term—wanghong urbanism3An approximate English translation would be “internet celebrity urbanism”.—for discussing digitally mediated production and consumption of urban spaces and spectacles, such as the case of Hongyadong, and consider the potential uses of this framing for theorising and deepening understandings of interactions between social media and the city. The term wanghong, derived from contemporary Mandarin Chinese discourse, literally refers to online celebrity, but also indicates a changing relationship between digital and urban space. Over the past decade, urban studies scholars have explored the growing interface between digital media and the production of urban space.4Mark Graham, “Regulate, Replicate, and Resist: the Conjunctural Geographies of Platform Urbanism,” Urban Geography 41, no. 3 (2016): 453–457; Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge, Code/Space: Software and Everyday Life (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011); Agnieszka Leszczynski, “Glitchy Vignettes of Platform Urbanism,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 38, no. 2 (2019): 189–208. But since the early 2010s, a dramatic increase in the sharing of images, videos, and place-based information through social media platforms (Instagram, TikTok, Xiaohongshu, etc) has produced a new landscape of interactions between user-generated content, online influence, urban infrastructures, and imaginaries.5Mónica Montserrat Degen and Gillian Rose, The New Urban Aesthetic: Digital Experiences of Urban Change (London: Bloomsbury, 2022); Scott Rodgers and Susan Moore, “Platform Phenomenologies: Social media as Experiential Infrastructures of Urban Public Life,” in Urban Platforms and the Future City: Transformations in Infrastructure, Governance, Knowledge and Everyday Life, ed. Mike Hodson, Julia Kasmire, Andrew McMeekin, John G. Stehlin, and Kevin Ward (London: Routledge, 2020), 209–222. Amidst this, a new media ecology has emerged around the construction of digital spectacle, online influence, and “internet celebrity”.6Crystal Abidin, Internet Celebrity: Understanding Fame Online (Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing, 2018). Digital spaces now serve as key sites for the articulation of place-based subjectivity and urban desires, and afford new ways of interacting with and understanding the city. Wanghong urbanism reflects these trends while also highlighting the interaction between urban-digital spectacle, platform urbanism, and the political economy of urban life.
The term wanghong originated from the compound phrase wangluo hongren, meaning “internet famous person.” The category of wanghong is used in contemporary Chinese media discourse to describe internet celebrities and particular trends in culture and consumption associated with them. The term has emerged in conjunction with the rise of e-commerce platforms, with the understanding that wanghong are typically engaged in practices of marketing a particular product, service, or lifestyle to their fans.7Xiaofei Han, “Historicising Wanghong Economy: Connecting Platforms through Wanghong and Wanghong Incubators,” Celebrity Studies 12, no. 2 (2021): 317–25; Ge Zhang and Gabriele de Seta, “Being ‘Red’ on the Internet,” in Microcelebrity Around the Globe: Approaches to Cultures of Internet Fame, ed. Crystal Abidin and Megan Lindsay Brown (Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited, 2018), 57-67. A notable change in the terminology used to describe celebrity status on the Chinese internet occurred around 2015 as the term wangluo hongren was abbreviated to wanghong, meaning just internet famous or internet celebrity, removing any reference to “person” from celebrity terminology. By decentering the human in the phrase, non-human objects or figures could become wanghong, opening up new possibilities and forms of celebrity as well as new ways of interacting with celebrities.
Alongside this new terminology, there has been a proliferation and reproduction of wanghong as a logic of everyday life, with a spatialisation of internet celebrity in specific locations and spatial formations.8Ge Zhang and Mujie Li, “‘Wanghong’ de houshuzi fuzhi luoji: gainian wangluo, biaozhunhua kongjian shengchan yu suanfa zhili,” Global Journal of Media Studies 8, no. 5 (2021): 42–55. We have witnessed an emergence of places described as wanghong, and since roughly 2017 a growing number of urban sites ranging from cafes and restaurants to entire cities have been labelled as wanghong. Simultaneously, the wanghong economy has boomed and become increasingly enmeshed in controversies around its governance, cultural practices, and politicisation, as national and local government agencies in China have utilised wanghong as a strategy of propaganda, diplomacy, and branding in a wide variety of ways.9David Craig, Jian Lin, and Stuart Cunningham, Wanghong as Social Media Entertainment in China (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021). New institutions such as influencer management companies have also emerged to negotiate commercial relationships between wanghong, digital platforms, e-commerce, and government agencies.
There is an ambiguity evident in this terminology, which speaks to some of the tensions and dynamics within the wanghong ecology of digital-urban relations.10Zhang and Li, “‘Wanghong’ de houshuzi fuzhi luoji:”: 42–55; Ge Zhang, “Aesthetics and Logic of Wanghong in Postdigital China,” in Asian Celebrity and Digital Media, ed. Jian Xu, Glen Donnar and Divya Garg (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, forthcoming). When a city, district, tourist site, activity, or business is described as wanghong, they may be referred to as an object or instigator of social media attention, or both. A wanghong urban landscape, therefore, can be one which is received with popularity and frequently used by human internet celebrities, one which has taken on the aspect of an internet celebrity in its own right, one which is frequented by people who aspire towards celebrity status, or all of the above. The utility of wanghong as a concept lies in the fact that by decentering the human in internet celebrity, it simultaneously captures the relationship between users and places and the cycle of attention that defines this relationship.
Places often achieve wanghong status through bottom-up user-generated hype developing around them on social media platforms, which leads to further off-line popularity and engagement. This dynamic forms the basis of the urban-digital spectacle cycle that is associated with the wanghong urbanism phenomenon and is discussed in detail below. However, the distributed nature of the agency involved in generating wanghong hype means that it is not necessarily a bottom-up process. This cycle often has its starting point in the aesthetics and spatial practices associated with a potential wanghong place, but many local urban stakeholders and translocal digital celebrities have attempted to actively cultivate and build the wanghong status of specific sites, not least because there is significant potential for revenue to be extracted from both their urban and digital life.
We propose that the concept of wanghong urbanism captures a cyclical interaction between digital social media and the urban built environment, and the production of hybrid urban-digital spectacles through such interaction. More importantly, wanghong urbanism highlights the spatial politics of this production and the contradictions emerging between different users of digital-urban space. This concept thus not only describes a particular mode of digital-urban phenomena local to the Chinese context, but also provides a broader theoretical insight into global trends in digitally mediated urbanism. Therefore, we see the utility of wanghong urbanism lying in the way it captures a set of broader urban-digital relations and contradictions that are evident in cities around the world today.
Within this introduction to wanghong urbanism, we lay out the broad theoretical coordinates of the concept, and sketch out a handful of examples and global angles of relevance. We will first introduce three examples of wanghong urbanism to illustrate the different manifestations and temporalities of this phenomenon, and then discuss the speculative dynamics underlying it—the urban-digital spectacle cycle. We conclude by considering implications and arising research directions.
The Liziba light rail station in the megacity of Chongqing has become the focus of a cycle of wanghong attention in recent years due to its unusual architectural form. The design integrates the raised light rail line and platform into a residential building, with the station and its facilities occupying the sixth-to-eighth floors of an eighteen-storey high-rise apartment block. This results in the striking visual effect of the light rail train passing through and emerging from the side of an apparently “ordinary” building in the midst of the downtown skyline. When the site itself was constructed in 2004, this was intended as a practical compromise between real estate developers and the development of essential transport infrastructure.
Since 2017, however, the site has taken on an unplanned second life as an object of digitally mediated attention, particularly through the production of short videos on Douyin. Tourists began visiting the site specifically to capture and share through video the experience of riding a train into the building or viewing a train going through the building from the street below.11Asa Roast, “Towards Weird Verticality: The Spectacle of Vertical Spaces in Chongqing,” Urban Studies Onlinefirst (2022) doi.org/10.1177/00420980221094465 Simultaneously, locals have complained vociferously about the arrival of waves of tourists with every national holiday, while other residents have charged tourists a fee for taking selfies on their balcony.12As discussed in Hua Longwang, “Youke jin jiamen pai Liziba qinggui chuanlou – wanghong qu jingdian – shangji wuxian hao,” Chongqing Evening Post, May 23, 2018, http://cq.cqnews.net/html/2018-05/23/content_44355515.htm
Although this was initially a site of accidental wanghong, local authorities and entrepreneurs have acted swiftly to capitalise on the attention it has received. A dedicated viewing platform was opened on the street below, and the area was subsequently remodelled to make the site more “spectacular”, with a sleek new exterior to the previously decaying apartment building and large LED screens. In 2021, the municipal government of Chongqing announced that the future Hualongqiao light rail station would intentionally recreate the wanghong scene of “trains passing through a building”, where the light rail would pass through the Chongqing International Trade and Commerce Center.
The case of Liziba is remarkable because it indicates the seemingly random or accidental process by which certain urban sites can become enmeshed in a cyclical economy of digital attention. A space that was once essential transport infrastructure and private residences has been transformed into a site of spectacle, initially through an exogenous process of grassroots social media hype, and subsequently through deliberate actions of local urban stakeholders and digital media platforms who sought to profit from the emergent wanghong status of a light rail station. The disruption this accidental wanghong status engendered in local daily life and spatial economy points to the contentious urban politics of digital spectacle.
Changsha Wenheyou is a restaurant complex located in the central business district of Changsha, the capital of central China’s Hunan province. It recreates a 1980s-style neighbourhood in a seven-storey high complex. In Wenheyou, customers appear to be able to step back in time—to eat at the informal street stalls that have now been cleared from the streets through repeated urban beautification campaigns13Carwyn Morris, “Spatial Governance in Beijing: Informality, Illegality and the Displacement of the ‘Low-End Population,’” The China Quarterly 251 (2022): 822–842. and to experience a time when most of the cities in China were devoid of high-rise buildings but had vibrant and impromptu street level (food) culture. This reproduction of a Chinese urban form that many feel no longer exists makes Wenheyou a site of visual and urban alterity, especially given that it sits a stone’s throw from Changsha’s tallest building. Wenheyou became wanghong first due to the popular appeal of the nostalgic aesthetics and sensory experience it provides. Its wanghong status is further enhanced by the exclusivity of its entrance system, based on a hybrid queueing system: a digital queue lottery and further in-person queueing for tables. Queuing becomes an additional part of this spectacle, with people sharing screenshots of their digital queue position and of their time in the offline queue, while media reports further share images of huge queues.
Wenheyou is a prototype form of wanghong urbanism, and a commonly referred to example of the trend. It provides a set of “winning formulas” to those who are interested in pursuing similar effects, from the aesthetics and centring of disappearing urban practices to a system of engagement with numerous moments where consumers can share their experience. Wenheyou is a main reason Changsha is now called one of the leading wanghong cities in China, and this success has led to Wenheyou opening new locations in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Unsurprisingly, projects attempting to create similar environments have started appearing, including a “theme block” that opened in a Shanghai shopping mall in July 2021, recreating the alleyways and eateries of 1990s Shanghai and decorated with artefacts collected from second-hand markets. While the creators of this project did not mention Wenheyou as an inspiration, the similarities in style are obvious.
What the case of Changsha Wenheyou highlights is that alterity can be central to wanghong urbanism. In this case, alterity is manifested in nostalgia, but other kinds of consumerist and spatial practices that nominally provide a sense of heterotopia otherwise apparently missing from people’s daily urban and digital social lives may also lead to formation of wanghong urbanism.
The third example is one that grew alongside wanghong urbanism as it became a recognised phenomenon: the Aranya real estate project and resort, located in the Beidaihe district of Qinhuangdao city, Hebei province, near Beijing. The current developer of Aranya picked up the project in 2013 after it was deemed a failed real estate development, with the hope of selling the land to earn some quick profits. The difficulty in realising this original plan forced the developer to make an effort to transform and rebrand the real estate project as a “community” that provides a “quiet, secluded place where you can recover your true self.”
Many of the recent additions to Aranya are designed with the intention of creating visual motifs of isolation that can be both experienced in person and circulated online. For example, the Lonely Library, Aranya’s first landmark architecture project, is a two-storey, brutalist-style grey building, sitting alone on the beach surrounded only by sand, with its main windows facing the ocean waves. This image was quickly picked up by the short video platform, Yitiao, in 2015, calling it “the loneliest library in China” and making Aranya go viral. Following that, similarly styled new buildings were added to the beach, including a sailing boat-shaped assembly hall and the Dune Art Museum, each positioned to be pictured as if they sit “alone” on/by the beach.
Wanghong urbanism in this case functions as a real estate marketing tool for Aranya. The popularity and broader appeal of the place, coupled with the exclusionary access to the gated community (only property owners, their visitors, and ticket holders for the many cultural festivals Aranya hosts are allowed to enter), establish the value of the real estate project to (potential) property owners and festival organisers.14Coral Yang, “Inside Aranya, China’s Exclusionary Paradise,” Sixth Tone, July 21, 2021, https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1008052/inside-aranya%2C-chinas-exclusionary-paradise. This strategy has worked well for Aranya, as it has not only expanded the size of its development at the Beidaihe location, but also added three more developments, at Jinshanling (Hebei province), Wulingshan (Hebei province), and Sanya (Hainan province).
A key issue arising from these Aranya developments is the exclusionary spaces that they create. Beaches and valleys that were previously publicly accessible are now privatised and locked behind the gates, enabling Aranya’s marketable isolation. While middle-class consumers can afford to enjoy Aranya as a sanctuary, by either owning a (second) home or attending a festival, local residents are denied access except when providing the labour that is essential to the operation and maintenance of Aranya. The economies of wanghong urbanism can be mobilised to create spaces and lifestyles that remain exclusive, even as they are more visible and digitally accessible than ever before.
The urban-digital spectacle cycle
Wanghong urbanism therefore appears as a form of “urban-digital spectacle,” operating through a human generated, algorithmically supported cycle where spectacle is produced through interlinked digital and urban spaces, and affects these spaces in return.15This cyclical process is also outlined in Zhang and Li, “‘Wanghong’ de houshuzi fuzhi luoji:”: 42–55; Zhang, “Aesthetics and Logic of Wanghong in Postdigital China,” in Asian Celebrity and Digital Media, ed. Jian Xu, Glen Donnar and Divya Garg (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, forthcoming). A typical cycle of wanghong urbanism proceeds as follows:
This cycle begins with an aesthetic or spatial practice gaining attention and popularity online, including being liked and shared through social media. In the above examples, these aesthetics and practices could range from photographing an unusual subway station, a nostalgic image of a past urban form, or a minimalist design aesthetic. The origin points for such phenomena can be variously accidental, exemplary, or intentional. Once images of this aesthetic or spatial practice have been shared repeatedly, they become the centre of a booming economy of attention based around the digital life of these images. In this way, they “go viral”16Jamie Coates, “So ‘Hot’ Right Now: Reflections on Virality and Sociality from Transnational Digital China,” Digital Culture & Society 3, no. 2 (2017): 77–98. and constitute a spectacle in the Debordian sense, as objects of mass engagement, which mediate social relationships.17Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (London: Rebel Press, 1994); Kevin Fox Gotham, “Theorizing Urban Spectacles,” City 9, no. 2 (2005): 225–246.
The repetition of this spectacle occurs across digital spaces and physical spaces in new locations separate from the original image or post, through the creation and modification of urban space that replicates or parodies the original image. The production of such urban spaces can consist of a range of practices, from spontaneous emulation of the spectacle by ordinary people to adaptation of the built environment to meet the needs of increased visitors, and from small- and medium-scale commercial “copies” of particular aesthetics or images (evoking a strategy of shanzhai imitation in the Chinese context18Jeroen De Kloet and Lena Scheen, “Pudong: the Shanzhai Global City,” European Journal of Cultural Studies 16, no. 6 (2013): 692–709.) to a deliberate incorporation of these spectacles in urban or regional strategies. Urban-digital spectacles therefore resemble mobile urban practices deployed to alter urban space at a variety of scales and speeds that could be in service of a wide range of ends, such as private commercial gain, placemaking, inter-city competition, and rent-seeking.19David Bissell, “Affective Platform Urbanism: Changing Habits of Digital on-Demand Consumption,” Geoforum 115 (2020): 102–110. Wanghong urbanism in this sense represents a highly mobile and adaptable model of urban-digital spectacle.
A further stage in the cycle occurs when a particular spectacle comes to the attention of commercial interests in digital media, which makes use of search algorithms, sorting, and categorisation to extend and intensify the economy of attention. This drives further digital engagement with the phenomenon, which translates into increased advertising revenue and the potential for other streams of income. It should be noted that this stage also encompasses legacy media organisations (newspapers, broadcast media, and advertising agencies), which play an important role in stabilising and popularising particular urban-digital spectacles. It is apparent in many of the cases of wanghong urbanism in China that the hype around a particular urban-digital spectacle itself becomes a newsworthy topic in more traditional news media (and translated in sensationalist Anglophone commentary on Chinese urbanism), which present themselves as outside observers of wanghong phenomenon, but in fact form a constituent element of the wanghong cycle. Beyond ad revenue, this refinement of spectacle provides an opportunity for digital platforms to harvest data produced by thousands of individual engagements with the spectacle; data that can then be marketed to advertisers, place-branding firms, urban consultancy firms, and state actors. It in turn leads to further spread and materialisation of the spectacle in new locations, forming a tight feedback loop.
Of course, there is nothing “new” about urban spectacles in themselves, or their hype generated through visual and textual media. In some ways the wanghong urbanism phenomenon mirrors the postmodern discourse of “theme park urbanism” and urban simulacra, which similarly generated highly mediatised spaces in their own right.20Michael Dear and Steven Flusty, “Postmodern Urbanism,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 88, no. 1 (1998): 50–72. The cyclical interlinking of digital and physical spaces captured in the term wanghong urbanism is also not distinct to China. For example, Irene Bronsvoort and Justus Uitermark have recently explored a similar form of digital placemaking in Amsterdam, with an emphasis on the material consequences of digital aesthetics mediated through Instagram in urban spaces.21Irene Bronsvoort and Justus L Uitermark, “Seeing the Street through Instagram. Digital Platforms and the Amplification of Gentrification,” Urban Studies 59, no. 14 (2022): 108–136. Throughout the urban world, we can find examples of how the aesthetic ecology and attentional economy of social media transform physical spaces. Wanghong urbanism’s novelty, we suggest, lies in its distinct temporality of spectacular attention, the dispersed agency and geographies through which it propagates, and the close connection formed between urban-digital space and profit.
The tight cycle of attention economy between speculative urban transformations and digital hype results in a self-referential loop. It drives a diverse geography of urban-digital spectacle, as wanghong phenomena jump rapidly from location to location through emulation, parody, and appropriation. Perhaps most significantly of all, the speed of this cycle introduces a close link between the political economy of social media and that of urban development. At both sides of the cycle we witness patterns of rent-seeking (from digital platforms and urban growth coalitions) and speculation (from real estate developers and tech entrepreneurs), which are increasingly intimately linked.22Jathan Sadowski, “The Internet of Landlords: Digital Platforms and New Mechanisms of Rentier Capitalism,” Antipode 52, no. 2 (2020): 562–580.
This produces a new temporality of the spectacle and its reproduction in wanghong urbanism. Urban spectacles, such as the Olympics, have generally been described as having distinct befores, durings, and afters. The build-up to the event can be traced from when it is awarded to the moment where people and media from around the world converge for an opening ceremony. Following this, images of the event and city are circulated globally before a dramatic closing ceremony. The event then ends and the city vanishes from screens, though the urban effects of the event will be long-lasting. In these moments, there is a highly orchestrated visualisation of spectacle that is heavily controlled (at least in theory) by event organisers, with the spectacle repeated on an established two-year or four-year cycle administered by a governing institution. Comparatively, wanghong urbanism presents a seemingly continuous spectacle, with no distinct beginning or end, and with control over the dynamics of the spectacle exercisable by a diverse array of stakeholders (digital platforms, local residents, city authorities, place-based private enterprises) who may have had no prior relationship or institutional framework.
The speed and effects of the urban-digital spectacle cycle also mean that a diverse range of aesthetics and spatial practices have the potential to develop into wanghong urbanism: the exact configuration of a wanghong place is comparatively less important than who is sharing the site online (a wanghong, an ordinary user, or a corporate interest) and how it is being framed (e.g., in sensational ways). As a result, the cities in China that have acquired the wanghong city label tend to be so-called Tier-2 cities;23The tier system is an unofficial, and hence highly debated, hierarchical classification of Chinese cities, mostly based on the level of economic development. “Tier-1” cities in China are major urban centres with large populations and concentrated political economic power, while lower tier and smaller cities are typically viewed as less developed and less desirable destinations for migration and investment. cities which can struggle to attract private investment and highly educated migrants when compared to “global” or “world-class” cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai. The urban-digital spectacle cycle makes it possible for these Tier-2 Chinese cities to cultivate an image and urban ambience that do not strictly align with that of “global or world-class cities” but which can still appeal to potential visitors, residents, and investors. The “success” of these wanghong cities could be seen in wanghong sites in Tier-2 cities being replicated in Tier-1 cities, such as the reproduction of Changsha Wenheyou in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Such instances also illustrate the utility of the terminology wanghong, whose ambiguity enables the category “wanghong city” to take on two layers of meaning: a city that is known for its popularity as an urban-digital spectacle and a city that consequently becomes an influencer to other cities. The increasing impact of wanghong cities in China could also be seen in the growing numbers of reports produced by social media platform companies and consultancy groups on wanghong cities, including ranking these cities. These dynamics lead to the question of whether we will see cities explicitly adopt wanghong urbanism as a city branding and urban development strategy in the near future.
Conclusion: wanghong urbanism research directions
There are a number of directions for potential research and further exploration arising from the concept of wanghong urbanism. At the core of these concerns is the rapid mediation between digital and urban power relations that are caught together in the urban-digital spectacle cycle.
The impacts of wanghong urbanism and hype-focused urban developments on local residents and users of space is an immediate and urgent avenue for future research. The question of what model of citizenship and participation in urban space is afforded within neighbourhoods dominated by new wanghong economies could lead us to examine what kind of “right to the city” is promised and delivered by digital platforms.24Joe Shaw and Mark Graham, “An Informational Right to the City? Code, Content, Control, and the Urbanization of Information,” Antipode 49, no. 4 (2017): 907– 927.
Relatedly, it is important to examine how various city governments react to the phenomenon of wanghong urbanism, including whether and how they change their behaviours as a result of urban-digital spectacle cycles. Literature on urban entrepreneurialism shows that city governments are often enthusiastic to embrace opportunities that open new channels for attention and capital under the current political economic context.25Fulong Wu, “The State Acts through the Market: ‘State entrepreneurialism’ Beyond Varieties of Urban Entrepreneurialism,” Dialogues in Human Geography 10, no. 3 (2020): 326–329. It is therefore necessary to explore whether and to what extent wanghong urbanism may become part of the toolkit utilised by entrepreneurial government officials, why certain cities may be more inclined to consider this strategy more than others, what concerns city governments have regarding wanghong urbanism, and so on. These inquiries also link to questions on how city governments manage and negotiate their relationships with relevant urban stakeholders, such as digital platforms and real estate developers, in the context of wanghong urbanism, given their important roles in making (potential) wanghong sites.
Another avenue of inquiry relates to the economic geography of urban-digital spectacle and the implications of wanghong urbanism for urban economies. To be clear, we remain sharply critical of how the apparent “flattening” of urban space into digital spectacle reproduces extant spatial and social inequalities of urban space, and indeed opens up new avenues of gentrification, touristification, digital displacement, and exploitation. In the case of China, while wanghong urbanism may drive tourism in inland regions, the profits of digital spectacle accrue to platforms based in prosperous coastal cities, such as Shenzhen and Beijing. This pattern is a cause for deep concern regarding the economic and social sustainability of the modes of urban development encouraged by wanghong urbanism and non-local stakeholders. An important task is thus to examine what happens after the hype cycle dies down and what future awaits post-wanghong neighbourhoods and cities.
Our understanding of wanghong urbanism originated in the distinct experiences of mainland Chinese cities and social media spaces, but we see global implications for the insights that this concept affords. We might reasonably identify and analyse wanghong urbanist practices in the digital and urban spaces of Manchester, Seoul, Rio de Janeiro, or any number of other cities.26 Petter Törnberg and Justus L Uitermark, “Urban Mediatization and Planetary Gentrification: The Rise and Fall of a Favela across Media Platforms,” City & Community OnlineFirst (2022) doi.org/10.1177/15356841211068521 In this overview of the concept we introduce terminology originating in empirical evidence and language from outside of the Global North, highlighting the usefulness for building urban theory from contexts and languages marginalised in Anglophone scholarship.27Yimin Zhao, “Jiehebu or Suburb? Towards a Translational Turn in Urban Studies,” Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 13, no.3, (2020): 527-542; Julie Ren, “A More Global Urban Studies, Besides Empirical Variation,” Urban Studies 59, no. 8 (2022):1741–1748. Our intention is not to provincialise wanghong but to offer some directions for how the insights of wanghong urbanism might be brought to bear on the politics of the urban-digital spectacle in other contexts.
[Ed.note: All authors have contributed equally and the order in which they are listed was determined by pulling names out of a bag.]
Amy Y. Zhang is a Lecturer in Urban Planning at the Department of Planning and Environmental Management in the School of Environment, Education and Development, The University of Manchester. Her research focuses on urban politics and governance, urban knowledge and policy mobilities, postcolonial urban theory, and state-society relations of China. Her current and previous work has looked into urban political economy of arts and creativity as well as land commodification in Chinese cities, and has appeared in Urban Geography, Urban Studies, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, and Geoforum.
Asa Roast is a Lecturer in Urban Geography at the School of Geography in the University of Leeds. His research chiefly focuses on urban transformations in China, with an emphasis on housing, informality, verticality and urban agriculture in the city of Chongqing, alongside a wider range of research interests in urban theory, displacement and games. His research has been published in International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Urban Studies, Annals of American Association of Geographers and Verge: Studies in Global Asia.
Carwyn Morris is a University Lecturer of Digital China at the Leiden Institute of Area Studies, Leiden University. His research examines the spatialization of digital relations, including digital displacement, digital territorialization projects, digital mobilities, and internet celebrity urbanisms. His work has appeared in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Mobility, Made in China, and The China Quarterly.
|↑1||While Tiktok is the international version of Douyin, Douyin has semi-geolocked content, features, moderation, and accounts.|
|↑2||Figures quoted in https://www.sohu.com/a/530875786_121124745 [accessed 22 November 2022]|
|↑3||An approximate English translation would be “internet celebrity urbanism”.|
|↑4||Mark Graham, “Regulate, Replicate, and Resist: the Conjunctural Geographies of Platform Urbanism,” Urban Geography 41, no. 3 (2016): 453–457; Rob Kitchin and Martin Dodge, Code/Space: Software and Everyday Life (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011); Agnieszka Leszczynski, “Glitchy Vignettes of Platform Urbanism,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 38, no. 2 (2019): 189–208.|
|↑5||Mónica Montserrat Degen and Gillian Rose, The New Urban Aesthetic: Digital Experiences of Urban Change (London: Bloomsbury, 2022); Scott Rodgers and Susan Moore, “Platform Phenomenologies: Social media as Experiential Infrastructures of Urban Public Life,” in Urban Platforms and the Future City: Transformations in Infrastructure, Governance, Knowledge and Everyday Life, ed. Mike Hodson, Julia Kasmire, Andrew McMeekin, John G. Stehlin, and Kevin Ward (London: Routledge, 2020), 209–222.|
|↑6||Crystal Abidin, Internet Celebrity: Understanding Fame Online (Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing, 2018).|
|↑7||Xiaofei Han, “Historicising Wanghong Economy: Connecting Platforms through Wanghong and Wanghong Incubators,” Celebrity Studies 12, no. 2 (2021): 317–25; Ge Zhang and Gabriele de Seta, “Being ‘Red’ on the Internet,” in Microcelebrity Around the Globe: Approaches to Cultures of Internet Fame, ed. Crystal Abidin and Megan Lindsay Brown (Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited, 2018), 57-67.|
|↑8||Ge Zhang and Mujie Li, “‘Wanghong’ de houshuzi fuzhi luoji: gainian wangluo, biaozhunhua kongjian shengchan yu suanfa zhili,” Global Journal of Media Studies 8, no. 5 (2021): 42–55.|
|↑9||David Craig, Jian Lin, and Stuart Cunningham, Wanghong as Social Media Entertainment in China (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021).|
|↑10||Zhang and Li, “‘Wanghong’ de houshuzi fuzhi luoji:”: 42–55; Ge Zhang, “Aesthetics and Logic of Wanghong in Postdigital China,” in Asian Celebrity and Digital Media, ed. Jian Xu, Glen Donnar and Divya Garg (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, forthcoming).|
|↑11||Asa Roast, “Towards Weird Verticality: The Spectacle of Vertical Spaces in Chongqing,” Urban Studies Onlinefirst (2022) doi.org/10.1177/00420980221094465|
|↑12||As discussed in Hua Longwang, “Youke jin jiamen pai Liziba qinggui chuanlou – wanghong qu jingdian – shangji wuxian hao,” Chongqing Evening Post, May 23, 2018, http://cq.cqnews.net/html/2018-05/23/content_44355515.htm|
|↑13||Carwyn Morris, “Spatial Governance in Beijing: Informality, Illegality and the Displacement of the ‘Low-End Population,’” The China Quarterly 251 (2022): 822–842.|
|↑14||Coral Yang, “Inside Aranya, China’s Exclusionary Paradise,” Sixth Tone, July 21, 2021, https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1008052/inside-aranya%2C-chinas-exclusionary-paradise.|
|↑15||This cyclical process is also outlined in Zhang and Li, “‘Wanghong’ de houshuzi fuzhi luoji:”: 42–55; Zhang, “Aesthetics and Logic of Wanghong in Postdigital China,” in Asian Celebrity and Digital Media, ed. Jian Xu, Glen Donnar and Divya Garg (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, forthcoming).|
|↑16||Jamie Coates, “So ‘Hot’ Right Now: Reflections on Virality and Sociality from Transnational Digital China,” Digital Culture & Society 3, no. 2 (2017): 77–98.|
|↑17||Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (London: Rebel Press, 1994); Kevin Fox Gotham, “Theorizing Urban Spectacles,” City 9, no. 2 (2005): 225–246.|
|↑18||Jeroen De Kloet and Lena Scheen, “Pudong: the Shanzhai Global City,” European Journal of Cultural Studies 16, no. 6 (2013): 692–709.|
|↑19||David Bissell, “Affective Platform Urbanism: Changing Habits of Digital on-Demand Consumption,” Geoforum 115 (2020): 102–110.|
|↑20||Michael Dear and Steven Flusty, “Postmodern Urbanism,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 88, no. 1 (1998): 50–72.|
|↑21||Irene Bronsvoort and Justus L Uitermark, “Seeing the Street through Instagram. Digital Platforms and the Amplification of Gentrification,” Urban Studies 59, no. 14 (2022): 108–136.|
|↑22||Jathan Sadowski, “The Internet of Landlords: Digital Platforms and New Mechanisms of Rentier Capitalism,” Antipode 52, no. 2 (2020): 562–580.|
|↑23||The tier system is an unofficial, and hence highly debated, hierarchical classification of Chinese cities, mostly based on the level of economic development. “Tier-1” cities in China are major urban centres with large populations and concentrated political economic power, while lower tier and smaller cities are typically viewed as less developed and less desirable destinations for migration and investment.|
|↑24||Joe Shaw and Mark Graham, “An Informational Right to the City? Code, Content, Control, and the Urbanization of Information,” Antipode 49, no. 4 (2017): 907– 927.|
|↑25||Fulong Wu, “The State Acts through the Market: ‘State entrepreneurialism’ Beyond Varieties of Urban Entrepreneurialism,” Dialogues in Human Geography 10, no. 3 (2020): 326–329.|
|↑26||Petter Törnberg and Justus L Uitermark, “Urban Mediatization and Planetary Gentrification: The Rise and Fall of a Favela across Media Platforms,” City & Community OnlineFirst (2022) doi.org/10.1177/15356841211068521|
|↑27||Yimin Zhao, “Jiehebu or Suburb? Towards a Translational Turn in Urban Studies,” Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 13, no.3, (2020): 527-542; Julie Ren, “A More Global Urban Studies, Besides Empirical Variation,” Urban Studies 59, no. 8 (2022):1741–1748.|