Course:ASIA319/2022/"Micro" (微)

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微 Character (Micro)

Wéi 微 (micro) is a term used as a form of measurement. It is most often used as a prefix to scale down or ‘microfy’ something. The understanding of this keyword deems vital—overtime, understanding the progression and influence of technology, media and the etymology of the word has allowed for a greater understanding of the ever growing social sphere. Currently, the digital world is brimming with wéi (微) especially in the era of microblogging and social media platforms such as Wēixìn, with signs of only growing. In acknowledging and investigating the frequent use of wéi (微) in the digital world and social sphere, we can better understand the inclinations of the public towards wéi (微) media and wéi (微) culture. By exploring the influence of wéi (微) and how it alters and creates a variation of commonly used terms in media and society, we can recognize and root out the development of Chinese social ideologies, and their increasing relevance in the contemporary societies that heavily encompass the digital world and western influence.

The Genesis of "Wei"

Emergence in Chinese Popular Culture

In Chinese popular culture, the word wéi (微) is used in reference to the term “microculture”. In a Western context, the term is defined as the development of a subculture from within an organization.[1] From a Chinese information technology perspective, microculture is developed through media platforms, and is used to refer to the digital transmission of information. For many, microculture is a medium that provides opportunities for the individual expression of ideas and opinions.[2] The proliferation of wéi (微) culture can be noted through many popular Chinese technological platforms, such as WeChat (微信) and Weibo (微博).

Traditional Meanings of "Wei"

Dictionary Meanings

The term wéi (微), or micro, is often used as a prefix to denote ideas of minimization. Wéi can be used to essentially take something to a smaller scale. Some examples of the minimizing effects of wéi (微) are present in the following terms: “rain” (雨) becomes “drizzle” (微雨) when the wéi (微) prefix is added; in other words, the rain “lessens” into a drizzle.[3] Similarly, the word “gram” (克) becomes the smaller unit “microgram” (微克) when the micro prefix is added.[3][4]

Glyph origins of the character 微


Since “𣁋” is the original character for the meaning small and slight. In terms of glyph origins, “微” is built from semantic “彳” and doubly semantic and phonetic “𣁋.”  “彳” is simply a semantic indicator appended on to “微” to extend the meaning small, slight to travelling under stealth. [5]

“Wei” in Chinese Popular Culture: Meanings and Usages

微博 (Weibo)

Weibo logo

Weibo is the Chinese word for “microblog” as well as the name of China’s most widely used microblogging platform, (Sina Weibo). Since Facebook and Twitter were both banned by the government in 2009, this alternative platform functions as a combination of the two. Weibo accounts are used by many Chinese celebrities to interact with their followers and promote their work. Outside of China, Weibo is available, although unregistered users can only view verified accounts without interacting. Pop stars including actress/singer Zhao Wei, TV host/singer/actress Xie Na, TV anchor/singer/all-around talent He Jiong, and model/actress Angelababy are all in charge of some of the most well-known Sina Weibo profiles.[6]

乘风破浪的姐姐 (Older Sister Who Brave the Winds and Waves)

Weibo and WeChat are popular platforms for content streaming as well. The show “Older Sister Who Brave the Winds and Waves (乘风破浪的姐姐)” was recently an extremely popular keyword, and the show generated a lot of discussion and had a positive effect on Chinese ladies over 30 who felt they resonated with the theme of age diversity in challenging traditional beauty and entertainment industry standards. Women having reached the ages of 30, 40, and 50 have felt greater self-assurance and freedom in becoming gorgeous. Given China's ageing population, no time is better than the present to increase "age diversity" in the media, fashion, and beauty sectors in China and around the world.[7]

微时代 (Micro-Era)

Chinese digital media have entered a "micro-era", or “微时代” (Weishidai) of mobility and miniaturization—“微” meaning “micro”, and “时代” meaning “era” respectively. The "wei" prefix of the Chinese micro-era term summarizes a series of cultural patterns emerging from the local developments of digital media: decentralization, fragmentation, dispersion, and immediacy. "Weishidai" is one of the concepts that foretells the development of communication technology in China. It also seeks to give an overview of the current configuration of communication technologies as they permeate society and advance in portability. Digital media in the micro-era enable more dispersed and mobile micro-sociality practises as well as unique ways to connect with the creation and consumption of content because of their tiny size and dissemination across portable devices.[8]

Social, Cultural, and Political Implications

Microculture in Social Media

Chinese platforms are known for having their own versions of well-known, western originated social media platforms.[9] Examples includes WeChat (微信, weixin) which shares similar features to Facebook, and Weibo (微博, Weibo), a microblogging platform that serves similar purposes as Twitter. There are many other social media platforms which do not include the prefix, 微, that are also substitutes of western media, such as the use of Baidu (百度, baidu) in place of Google, QQ music (QQ音乐, QQ yinyue) instead of Spotify, and iQIYI (爱奇艺, aiqiyi) in replacement of Netflix. Western originated social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google are widely used globally, creating an interconnected international community. In China, not only do they have their own versions of social media, but they also ban the use of said Western platforms including  Facebook, Twitter, and Google.[10]

WeChat (微信) and Neoliberalism
WeChat logo

WeChat (微信) is China’s most popular app—a mobile messaging app, with 1.08 billion monthly active users created by the Chinese company, “Tencent”.[11] Although WeChat is primarily classified as a messaging service, it has expanded to include a variety of other services that evidence the shift from a socialist paradigm into a neoliberalist economy alongside the mass proliferation of Chinese social media platforms.[12] In WeChat, the “Moments” function allows users to freely share pictures, videos, and text updates with their friends, enforcing the ideal of individual expression. However, much of the platform has been commodified, and provides many opportunities for businesses to proliferate. Many users create business profiles, and advertise their products using the Moments function. This method of business exchange is more customized; it requires interested consumers to add and consult the seller before they can receive a server or product. The sharing and chatting functions of WeChat alone act as a medium for business owners to expand their work. However, WeChat also has distinct marketplace features, where businesses can directly sell onto a platform for consumers to browse and buy from without having to directly contact a seller. Users can buy event tickets, shop for brands, thrift for used goods, and look at products on sale all from connections within the WeChat app. Additionally, the integrated service WeChat pay allows customers to open up a digital wallet and make mobile payments. This ease of making payments and consumption simply all from within the app contributes to a seamless and almost unnoticeable transition into a commodified economy.[13]

Societies of Control (Gilles Deleuze)

The increasing interconnectedness of Chinese economies and societies due to the proliferation of digital technology use strongly ties into Deleuze’s idea of “Societies of Control”, as the use of these digital platforms can make individuals increasingly easier to monitor, as well as largely influence their thoughts on various topics.[14] In disciplined societies, predictable populations are kept in check through the threat of surveillance and punishment. As more neoliberal ideas are adopted, the populations and the economic market are freed up to individually operate and innovate. The resulting innovations in technological advancement can be evidenced through the proliferation of social media platforms in an increasingly interconnected society. Though individuals in Chinese society seem to have the freedom of choice in selecting the platforms they use, they are still “controlled” because they are restricted to pick from the platforms that are provided to them. This example directly reflects the idea that control is not synonymous with discipline. Additionally, increased technology use has only increased the possibilities for surveillance and data—a user’s location can be tracked without difficulty, and digital platforms are constantly collecting private data. For example, Weibo announced in 2022 that the provincial or municipal locations of users would be published on their account pages if they engaged in bad behaviour and malicious misinformation. Nevertheless, users are still drawn to these platforms due to the opportunities they provide for the individual expression of opinions. As referenced in Deleuze’s “Societies of Control” theory, it is difficult for users to disentangle themselves from the communications and interconnections provided by technology use. This interconnectedness may even contribute to the subconscious socialization of many in their decision-making and opinions. [14]

Chinese Street Fashion

Microculture as a Community for Youth

Microculture can be defined as smaller cultures that develop within a specific organization.[15] The specific organization in this case will be the Chinese community. Some examples of microcultures in the Chinese community include Techno music culture (音乐文化)​​, Buddhist lifestyle (佛系青年), streetwear culture (街头服饰文化) and more. These microcultures attract the attention of youth from popular reality shows, encouraging the Chinese audience to explore different music genres, fashion styles, lifestyles, and hobbies which further diversify microcultures. With various microcultures being present in China, the youth have the opportunity to identify with a community that best fits themselves. This phenomenon reflects the individualistic paradigm in post-socialist China where the ideological control from the CCP is loosened as the communities depoliticize. In an individualistic paradigm, people in the community can express personal desires and private matters in public settings.[16]

Accessibility and the Digital Divide

China faces a severe domestic digital divide in the accessibility of digital technologies and corresponding platforms, such as the Internet.[17] As a result, not everyone will have equal accessibility participating in microculture. Additionally, digital inequalities are closely correlated with inequalities in economic development; divisions between developed and less developed regions in China are only deepened by technological innovation, as developed regions are able to increase their gains, while developing regions still struggle with accessing these technologies.[18][19] While a majority of Internet users in China are educated and wealthy individuals living in major urban areas, much of the Chinese population actually live in more rural areas, evidencing the clear disproportionate inequalities of the digital divide.[17] Thus, while microculture is a reflection of the individual and unique ideologies of a diverse population, only those with regular access to technology—a particularly privileged group—can partake in and share microcultures that exist in the digital realm.

Comparing Microculture in China and the West

The United States and the West: Individualistic

In a Western context, microculture most often refers to groups classified by demographic differences, such as race, ethnicity, geographic location, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and occupation.[20] Minority demographic groups interact to increase inclusivity and representation in the greater society.

As mentioned previously, many international social media platforms originated from the United States (US), including Facebook and Twitter. These platforms are excellent examples of the proliferation of microblogging and microculture, as they enable users to send micro letters (i.e. messages) or share micro documentaries (i.e. blogging). “Microfying” modes of communication contributes in developing a fast-paced information sharing network and allows users from outside of America to be a part of the network as well, overcoming barriers of distance and time.[21]

Free Speech

A distinguishing feature of social media in the West in contrast to China is the freedom of speech. The First Amendment from The White House constitution protects freedom of speech and individuals from government censorship; which is reflected in the majority of social media platforms.[22] Users are able to openly voice their opinions on subjects—even the current government and party in power—provided that they do not harass others and promote illegal or violent practices.[23]

China: Collectivist


In contrast to the liberty of speech on American digital platforms, China holds tighter control over their cyberspaces. Censorship is a key feature, not only for social media, but also in news, TV, and journals. China has one of the most restrictive media censorship and individuals who share information beyond what is restricted risk being imprisoned.[24] During the spread of the #MeToo movement, many individuals used the Weibo platform to publish stories of sexual harassment, some pertaining to important scholarly figures as well as important figures in various non-governmental organizations.[25] The hashtag and its related variants were subsequently banned on Weibo. However, users found clever alternatives to temporarily evade the censorship of the government in referencing the #MeToo movement, such as in using the term “rice bunny” (米兔) which is pronounced “mi tu” in Mandarin. Others posted texts in image and screens-hotted formats, as well as using the respective emojis of a rice bowl and bunny to replace the hashtag.[26] These subtle evasions against censorship are evidence of social rebellion against the dominant collectivist ideals as enforced by the Chinese party-state.

A Case Study of Minority Groups


Microculture in China also refers to racial minority groups such as the Han and Uyghur groups. However, the Chinese party-state is increasingly using propaganda and disinformation efforts to hide the oppression and violations of human rights in border areas like Xinjiang.[27] By using popular Uyghurs and other minority influencers on Youtube, China promotes a reassuring narrative of their wellbeing, in addition to any activities going on in related geopolitical areas. On Twitter and YouTube, thousands of videos of Uyghurs denying abuses by the nation have been uploaded. However, being so engaged on a Western social media platform is extremely unusual for prominent Chinese entertainment figures. Thus, these videos are a component of a complex influence operation run by Chinese authorities in response to allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, evidencing China’s collectivist paradigms at work in the oppression of unique minorities and individuals to promote a dominant state identity.

Studies Related to 微

Hou et al. (2014)

Hou et al. (2014) conducted a study to answer the question, "Is the excessive use of Microblogs an Internet Addiction?"[28] These researchers address this question by developing a scale to assess the excessive use of microblogging in the Chinese student population. Researchers have discovered a need for a measuring technique for assessing the increasing excessive use of microblogs, hence the formation of a scale to advance this area of research.[28]

Recently, there has been a growth in communication via Internet-based communication technologies, which has created a new academic field of studying social networks. Social media platforms such as Facebook and MySpace have become popular among youth and have impacted the younger generation. [28]

The participants in the study were 3,047 college students in China and used six study measures: demographic data, characteristics of microblog use, Microblog Excessive Use Scale (MEUS), Internet Addiction Test (IAT), social interaction scale, and self-disclosure questionnaire.[28]

Based on the data collected, the researchers observed that 4% to 15% of participants excessively used microblogs, suggesting that several college students potentially have symptoms of problematic microblog usage. This observation is related to the recent estimate that around 4.07% to 14.08% of college students in China have a predominantly inattentive subtype of Internet addiction disorder.[28] Hou et al. (2014) also discovered that the students who spent a significant portion of their time on microblogs formed a dependency which reflected in their behaviour and psychology.

The researchers in this study also state similarities and differences between the excessive use of microblogs and Internet addiction. A fundamental similarity is that these two are similar regarding "withdrawal and health problems" and "time management and performance problems." The "withdrawal effect" can suggest addictive qualities, and the "time management problem" can be illustrated as a control disorder similar to the Internet addiction disorder.[28] They concluded that microblogging has some significant similarities with Internet addiction. Additionally, a key difference they noted was social interactions. They suggested that various forms of motivation explained internet-based behaviours, such as interpersonal interaction, social support, and self-fulfilment. However, internet addiction results in a reduced amount of real-life social interaction among college students, as well as reducing their everyday social relationships. Said individuals spend a significant portion of their time wandering the internet to avoid their genuine life relationships hence indicating a lack of skills and energy to build and sustain their real-life relationships. Whereas microblogs have shown a positive correlation with real-life social interactions; therefore, the researchers deduced that microblogging potentially contributes to or does not negatively affect personal relations in an individual's life.[28]

In conclusion, Hou et al. (2014) study provide evidence and a form of measurement which had previously not been done to advance the research in assessing excessive microblog usage. Studying and understanding this area of research plays a vital role in our modern day and age because technology and social media platforms are on the rise. As a society, we are rapidly being encompassed into a more digitalized world where we can do everything and anything from our technological devices. Creating a form of measurement that quantifies the relationship and affects not only microblogs but any social media platform that can provide individuals, especially the youth, an outlet, a way to express themselves or connect has been deemed valuable. This is because, at the other end of the spectrum, there is the issue of internet addiction which can easily be reached through excessive use of media platforms.

Cheung and Lucia (2015)

Cheung and Lucia (2015) conducted an eight-month-long ethnographic study on a group of deviant secondary school students in urban China. Their goal was to argue that the subculture of young individuals from a lower-class background is a way "to negotiate their space and power in a failing school system" that is established in a society that is drastically changing and saturated with "diversified yet often conflicting values." [29]

The researchers followed the group of deviant students hoping to understand their daily lives and the development and formation of their identities. This study was conducted in Xiamen, a much smaller city than the larger ones like Beijing and Shanghai, where most studies have taken place. A medium-sized city is a better reflection of China as most cities in China are of that size. The researchers had chosen a single Grade 2 class from a medium-level high school. During the main study, the researchers were in the field and later paid a visit to follow up on the student's development.[29]

After collecting their data, the researchers found that a group of problem students identified with others like them. They shared experiences, problems, and similar situations, thus forming a subcultural group. By doing this, they challenged authoritative figures such as parents and teachers and negotiated in school. Although this subculture and its resistance may appear futile or disadvantageous, it offers these troubled young individuals an alternative way to protect their happiness and development, which in this case is improving interpersonal skills and mental well-being.[29]

Gao et al. (2012)

A Comparative Study of Users’ Microblogging Behavior on Sina Weibo and Twitter

From more than 40 million microblogging activities, Gao et al. (2012) aim to compare user behaviour on Sina Weibo and Twitter by investigating (i) how users access microblogs, (ii) the writing style of users, (iii) the topics discussed, and (iv) the sentiment polarities of posts on Sina Weibo and Twitter.[30] Microblogging services allow users to share short messages online to other users. Sina Weibo is leading the microblogging market in China because Twitter is unavailable; however, they feature intrinsically similar functionalities. Posts are limited to 140 characters in each service.

Gao et al. (2012) found that posts in reference to organizations are four times more likely to appear on Twitter than Weibo. Weibo users are more likely to avoid talking about organizations, especially political affiliated ones and tend to lean towards mentioning specific locations (i.e., Beijing, the US). Additionally Weibo users had a 11.8% higher tendency to publish positive messages than Twitter users. Furthermore, while Weibo users are more active on weekends, Twitter users are more active during weekdays. Gao et al. (2012) suggests that microblog culture has not yet pervaded the daily working lives of the public in China.[30]

Gao et al. (2012) conclude that the infrequency of Weibo posts during working days can be attributed to the Chinese tendency for collectivism; individuals do not attribute much impact to their individual activities and posts online. Contrastingly, the prevalent degree of individualism in Western Twitter users is evidenced by the eagerness of users to circulate their posts using related links such as hashtags. There is a higher belief that their posts will make a difference in public discussions.[30]


The keyword wéi (微) is becoming of increasing importance in a variety of contemporary contexts, especially in the digital realm of microblogging. Microblogging as a medium allows for the proliferation of many microcultures, as well as the for the shared expressions of many diverse individuals and minority groups. Despite the Chinese government’s restrictions on certain topics, individuals have been able to create alternative methods of discussing various topics in rebellion against the imposed censorships. Apps such as Weibo and Wechat have been able to open better avenues for businesses to proliferate in the technological sphere, suggesting a shift from a socialist society as endorsed by the CCP to a competitive neoliberal economy. While there are many economic and technological limitations to the domestic accessibility of microculture and microblogging in China, the “micro-fication” of the production and sharing of these ideologies contribute to an easier exchange of ideas within the contemporary digital sphere. Users are increasingly able to consume various types of content within a short amount of time.

Additionally, microculture as aligning with individualistic values emerged initially as a Western ideology; following the values of free speech a neoliberal economy. The relations between imitation and innovation can be noted in the associations between Western and Chinese microculture and microblogging. Chinese social media platforms created on the basis of replacing prominent Western media platforms have already developed their own integrated functions unique to the Chinese economy and society.

Furthermore, although microculture begins as a minority culture, it can easily become a powerful dominant ideology given the unpredictable nature of virality in the contemporary digital sphere. Thus, it is an important opportunity for many to share their values and opinions in the hopes that it will be shared or adopted by other individuals on the web.

Future Considerations

A potential project to do in the future would be to legitimize the term “microfying” or “microfication”. While there are terms such as “magnifying” and “magnification” to describe increases in magnitude, no word to describe something becoming smaller exists. In the wake of technological innovations and increased participation in the digital and micro-cultural spheres, such a term would prove useful in examining Additionally, there is no Chinese term that translates to “microculture” in the context of its meanings as discussed on this page. It would also be helpful to collaborate with Mandarin speakers to better understand the origin of the word as well as its evolution.

Additionally, based on Hou et al. (2014), a future investigation regarding the threshold of excessive microblogging and Internet addiction disorder would be of significant value as it is unclear when something such as microblogging becomes detrimental and can be considered an addiction. Especially since Hou et al. (2014) mention the positive correlation between microblogging and social interaction compared to the negative correlation between Internet addiction and social interaction.[28] Investigating to develop a spectrum that helps identify the threshold would aid in understanding when something becomes excessive and requires intervention.


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