Discursive strategies of resistance in Weibo — A Case Study of the 2015 Tianjin Explosions in China

26/10/2017 (Thursday) 13:00-14:00 E21-G002

In 2015, the worst industrial accident since the founding of the P.R.C., took place in Tianjin (a major city close to Beijing) when a series of massive blasts occurred in chemical storage warehouses, killing 173 and injuring over 700. Against the backdrop of the slow and unsatisfactory reactions by the local authorities, users of social media – especially Weibo (a popular microblogging service in China) – united to fill the blanks left by official narratives and eventually forced both central and local governments to investigate what led to the blasts and to them finally holding more than 20 people criminally responsible. By drawing upon data immediately following the explosions, this study adopts a discourse approach to unravel the details and dynamics of how Weibo users challenge the official discourse and offer an alternative discourse of the disaster online. It identifies three discursive strategies of resistance in Weibo: a) resisting by amplifying the event through quoting witness’s accounts; b) resisting by rumor creation and amplification; c) resisting by ridiculing the official discourse through satire. The strategies of resistance exemplify how Chinese netizens actively use social media platforms to express sociopolitical arguments in non-democratic contexts, and in turn reshape the power relations between the state and the public.