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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Jonathan Corpus Ong

Second Advisor

Martha Fuentes-Bautista

Third Advisor

Lisa Henderson

Fourth Advisor

Cara Wallis

Subject Categories

Communication Technology and New Media | Critical and Cultural Studies | Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Communication | Other Communication


My dissertation analyzes the relationships between mediated labor activism and the formation of counter-hegemonic forces in contemporary China. As China becomes a seemingly ideal model to justify the normalization of global capitalism, this study seeks to demonstrate how resistance from disenfranchised groups can challenge hegemonic power. Rural-to-urban migrant workers, who have been among the most disadvantaged groups since China’s economic reform of the 1980s, suffer from institutionalized discrimination, economic exploitation, and social exclusion. Approaching the analysis from an intersectional feminist lens, I explore the politics and possibilities of working-class resistance in searching for a just and equal China. Based on online and offline ethnographic fieldwork from March 2016 to July 2018 and using mixed qualitative methods, I analyzed communicative and mediated practices of rural migrant workers, NGO staff, activists, scholars, and other social actors in terms of their advocacy for social equality.

By identifying and explicating four sites of activism: performance, music, social media, and alternative/community media, my study shows that the fight for migrant workers’ equal rights has become not only a moral but a political and ideological standpoint from which to resist capitalism, consumerism, and urban and middle-class superiority in post-Mao China. Feminist agendas have been incorporated – but still rather marginalized – in contemporary Chinese labor activism and working-class resistance. By demonstrating how workers’ collective resistance is embedded in their daily lives and explicating the ways in which media and culture become both sites and means for resistance, my dissertation contributes to labor studies in China and bridges the fields of media research and resistance studies. The study also enhances theoretical discussions on mediated activism and social movements by examining China as a unique case. I demonstrate that mediated activism facilitates the formation of counter-publics and counter-power, with possibilities to grow into more enduring and large-scale movements in non-democratic regimes such as China.