Lin Zhang, "The Labor of Reinvention: Entrepreneurship in the Chinese Digital Economy" (Columbia UP, 2023)


Hello, world! This is the Global Media & Communication podcast series.

In this episode, our host Jing Wang discusses the book The Labor of Reinvention: Entrepreneurship in the New Chinese Digital Economy (Columbia UP, 2023) by Lin Zhang.

You’ll hear about:

  • A history of the book and Zhang’s entry into the fieldwork through family stories;
  • How to understand entrepreneurialism as a dominant ideology in the global neoliberal labor economy and China’s positionality in the world;
  • Why and how the book is organized based on three types of spaces – rural, urban, and transnational – across China and beyond;
  • The similarities and differences between the elite and the grassroot entrepreneurs in Beijing;
  • The e-commerce entrepreneurship as “platformized family production” in rural China and the roles played by government and large tech companies like Alibaba play in shaping the new rural production model;
  • The limit and possibility of reinvention through “shanzhai” (copycat) e-commerce production;
  • The gendered inequalities of entrepreneurial labor in rural and transnational spaces;
  • What is “daigou” (personal shopping agents) in transnational e-commerce and the structural challenges entrepreneurs – especially women – face across national borders and digital platforms;
  • What conversations in global studies of media and communication this book engages with.

About the book

From start-up founders in the Chinese equivalent of Silicon Valley to rural villages experiencing an e-commerce boom to middle-class women reselling luxury goods, the rise of internet-based entrepreneurship has affected every part of China. For many, reinventing oneself as an entrepreneur has appeared to be an appealing way to adapt to a changing economy and society. Yet in practice, digital entrepreneurship has also reinforced traditional Chinese ideas about state power, labor, gender, and identity. Lin Zhang explores how the everyday labor of entrepreneurial reinvention is remaking China amid changing geopolitical currents. She tells the stories of people from diverse class, gender, and age backgrounds across rural, urban, and transnational settings in rich detail, providing a multifaceted and ground-level view of the twenty-first-century Chinese economy. You can find more about the book here by the Columbia University Press.

Author: Lin Zhang is an associate professor of communication and media studies at the University of New Hampshire. Her research centers on critical innovation studies, information/platform capitalism, and intersectionality, focusing on China and ethnic Asian people in a global, comparative context and in spaces of transnational encounters. Her works can be found in the Journal of Consumer Culture, New Media and Society, Economic and Labor Relations Review, International Journal of Cultural Studies, International Journal of Communication, Feminist Media Studies, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, and China Information etc.

Host: Jing Wang is Senior Research Manager at the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication (CARGC), Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, with an affiliation at the Center of the Study of Contemporary China (CSCC). In the fall of 2023, she will be joining as an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her works can be found in journals such as New Media and Society, Made In China Journal, Asian Anthropology, Journal of Contemporary East Asia, etc.

Editor & Producer: Jing Wang

Keywords: Labor, Entrepreneurship, E-Commerce, Digital Platforms, Mutli-sited Fieldwork, Gender, China

Our podcast is part of the multimodal project powered by the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication (CARGC) at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. At CARGC, we produce and promote critical, interdisciplinary, and multimodal research on global media and communication. We aim to bridge academic scholarship and public life, bringing the very best scholarship to bear on enduring global questions and pressing contemporary issues.

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The Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication produces and promotes scholarly research on global media, communication, and public life. Our work brings together “area studies” knowledge with theory and methodology in the humanities and social sciences to understand how local, lived experiences of people and communities are profoundly shaped by global media alongside cultural and political-economic forces.

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