Surviving Online Censorship in China: Three Satirical Tactics and their Impact

Siu Yau Lee*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


What accounts for online satirical campaigns that survive censorship in China where the state has formidable power to censor and manipulate online communication? Through comparative case studies of three attempts to challenge the policies or malpractices of the Chinese state in 2009, this article explains how different satirical tactics can influence the outcomes of online activism. It argues that online satirical campaigns are most likely to survive when activists adopt the tactic of parodic satire, whereby activists mimic a specific practice of the state and skilfully transplant it to other contexts. Since the language used by the activists resembles that of the powerful, the tactic allows netizens to exaggerate the internal contradictions of the policies or practices concerned without creating an easily identifiable symbol of resistance in the process. This tactic not only increases the cost to the state of censoring critical messages, but also restrains activists from extending their criticisms of the original subject to other areas. As a result, it increases the chance for the activists to exert insistent pressure on the state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1061-1080
Number of pages20
JournalChina Quarterly
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations

User-Defined Keywords

  • censorship
  • China
  • irony
  • online satire
  • parody
  • resistance


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