Rendan Liu

Thesis title:

Gendered labour in social media self-branding practices: An ethnography of women influencers on Xiaohongshu


Women fashion and lifestyle influencers are known for their roles as consumers, labourers, entrepreneurs, objects of consumption, and their power to lead consumer trends. In post-socialist China and the burgeoning wanghong economy, these women influencers are embracing contradicting experiences and expectations, from the national and party gender policy that emphasises women’s traditional roles as exemplary wives and dedicated mothers to the rise of neoliberal narratives emphasising individual agency fuelled by the market economy. They constantly negotiate contradictory ideals such as empowerment, liberation, commercial exploitation, and neoliberal individualism. However, there is little empirical study that systematically investigates how Chinese women influencers commodify their self-expression, the role of gender in this process, and how these practices are encouraged or constrained by stakeholders in the influencers industry in China. This study fills this gap, using gendered labour discourses and analysing Chinese women fashion and lifestyle influencers’ self-branding on Xiaohongshu (also known as “Little Red Book” or “Red”), a leading user-generated content e-commerce and lifestyle social media platform in China. This research uses an ethnographic study composed of (1) online and offline participant observation, (2) semi-structured interviews with influencers, brand marketing/PR managers, multi-channel network company employees, and Xiaohongshu’s employees, complemented by (3) autoethnography. I aim to enrich the understanding of gendered experience of Chinese women influencers as they perform self-branding and the dynamics of power relationships in the Chinese social media influencer industry.


Social Media: