Chinese Nonfiction Agencies on Digital Platforms

Dec 19, 2023 6:15 AM

Cassie Wen

Publication year
December 19, 2023


Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

Chinese Nonfiction Agencies on Digital Platforms

by Cassie Wen

Nonfiction writing has been acknowledged as a fourth genre equivalent to poetry, fiction, and drama with multiple subgenres and forms converging in the busy intersection of narrative research. Especially in the public sphere, non-fiction narratives sketch out pathways from personal affect circulations to sociological imaginations, as the essence of literary realism can derive significant scope for people see others’ lives. There have been rich discussions about not only the qualities of literary status in nonfiction, but also responsibilities of the author in turning history into art’ and the inner epistemology of referentiality to reality (Heyne, 1987; Auyoung, 2019; Ponech, 2021). Among contemporary Chinese narratives on new media, digital nonfiction implies its own literariness that differs from that of traditional fiction: it employs a mix of sociology, anthropology, history, and in-depth investigations, so that it can provide epistemological methods that borrow from social science and liberal arts in order to reach the truthful subjectivity about the world (He, et al., 2021). With a grasp of elusive, fleeting phenomena, however, their narration of the social reality and complexity of human nature is still dependent on their rhetoric and style – the very elements that make it ‘literary’.

My project about online nonfiction narratives and authorship will investigate Chinese WeChat-based nonfictional feature articles, that are largely affiliated to media companies such as NetEase’s The Livings (renjian), Tencent’s Grain Rain News Lab (guyu xinwen shiyanshi) and Sohu’s Polar Day Studio (jizhou gongzuoshi); along with independent press like Renwu, Sanlian, as well as new media agencies like the Real Story Scheme. The project will select influential Wechat-based feature articles with more than 100k views that reveal the social reality of this generation, which actively engage in controversial debates and unpack social phenomena with real-life stories — instead of simply informing the public of a single event like traditional news media. These works might not explicitly take the opposite stance of the current system of politics or social welfare, but the realities they reflect are mostly problematic or worrying in their critical tone, which in a subtle way deviates from the official narratives provided by the party-state.

Drawing on the idea of author as a function, rather than an individual, I will revisit how these articles use narratives to represent individuals and to reflect socio-political concerns. From the famous denouncement of ‘the author is dead!’ by Roland Barthes to Foucauldian insights into discursive power, where the author should not be simply considered as a writing subject whose personality is tied up to their work, and whose influence will disappear after their demise. Writings spread across digital media platforms urge us to think of the author as ‘transdiscursive and founder of discursivity’, as the function working with media and institutional apparatus in use.

When there comes the notable ‘narrative turn’ in media studies and wider humanities, the ‘medial turn’ in narratology synchronizes (Grishakova and Ryan, 2010). In both regards, this research will be fundamentally underpinned by media studies from an interfaced, post-human perspective, so that it can cover meaningful discussions on relationships between digital media (including labours and capitals, technological suites, institutions and regulations) and literary narratives of contemporary Chinese nonfiction on WeChat platform. The combined method of ‘form (the media and the structure of narration, the telling) versus content (the told)’ concentrates not only on what is told but also on how it is told (Maxwell, 2012), and thus can even bring the scholarship towards the unsaid and the unsayable (Sheinberg, 1999: 227).

Key Questions

This research project aims to address the following questions in the current landscape of digital media in China: why do Chinese nonfiction authors choose to publish through the platforms? How do the authors channel these writings to affect the public (writing styles, multimodality featuring various languages/semiotic systems, account management, etc.)? How do they disseminate their writings for more attention and influence? Most importantly, how can we understand the idea of author and its relationship with the represented subjects?

It is critical to address the role of representative authorship, as we utilise it to understand the functionality of the agentic author in representing different groups of people in plights, margins, or disadvantaged status. In order to have deeper insights into nonfiction narratives on the WeChat platform, especially those that work with the accounts that impact public consciousness about social welfare, community-based politics, and cultural conflicts, the comments and reposts on other platforms will also be investigated. Along with institutional media agencies, meaningful and influential stories from grassroot organisations that reveal intersectional realities of living will also be included.

I hope this project will offer a noble idea of representative authorship, which can help to unravel the ethical considerations of authorship, indicate the solutions of proper usage, and guide positive impacts of authorship on society. In the meantime, practical suggestions will be on digital nonfiction writings for not only social support and care, but also political solidarity for actions, and contribute to a hopeful future with more constructive digital narratives.


  • Auyoung, E. (2019) Narrative theory, The Routledge Companion to Victorian Literature. doi: 10.4324/9780429507724-20.
  • He, P.(2021). Non-fiction and Thoughts of Time, Exploration and Free Views, 2021 (8)
  • Grishakova, M. and Ryan, M.-L. (2010) Intermediality and storytelling. de Gruyter New York.
  • Heyne, E. (1987) ‘Toward a theory of literary nonfiction’, Modern Fiction Studies, 33(3), pp. 479–490.
  • Maxwell, J. A. (2012) Qualitative research design: An interactive approach. Sage publications.
  • Ponech, T. (2021) What is non-fiction cinema?: on the very idea of motion picture communication. Routledge.
  • Sheinberg, J. E. N. (1999) ‘An interpretive poetics of languages of the unsayable’, Making meaning of narratives, 6, p. 77.