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It is not merely about life on the screen: urban Chinese youth and the Internet cafe

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The Internet cafe (wangba) continues to enjoy high popularity among urban Chinese youth, mostly members of China's only-child generation, despite the derogatory connotations the wangba carries, official control and widely diffused access at home. Based on observation at wangbas and in-depth interviews with urban youth, I explore from the Internet cafe goers' perspective what wangba going is all about. The study shows that the wangba serves as a heterotopian third place for the goers. They are there, often against the will of various authorities, for a sense of freedom, relaxation, community, and equality as well as fun, which can hardly be found elsewhere in their lives. The meanings they assign to the wangba are closely related to their social-biographical situations as urban only children typically under great parental expectations in a society characterised by sharp social stratification, fierce competition, lack of security, consumerism, corruption and unfairness in the distribution of resources. In this sense, the wangba is seen as a necessary space for existential reasons, in sharp contrast to the negative portrayal of the wangba as a mere den of iniquity in both official and popular discourses.
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Keywords: consumption; identity; media; youth culture

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

Publication date: April 1, 2009

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