“Everyday Internet” among Tibetans in Xining (Qinghai, Northwest China)

Authors: Giulia Cabras (Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic)
Speakers: Giulia Cabras
Strand: Ethnographical Language Work
Session Type: General Session


Ethnic minorities in Northwest China are living important social changes because of urban migration, new language policies in education, and development programmes. Many social exchanges and activities have moved to the virtual world, no matter whether ethnic minorities
live in urban or rural areas. Studies in linguistic anthropology and new media have demonstrated that technology-mediated communication embodies public discourse and popular trends and constitutes a way to build sociality (Venkatraman, 2017). Research on the Chinese Internet has shown that ethnic minorities use social networks as a way to express ethnic culture and show their particular interests and concerns (Light 2015; Grant 2018; Dak Lhagyal 2019). The first part of the project, presented at the SOAS CALA in December 2022, has focused on representations of Islam among Hui users of WeChat residing or working in Xining, the capital of Qinghai province, a multi-ethnic area at the edges of the Tibetan plateau. The research has demonstrated that users draw from different discursive, textual and visual resources to build forms of devotion and represent themselves in a context of social and political changes. The second part of the project, which I will present for the SOAS CALA 2022, addresses another community living in Xining, the Tibetans.
Through a linguistic and visual analysis of posts published on WeChat, the study aims to: 1) understand language uses (for example, in the use of Tibetan and Chinese), 2) the relationship with the Tibetan community, hometowns, and rural areas (as many Tibetans residing in Xining come from other areas of Qinghai), 3) the connection with cultural heritage and how it is included in contemporaneity, such as the commodification of food and folk culture through advertising of recently opened businesses. The research shows that the users employ different languages and visual elements to portray ethnicity and cultural elements to express a sense of belonging and aspirational identities, which are not always possible in their material everyday life, and cross boundaries that exist in their offline social life.

Keywords: ethnic minorities, urban migration, Qinghai province, Tibetans, linguistic anthropology