How Chinese Platformization Reshapes the Urban-Rural Relationship:Agricultural Short Videos in Tik Tok as Middle Landscape


China has been characterized by an urban-rural dual structure for a long time, which is also reflected in the mass media practice where farmers are often aphasiac and lack of subjective. However, the emergence of agricultural short videos in user-generated-content platforms seems to produces opportunities for these marginalized individuals to become online celebrities, which creates a different aesthetic style filled with everydayness and localism. This article explores the causes and effects of the phenomenon through the lens of Tik Tok, the most popular video-sharing application in China, by walkthrough method. Firstly, researchers study the interfacial characterization of Tik Tok, analysis 295 short video samples of farming topic by grounded theory and Interview 6 typical producers. Secondly, the state policies and news events related to agricultural short videos are considered to illustrate the discourse change (2014-2019), from “cruel bottom story” to “peaceful and beautiful countryside”. Thirdly, we focus on the algorithm architecture to show how mainstream values are encoded in Tik Tok.

The research concludes that agricultural short videos becomes a kind of “middle landscape” to combine rural farmers with urban consumers. The Chinese platformizaiton defines a new type of urban-rural communication situation where producers have to present pristine country scenery, private life or creative shows (e.g. singing, dancing, comedies, farming) to develop intimacy with their audiences. The urban-rural consensus is temporary and unstable because the imagination of “Going to the countryside” is based on “urbanization” actually. On the other hand, this middle landscape is strongly disciplined by party-state will, reflected by aesthetics transformation as well as inherent algorithm of the platform. Therefore, the power of state influences the technical affordance and shapes the media practice of  ordinary people, which presents a collectivist platform value instead of personalization and fragmentation in western society. As a result, Chinese platformization has opened up “space of flows” between urban and rural areas and highlights a kind of special urbanization process which is very different from that in the industrial society.