This summer, I aim to learn the necessary skills to build a digital database for my dissertation and future related research. To do this, I am learning to use Python language to scrape data from Chinese social media websites. This project is important to my research on feminist preservation and archiving of heavily censored queer feminist content in the Chinese digital sphere.
For the first three weeks, I learned basic Python commands and generally worked to be comfortable with coding before I built my Python codes to scrape data. It is daunting for me to do this project, as I am not a quantitative scholar. I don’t reply on big data. And I am a firm believer in qualitative and mixed methods to unpack the stories behind social media posts. The pressure and the superiority of big data are visibly present in academia. Many people in power (e.g., your future employers, reviewers who decide the value of your research, and senior scholars) believe that big data is superior. Under this pressure, I want this summer not only to be an opportunity for me to learn Python, but a protected time to reflect on this status quo in academia. I know it is important to have data (whether big or small), but the core value of research is not data – it is our critical thinking and research ethics. I want to consider the community my research will benefit from and for. Some questions I have reflected on are: why do we need data? Who will benefit from a digital archive? Who will benefit from my research? And WHO will read my research?
During the time of this fellowship, I focus on scraping data for a particular topic – a femslash fandom genre Xiaosan Zhenggong CP (小三正宫CP, XSZG CP thereafter), which literally translates to the coupling of the third woman and wife from a heterosexual marriage/relationship. Fans of this genre create videos of a romantic relationship and intimate friendship between the third woman and wife who are competitors in a heteropatriarchal triad in the original TV shows. Against China’s stringent censorship of queer feminist content and systemic queerphobia, it is amazing that the coupling of these two female characters who are supposed to be fierce enemies has gained online traction among the fans of the TV shows and other netizens. I hope the data I collect from this fellowship can help me explore how XSZG CP’s femslash framework expresses queer desires and feminist messages, and how fans’ engagement with these fandom texts subverts the industrial heteropatriarchal norm.
For the second half of this fellowship, I imagine encountering lots of frustration with coding and running into bugs, but it is nice to know I have a supportive community to seek help from!