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Mobile Stories for Chinese Women Migrants: Writing for Meimei


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The mobile phone is the defining characteristic of millions of female migrant workers in China today. While in nearby Japan women have taken to cell phones in droves and use them to craft a new genre of fiction, in China phones have not yet become a tool of creative practice for women. This paper will discuss the vernacular and domestic technologies for an underserved demographic within the creative industries, and explore the challenges inherent in writing a story and designing an interactive app—called Wandering Meimei / Meimei Liu Lang Ji—for marginalized female factory workers.

Carolyn Guertin was the inaugural recipient of the Outstanding Early Career Award from the CSDH in 2013. She’s Senior Researcher in York University’s Augmented Reality Lab and faculty at Transart Institute in Berlin. Her book, Digital Prohibition: Piracy and Authorship in New Media Art, was published in 2012 by Continuum.

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Mobile Stories for Chinese Women Migrants: Writing for Meimei

  1. 1. Writing for Meimei: Mobile Stories for Women Migrants in China Carolyn Guertin Augmented Reality Lab, York University Canadian Society for Digital Humanities/ACCUTE 26 May 14
  2. 2. After I completed the writing of this book -- which compared creative practices in digital culture in the West with the East -- I knew that I had only scratched the surface of Chinese culture.
  3. 3. Last Train Home, by Canadian director Lixin Fan about Chinese migrant workers, was almost incomprehensible to me the first time I watched it. The barriers I had to cross in understanding the situation of migrant workers were enormous.
  4. 4. Chinese girls have few role models. Under Mao, women were given jobs not liberation.
  5. 5. “Leftover women” •  In a one-child-policy world, there is a surplus of marriageable men: •  “In 2007 the Ministry of Education of the PRC issued an official statement using the term ‘leftover women’ … and criticizing such women as having ‘overly high expectations for marriage partners’. In 2011 the All-China Women’s Federation posted an article on its official website titled ‘Leftover Women do not Deserve our Sympathy’ which criticized unmarried women of 27 and over for pursuing education and career over marriage within a highly competitive marriage market…” (Gladston 2014, 13).
  6. 6. In many cases, women factory workers have acquired the skills they need to move into management or to become enterpreneurs by the time they are 27. Rural villages have few opportunities and little appeal after being dagongmei.
  7. 7. Serialized cellphone novels (Keitai Shosetsu) are being written by young women in Japan 7 of the 10 top bestsellers in Japan last year were written on cell phones by women for women
  8. 8. “I need to recharge.” “I am upgrading myself.” Who is Meimei?
  9. 9. Arjun Appadurai • 5 ‘scapes’ capture the movement of people, media, technology, capital and ideas that traverse the globe, facilitated by communication and transport technologies •  Ethnoscapes •  Mediascapes •  Technoscapes •  Financescapes •  ideoscapes These flows are impervious to borders and inseparable from the transformation of Identities (Wallis 2008, 9).
  10. 10. Technoscapes flow •  Through deterritorializing culture, space, place, and time, they necessitate new modes of conceptualizing agency, autonomy, social change, and power dynamics (Wallis 9). Appadurai states, “The new global cultural economy has to be seen as a complex, overlapping, disjunctive order that cannot any longer be understood in terms of existing center-periphery models.”
  11. 11. Appadurai’s Effect 1. Pervasiveness of e-media create new resources for “the construction of imagined selves and imagined worlds” and “for experiments with self-making”
  12. 12. Appadurai’s Effect 2: Mass migration, when combined with the “rapid flow of mass- mediated images, scripts, and sensations,” produces a “new order of instability in the production of modern subjectivities.” In other words, Meimei acquires aspirations.
  13. 13. What does Meimei want?
  14. 14. Wandering Meimei, an interactive app from Dagongmei Productions
  15. 15. Sanmao Liu Lang Ji (1935) by Zhang Leping: The genre of lizhi, inspirational and encouraging stories or tales of courage, bravery and strength, is the logical choice.
  16. 16. The Water Margin (aka Outlaws of the Marsh) by Shi Naian (1589) provided structural inspiration
  17. 17. Yingsao Fashi (營造法式; 1103) by Li Jie "Treatise on Architectural Methods or State Building Standards"
  18. 18. This work summarized 1,000 years of earlier architectural writings and provided the foundation for an unchanging model for architecture for the next 900 years based mostly on personal interviews with craftsmen. It is to architecture what Herodotus’s Histories is to historical writing.
  19. 19. Gish Jen explains in Tiger Writing, her father’s Confucian autobiography places his house before himself •  My father calls it simply “the biggest and best house in the town.” It was, he writes, •  “enclosed inside of a[ n] 8 foot [high] white wall, the front [of which had] a set of 8 doors on South Main Street. Once [in] a while, one of these door[ s would be] open. As you walk thru the door [there] was an open court yard and two rooms [,] one [to] each side. The right side room ha[ d] another door to South Main Street which was open all the time . Then a hall, [which] open[ ed to] the courtyard. The back side of the hall [also had] two doors. On … [those] doors [were] posted [the] 8 words [that were] … the middle names for our 8 generations. These two doors [were] also closed most of the time.”
  20. 20. The wooden mechanisms that keep the house stable function like giant springs in the rafters. The heavier the roof, the sturdier the structure.
  21. 21. Yingsao Fashi reveals elaborate use of literary metaphors (traceable in Northern Song contemporary writing) related to tree branches and flowers (Feng 2013).
  22. 22. This reveals not that craftsmen were aristocracy but that widespread literacy was the reality during the Northern Song Dynasty, the era when printing was invented (Feng 2013).
  23. 23. The genius in the design of the Chinese house is not the metaphorical naming. The naming is apt because the house literally reuses the engineered structure of organic forms in nature to build buildings that won’t fall down.
  24. 24. Feng Shui is integral to complete the structure. The use of the compass maximizes how much light enters during each season and ensures that the structures are naturally heated in winter and naturally cooled in summer.
  25. 25. The work has text and video and interactive features, including SMS, QR Codes, locative attributes, puzzles to be solved, and data to be input in order to move the story forward.
  26. 26. Dagongmei Productions, June 2014
  27. 27. Contact: