Zoning China

From Information Policy

Zoning China

Online Video, Popular Culture, and the State

By Luzhou Li

An examination of “cultural zoning” in China considers why government regulation of online video is so much more lenient than regulation of broadcast television.





An examination of “cultural zoning” in China considers why government regulation of online video is so much more lenient than regulation of broadcast television.

In Zoning China, Luzhou Li investigates why the Chinese government regulates online video relatively leniently while tightly controlling what appears on broadcast television. Li argues that television has largely been the province of the state, even as the market has dominated the development of online video. Thus online video became a space where people could question state media and the state's preferred ideological narratives about the nation, history, and society. Li connects this relatively unregulated arena to the “second channel” that opened up in the early days of economic reform—piracy in all its permutations. She compares the dual cultural sphere to China's economic zoning; the marketized domain of online video is the cultural equivalent of the Special Economic Zones, which were developed according to market principles in China's coastal cities.

Li explains that although the relaxed oversight of online video may seem to represent a loosening of the party-state's grip on media, the practice of cultural zoning in fact demonstrates the the state's strategic control of the media environment. She describes how China's online video industry developed into an original, creative force of production and distribution that connected domestic private production companies, transnational corporations, and a vast network of creative labor from amateurs to professional content creators. Li notes that China has increased state management of the internet since 2014, signaling that online and offline censorship standards may be unified. Cultural zoning as a technique of cultural governance, however, will likely remain.


$40.00 X ISBN: 9780262043175 312 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 3 b&w photos


  • This superb book forges a new path through scholarship on digital media governance. As well as being a nuanced analysis of Chinese internet policy, Zoning China invites the reader to think differently about the infrastructural, cultural, and political histories of video as a medium. A highly original and important book.

    Ramon Lobato

    Senior Research Fellow, RMIT University; author of Netflix Nations: The Geography of Digital Distribution

  • By far the most compelling, authoritative account of China's digital entertainment industry, Zoning China provides a superb analysis of the emergence and evolution of online streaming businesses as part of China's political and media culture. It will be widely read in the years to come!

    Ruoyun Bai

    Associate Professor, University of Toronto; author of Staging Corruption: Chinese Television and Politics

  • Why and how did China's online video industry carve out a special cultural zone on China's highly managed political landscape? Zoning China skillfully joins political economic analysis with critical cultural studies to solve this puzzle. An important contribution to media studies, sociology of culture, and Chinese politics.

    Guobin Yang

    Grace Lee Boggs Professor of Communication and Sociology, University of Pennsylvania