The genre of Chinese rural “self-” or “we-media” (zi meiti) has drawn ire for “spectacularizing” the “rural lifescape” for urban consumers of China’s rapidly developing platform economy. This article focuses instead on how the videos of Li Ziqi and Qiaofu Jiumei recenter production as a key visual force in global capitalism. By depicting the dynamic reciprocities between traditionally rural, artisanal or craft-based, and immaterial or affective labor, and—on the other hand—more ostensibly commercial farm work and e-commerce, Chinese microcelebrities show that different labor relations can dialectically coexist and overlap under contemporary state capitalism despite developments in productivity and automation that impute a historical directionality to the nature of work. The article discusses this in relation to the historical context and theoretical design of the People’s Republic of China’s recent Rural Revitalization strategic plan, as well as the country’s growing platform economy. Belying Li’s aestheticized portrayal of craftsmanship and self-sufficiency is the notorious non-appearing of alienated labor, private property, and the continuous expropriation of nature—but also their potential reversibility. Jiumei’s candid depictions of rural e-commerce evidence rural platformization’s value-extraction; and yet, perceptible in her comparatively more impoverished images are hints of the return of more conventional forms of work.

You do not currently have access to this content.