Jianqing Chen

c:o/re Junior Fellow 03/23–08/23

Jianqing Chen

Jianqing Chen is an Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures and of Film and Media Studies at Washington University at Saint Louis. She received her PhD in Film and Media Studies with a Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory from UC Berkeley. Her fields of expertise span new media theory, global techno-capitalism, surveillance, social media platforms, digital infrastructures, and feminist media theory, with a special focus on Chinese digital media. She is completing a book manuscript titled Touchscreen Media: The Touch and Its User-Spectators in Twenty-First Century China.

Interface/Face: Touch-based and Face-centered Human-Machine Interaction in Contemporary China

My project interrogates the concepts of interface by examining face-centered media practices in contemporary China. This project is twofold. First, I rethink the biometric facial recognition and surveillance capitalism in contemporary China, and second, I explore facial retouching and alteration through the use of beauty apps and digital filters. In the first part, I study the burgeoning facial-recognition-enhanced surveillance technology through analyzing Xu Bing’s experimental artwork Dragonfly Eyes (2017). AI-enabled facial recognition technology, on the one hand, recognizes the face as the primary identity indicator, and on the other gives the task of face detection and identification to computational technologies.

The outcome is that the generated surveillance images are not immediately legible to the viewers, but demand that they adopt the machine vision of the surveillance camera and incorporate forensic analysis into their visual practices and pleasure. Second, I study Chinese female touchscreen users’ digital production of “fair and flawless” faces as their ideal self-images in little fresh (xiao qingxin) selfies through an automatic facial retouching process enabled by Meitu, the popular beauty app. I elaborate on the technical and cultural politics of little-fresh portraiture by centering on the famous female rural influencer Li Ziqi. I argue that the little fresh visual style produces a digital whiteface, which performs a gendered and racialized ideal that negates socialist portrayals of women featuring technicolor-enhanced rosy cheeks and their assigned gender roles in socialist agricultural modernization and industrialization. Corroborating and contesting white supremacist logic, the digital production of whiteface is symptomatic of the dilemma confronting East Asians when encountering Western skin tone-based racial hierarchy. This project will be an important part of my current book manuscript Touchscreen Media: The Touch and Its User-Spectators in Twenty-First Century China.

Publications (selection)

Chen, Jianqing. 2023. From Cold War Geopolitics to the Crisis of Global Capitalism: The History of Chinese Wireless Network Infrastructures (1987–2020). In The China Quarterly, 1-19. doi:10.1017/S0305741022001813.

Chen, Jianqing. 2021. Ziyuan: Film Mining and Cinephilic Expedition and Exploitation. In Twenty-First Century China.  In Journal of Chinese Cinemas 15(2-3): 164-175.

Chen, Jianqing. 2018. Adapting Jing Ping Mei, Serializing Sex: Hong Kong’s Pornographic Serial Melodrama.In Erotic Literature in Adaptation and Translation, ed. by Johannes D. Kaminski. Cambridge: Legenda, pp. 186-200.